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The Cantos of Ezra Pound (New Directions Paperbook) Paperback – June 17, 1996

3.7 out of 5 stars 42 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


“Pound's Cantos is a modern classic that everybody has to know.” (John Crowe Ransom)

About the Author

New Directions has been the primary publisher of Ezra Pound in the U.S. since the founding of the press when James Laughlin published New Directions in Prose and Poetry 1936. That year Pound was fifty-one. In Laughlin’s first letter to Pound, he wrote: “Expect, please, no fireworks. I am bourgeois-born (Pittsburgh); have never missed a meal. . . . But full of ‘noble caring’ for something as inconceivable as the future of decent letters in the US.” Little did Pound know that into the twenty-first century the fireworks would keep exploding as readers continue to find his books relevant and meaningful.

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Product Details

  • Series: New Directions Paperbook
  • Paperback: 896 pages
  • Publisher: New Directions; Reprint edition (June 17, 1996)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0811213269
  • ISBN-13: 978-0811213264
  • Product Dimensions: 5.4 x 1.5 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.9 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (42 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #98,806 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
"Hugh Selwyn Mauberley" was the first Pound's poem I read and I fell in the net of the deep beauty of Pound's works becoming an enthusiastic student of him. A lot of stupidities has been told against his verses, but the authentic poetry provides itself the stunning evidence that can outlast all the poisonous criticism. Pound was a giant as one of the reviewers of this page has said.
It is true that Pound wrote some verses in Italian, Greek,... and used chinese ideograms as constructive elements of his "Cantos" (his great masterpiece) and this is not a shortcoming but a necessity. "Poetry" told once T.S.Elliot "can communicate before being understood". This is the case of Pound's poetry. Words and fragments in different languages are used not as superfluous ornaments but in order to articulate a strong feeling and providing pleasure to "the expert". The "non-expert" is attracted also by the surroundings of these elements and the imaginist grounds of each "Canto". It's just poetry! To convince of that I copy here some verses of the Cantos
"nothing matters but the quality
of the affection
in the end"
(Canto LXXVI)
"Pull down thy vanity.
Thou art a beaten dog beneath the hail"
"What thou lovest well remains, the rest is dross
What thou lov'st well shall not be reft from thee
What thou lov'st well is thy true heritage"
"The ant's a centaur in his dragon world"
(Canto LXXXI)
"The valley is thick with leaves, with leaves, the trees,
The sunlight glitters, glitters a-top,
Like a fish-scale roof,
Like the church roof in Poictiers
If it where gold.
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Format: Hardcover
Harold Bloom observes in his book The Western Canon that for major literary heavyweights Dante Alighieri tends to be the role model. Joseph Campbell observes as much regarding James Joyce: "The model for Joyce's life was Dante". Dante felt strongly that educated people have a duty to assist practically in the betterment of humanity. Being a mere aesthete, for Dante, was burying one's talents at best and moral cowardice in the face of the enemy at worst. Pound accepted Dante's challenge. Throughout the Cantos Pound wages war on the perennial demonic forces always endangering the home, environment, culture, and representative government. The Cantos are a poetic attack strategy for recognizing and overcoming such forces. Often autobiographical, the Cantos also chronicle Pound's odyssey through the tumultuous twentieth century. The work commences by invoking the muses in an immemorial Ulysses quest (Canto I), then serially time-travels through European culture via paratactic histories and biographies of heroes who successfully (or unsuccessfully) combated the blind demonic forces of cultural barbarism and hedonism. In this sense, the Cantos are a modern-day Plutarch's Lives - history interpreted by a poet.

Pound's first personal crisis followed the First World War, in which many of his own friends died. "I sought to discover what causes war", he said. His conclusion after years of exhaustive historical research was that wars are fomented by elite power groups: Corrupt government officials colluding with militarists, industrialists, and international bankers for their own personal (and treasonous) gain. It was then that both the Cantos' character, and Pound's character, changed (somewhere around Canto 45, the famous-infamous Usury Canto).
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Format: Paperback
The Cantos are monolithic, and I think one of the most valuable pieces of literature to read from Western Civilization. Sure, they don't contain the secrets to the universe, but they do contain the thoughts of a genius who was trying to get his mind wrapped around truth. I do not think that Pound always speaks the truth in his works. But he is always trying to and is always fanatically convinced of what he is saying. For the conviction and emotional tonality alone this work is worth reading. Pound rages on the page and you can feel it. Reading it can be like getting shouted at for an hour. He also finds sympathy for some and you feel his description of them as a close friend relating a nostalgic tale. He can also be grim, and his words seem the perfect eulogy for Western Civilization. Reading it is like getting pummeled! Yet with each struggle one comes out feeling a desire to know more about the world and to search out truth.
When I first opened the Cantos, I felt that they were not well written, because the writing is choppy, in places it seems haphazard and sloppy. One can also read his `Guide to Culture' and find that it reads like a notebook; not for public consumption. However, Pound's power does not lie with his `technical' skill. There I would look perhaps to Louis Zukofsky, whose style and thought was similar, but whose technique is profound and impeccable. By contrast, Pound gives the impression of writing with incredible haste and bluster, as if fighting with his life to complete this work before his death. There is no real pattern to all of the cantos. It probably should be read more as a collection of poems on similar themes than in a Dantesque sort of way.
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