Canto I commentary

And then went down to the ship,

Probably the first time an epic began in the middle of a sentence. *Thus EP notifies us at once that he will present fragments [“luminous details,” ideograms]
* Canto I published 1917. Finnegans Wake begun 1922.

Set keel to breakers, forth on the godly sea, and

“godly sea”: first divine presence in the poem. Cf
Bucky Fuller’s claim that the first deity was
a “mathematicizing sea-god”

We set up mast and sail on that swart ship,
Bore sheep aboard her, and our bodies also
Heavy with weeping, and winds from sternward
Bore us onward with bellying canvas,
Circe’s this craft, the trim-coifed goddess.

Translating from Homer [via Divus: see below] but
EP uses alliteration and some archaism to suggest
early Anglo-Saxon  poems like “The Seafarer.”
He considered this episode the oldest part of
the Odyssey because of its archaisms. The
Descent to the Underworld cd indeed contain
parts of an ancient death/rebirth initiation ritual.

Then sat we amidships, wind jamming the tiller,
Thus with stretched sail, we went over sea till day’s end.
Sun to his slumber, shadows o’er all the ocean,
Came we then to the bounds of deepest water,
To the Kimmerian lands, and peopled cities
Covered with close-webbed mist, unpierced ever
With glitter of sun-rays
Nor with stars stretched, nor looking back from heaven
Swartest night stretched over wreteched men there.

Read as stretchED and wretchED. Supposed to sound
 archaic….Also read unpiercED…..
BTW, in any translation, the Kimmerian lands always
sound like Ireland in the winter to me.

The ocean flowing backward, came we then to the place
Aforesaid by Circe.
Here did they rites, Perimedes and Eurylochus,
And drawing sword from my hip
I dug the ell-square pitkin;

The first “I”; until now we have only had “we” & “our”
and “us.” Indicates the sudden emergence of Western
Individualism from previous Wholism, I think. Cf Canto52, translated an equally ancient Chinese text presenting
Wholism. The poem seeks a synthesis of the best
of East and West. Pitkin: small pit – deliberately archaic,
maintaining “Seafarer” flavor.

Poured we libations unto each the dead,
First mead and then sweet wine, water mixed with white flour
Then prayed I many a prayer to the sickly death’s-heads;
As set in Ithaca, sterile bulls of the best
For sacrifice, heaping the pyre with goods,
A sheep to Tiresias only, black and a bell-sheep.
Dark blood flowed in the fosse,
Souls out of Erebus, cadaverous dead, of brides
Of youths and of the old who had borne much;
Souls stained with recent tears, girls tender,
Men many, mauled with bronze lance heads,
Battle spoil, bearing yet dreory arms,
These many crowded about me; with shouting,
Pallor upon me, cried to my men for more beasts;
Slaughtered the herds, sheep slain of bronze;
Poured ointment, cried to the gods,
To Pluto the strong, and praised Proserpine;
Unsheathed the narrow sword,
I sat to keep off the impetuous impotent dead,
Till I should hear Tiresias.

I love the rhythm of sea-surge here, and
how it unites the Saxon/Seafarer alliterations with
Homer’s own rolling sea-sound

But first Elpenor came, our friend Elpenor,
Unburied, cast on the wide earth,
Limbs that we left in the house of Circe,
Unwept, unwrapped in the sepulchre, since toils urged other.
Pitiful spirit. And I cried in hurried speech:
“Elpenor, how art thou come to this dark coast?
“Cam’st thou afoot, outstripping seamen?”
And he in heavy speech:
“Ill fate and abundant wine. I slept in Crice’s ingle.
“Going down the long ladder unguarded,
“I fell against the buttress,
“Shattered the nape-nerve, the soul sought Avernus.
“But thou, O King, I bid remember me, unwept, unburied,
“Heap up mine arms, be tomb by sea-bord, and inscribed:
A man of no fortune, and with a name to come.
“And set my oar up, that I swung mid fellows.”

Pound cdn’t have planned it, but later, in the death cells
 at Pisa [Canto 74 et seq], he becomes  Elpenor…..

And Anticlea came, whom I beat off, and then Tiresias Theban,
Holding his golden wand, knew me, and spoke first:
“A second time? why? man of ill star,
“Facing the sunless dead and this joyless region?
“Stand from the fosse, leave me my bloody bever
“For soothsay.”
And I stepped back,
And he strong with the blood, said then: “Odysseus
“Shalt return through spiteful Neptune, over dark seas,
“Lose all companions.” Then Anticlea came.

Prepare for a quantum jump:

Lie quiet Divus. I mean, that is Andreas Divus,
In officina Wecheli, 1538, out of Homer.

Ez reveals his source: not Homer directly
but the 1538 Latin translation of Divus—the
text best known to the Renaissance figures
who dominate the first 30 Cantos. Pound
considers Divus part of what he calls the
paideuma of that period [modern: the
reality-tunnel or gloss]

And he sailed, by Sirens and thence outwards and away
And unto Circe.

No longer “I” but “he.”
Change to 3rd person indicates the “perspectivism”
of the Cantos.


I prefer Arlen’s translation of this powerful wordto all others: “she who must be adored.”
Strongest declension in Latin.

In the Cretan’s phrase, with the golden crown, Aphrodite,
Cypri munimenta sortita est, mirthful, oricalchi, with golden
Girdle and breast bands, thou with dark eyelids
Bearing the golden bough of Argicidia. So that:\

Bits from a pseudo-Homeric hymn to the Love Goddess,
which Divus tacked on at the end of his Odyssey.
Note the “mirthful”: this foreshadows the union
of amor and hilaritas  in the closing Cantos.

Bearing the golden bough of Argicidia. So that:

Canto 1 began in the middle of a sentence,
and ends in the middle of another sentence:
emphasis on fragments –which eventually form ideograms

I wonder where Joyce got the idea of beginning
and ending Finnegans Wake in mid-sentences?

Wal, Ez probably got the idea of using a Homeric
frame for the Cantos from Ulysses...

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