“A Certain Concordance of Size”: Pound’s Venice in The Pisan Cantos

John Gery



Venice is not, despite Pound’s obvious infatuation with its beauty, the Venice of postcards. Nor is it a source of soulful regret, nor a haven of delight, nor a place of decadence, so much as it is a shimmering matrix “taking light in the darkness” (26/121), a paradiso terrestre that comes into being before our eyes, as it does for the poet. Though lacking, perhaps, the Vorticist energy of Pound’s London poetry before World War I, his portrait of the “visual culture” of Venice beginning in canto 3 comes across less as a picture recalled (Wordsworth-style) than as an image finding its own form: Pound frequently presents the city with Imagistic immediacy. Then in the “middle” cantos, including cantos 25, 26, and 35, Venice is more often portrayed as a center of mercantile exchange – “luogo di contratto” (35/175) – seen in contrast to, say, Siena, home of the Monte dei Paschi bank.

But in The Pisan Cantos, Pound’s evocation of Venice loses its Eleusinian nature, when, instead, he catalogues churches, campi, restaurants, canal corners, conversations, and art works by their specific names, usually drawn from his direct experience of them, as he recalls them from a distance of both time and place. While the specificity of the Venice of The Pisan Cantos may at moments strike readers unfamiliar with Pound’s life as obscurely personal – suggesting a poetry of mere “self-expression” counter to the poetics of masks so prevalent earlier – what Venice really provides is an opportunity for metonymy, with an economy and fidelity of expression that allow each phrase or image to project “the depths of life” (to recast Eberhart’s phrase). 

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Ezra Pound and Italy

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