Ezra Pound. Canti Postumi. Ed. Massimo Bacigalupo. Mondadori, Milano, 2002.

            review by John Peck



     While Professor Bacigalupo of Genova will not be new to readers of Pound, his selection from manuscripts for The Cantos brings welcome news in the form of choice passages from papers at Yale’s Beinecke Library and several other sources, arranged in eight phases of the poem’s composition, including the Italian cantos from 1944-1945.  Pound’s way of piling up drafts for his ongoing harvest of gists was abundant and practical, but seismic shifts of the historical ground beneath him made of his granary a grand array of ruptures.  Not only did World War I and its aftermath largely erase the cultural context for the first thirty cantos; the collapse of Mussolini’s regime in World War II, the detention at Pisa, the de facto incarceration in Washington, and the prolonged twilight after Pound’s return to Italy, made even the his witness as ego scriptor an affair of fresh starts and geological renewals.  Therefore the beauty of an augmented view of this discontinuous poem, the Alps in Basil Bunting’s phrase, which by the same token embraced perforce the sinclines of uncontrollable upheaval.  Pound’s text as printed incorporates these; his workshop shows their finer jumble, and indeed a huge talus rockslide of stuff he wanted to pick through on his re-ascents of the slopes.  As someone who has looked at the Beinecke’s manuscripts for the first thirty cantos, I can attest to Professor Bacigalupo’s acumen in picking out good stones.  The early, supplanted Three Cantos appear here--posthumous in that they were reprinted only after Pound’s death-- as do telling selections from the global, aborted  paradiso of 1944-1945, Scotus Eriugena and Cunizza consorting with Gautama and Confucio--“Il Sole grande ammiraglio conduce la sua flotta / nel suo gran péripolo, / conduce la flotta sotto i nostri scogli”--bits of their phrasing soon to be jolted by trauma into the English of the Pisan Cantos.  The selection of drafts for Rock-Drill preserve Pound’s own title for their appearance in Italian, “Prosaic Verses” or “Versi Prosaici.”

     Texts appear in English and Italian on facing pages, with care for the niceties of bilingual navigation (for example, the inverted commas added on p.141 in translating Pound’s comment on an 1815 account in the Gazzetta di Genova of Napoleon’s fall and return, paralleling Mussolini’s in 1943, which alert Italian readers to Augustan allusion: “which to the genovese mind showd zeal; but / scant knowledge of the ways of the human heart”).  The endnotes and introduction guide readers, whether Poundisti or curious visitors, over this crevasse-rich  terrain with a sure hand.    [438]

     A personal note, which some of my readers may register as communal.  Working through these selected drafts, I found spiky addresses to the current USA Metternich-like war to impose order will-nilly on others, and impose it while being carried on the backs of other nations to the tune of an astounding debt and selling the world most of its weaponry.  The ignorance of such facts and their precedents was Pound’s subject.  Some of these gists, then.  From the years in Rapallo and Venice, 1928-1937, on the effects of debt commercialism or ‘Geryon’: “under his shadow is quiet, cometh their stupor, / then death of the spirit” (p.102); from the war years: “all that we know of things is their sequence / what precedes and what follows” (p.128, which one may stitch to the non-thing poetic of p.166, “Dante / sense / not the thing but the time”); from Pisa in 1945: “as some Jersey City by Lethe ... / the continuity of the gun sales” (p.204); and finally from the Rock-Drill phase in Washington: “a bad thing to have an abstract idea of a senator, / worse for a writer, but a bad thing for anyone” (p.226).  While Professor Bacigalupo did not set out to underline such relevancies, his selection lets anyone find them for themselves, and in so doing know more than one sequence at time.  He has opened a new trail into the Alps.

Published in Semicerchio. Rivista di poesia comparata 30-31 (2004), 154.


Ezra Pound and Italy

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