Canto II commentary

Ez told his father, Homer[!] Pound, that
the theme of metamorphoses dominates this canto
[I think Ez has multiple realities, not just mutltiple fathers.
He walks an uneasy waltz between Method Acting and Multiple
Personality Disorder, like some nitwit “channeling,”
but instead of producing their horsesht he somehow
produces great poetry. Robert Graves, oddly, said
all first-rate poetry emerges in semi-trance.
And Batty Billy Blake said a buncha naked angles
dictated his poems to him.]

This Canto seems psychedelic……..

HANG it all, Robert Browning,

a] Emphatic departure from
archaic style & subject of Canto I —
metamorphosis of English language/paideuma
over centuries
b] parody of the typical Browning opening
–abrupt, colloquial and definitely somebody
speaking to somebody else
c] parody of Ez’s own frequent use of that
style of opening in his early poems

there can be but the one “Sordello.”
But Sordello, and my Sordello?

The central “problems” of the Cantos–
can we know historic truth? And even
if we do, can we transmute it into
poetry without distorting it?
Which Sordello means more or has
the most accuracy — Browning’s?
Pound’s? The academic historian’s?
Metamorphosis of Sordello from
live man to dead man to man living
again in 3 forms: Browning’s
poetic imagination; Pound’s poetic
imagination; academic history…

Lo Sordels si fo di Mantovana.

One bit of certitude — the earliest biograpical
reference to Sordello begins with that
sentence. [EP quotes it in his earliest
prose work, The Sprit of Romance, 1909,
with author and date.] If we accept this “primary source,”
Sordello came from Mantovana;
if we doubt it for any reason we still retain a fact:
at least one contemporary
thought Sordello hailed from thar.
We shall hear more of Sordello.

So-Shu churned in the sea.

A sarcasm by Li Po about a rival poet;
it introduces China and re-introduces
the sea…[Li Po meant that So-Shu
created more foam than waves;
cf EP’s polemics against “mere
ornament” and Frank Lloyd Wright’s
similar & contemporary revolution
against “mere ornament” in architecture.]

Seal sports in the spray-whited circles of cliff-wash,
Sleek head, daughter of Lyr,
eyes of Picasso
Under black fur-hood, lithe daughter of Ocean;
And the wave runs in the beach-groove:

Lovely use of Imagism, I think.
Can’t “see” a seal anymore without
seeing that Picasso eye…
Metamorphosis of sea theme — Mediterranean [Canto I]
to Chinese waters
[So-Shu] to Irish Sea
Sea-god’s name also changes from
[Latin] Neptune to [Irish] Lyr
Seals as daughters of Lir = familiar
theme in Irish legend. Some seals even
metamorph into human women
and marry men. The men always become
heartbroken when the “wives”
turn back to seals and return
to the sea.

“Eleanor, Elenaus and Eliptolis!”

Metamorphs Helen of Troy — Elena
in Greek — to Eleanor of Acquataine,
coming up in Canto VI. Both women
credited with fantastic beauty and
blamed for wars somebody else started.
Cf later theme of “dangerous beauty”…
The dark [Kali] side of the Goddess.
Elenaus, Eliptolis = destroyer of
ships, destroyer of cities [from
Aeschylus] pun on Elena/Eleanor

And poor old Homer, blind, blind as a bat,

Not Ez’s dad, but the Greek poet [poets?];
Ez may also have in mind the author
of Ulysses, then struggling with blindness

Ear, ear for the sea-surge, murmer of old men’s voices:

Wunnerful, how the sea-surge enters the
rhythm as it entered the ears of the
blind poet

“Let her go back to the ships,
Back among Grecian faces, lest evil come on our own,
Evil and further evil, and a curse cursed on our children,

Moves, yes she moves like a goddess
And has the face of a god
and the voice of Schoeney’s daughters,
And doom goes with her in walking,
Let her go back to the ships,

back among Grecian voices.”

Translation from the Iliad, old men
of Troy worrying about Greek armies
coming to get Elena back.
Edith Sitwell loved the sea sound in
this passage. I love the way it mingles
that sea-rhythm with current speech patterns.

Classics no longer archaic as in
Canto I; EP making
Homer contemporary [just like Joyce]
“And doom goes with her on walking”:
I love that line; also love
“a curse cursed on our childen”
in which Sitwell heard two waves smashing

And by the beach-run, Tyro,
Twisted arms of the sea-god,
Lithe sinews of water, gripping her, cross-hold,

The rape of Tyro by sea-god Poseiden…
Why Greek gods often serial
rapists? Or do I digress? Schlain
blames it on the alphabet in
The Alphabet versus the Goddess

Many hints in these early Canti of
overthrow of goddess religions
by god religions?

& I keep sensing Bucky Fuller’s
“mathematizing sea-god”….

“Lithe sinews of water”: Imagism +
sea and sea-gods as identical…
many names for same “thing”….
phantapoetics + logopoetics
[amid a lot of melopoetics]

From an early LSD trip: “The ancients
didn’t ‘think’ of the sea as a god —
they SAW it as a god!”

Sea as symbol of metamorphosis.
[EP detested symbolism in general
but that didn’t keep him from
using it when apt*]:

*”Beauty is aptness to purpose” — Ez,
Machine Art, 1930

Glare azure of water, cold-welter, close cover,
Quiet sun-tawny sand-stretch,
The gulls broad out their wings,

nipping between the splay feathers;
Snipe come for their bath,
bend out their wing-joints,
Spread wet wings to the sun-film,

Pure Imagism/phantopoetics
and IMO quite extraordinarily lovely
Now the major metamorphosis
via Ovid, Euripides and EP’s own
vivid imagist imagination:

And by Scios,
to left of the Naxos passage,
Naviform rock overgrown,
algae cling to its edge,

There is a wine-red glow in the shallows,
a tin flash in the sun-dazzle.

Those last 2 lines there may not rank
as greatest imagist couplet ever
but they have at least one nomination…

The ship landed in Scios,
men wanting spring-water,
And by the rock-pool a young boy loggy with vine-must,

“To Naxos? Yes, we’ll take you to Naxos,
Cum’ along lad.” “Not that way!” “Aye, that way is Naxos.”
And I said: “It’s a straight ship.”

And an ex-convict out of Italy
knocked me into the fore-stays,
(He was wanted for manslaughter in Tuscany)
And the whole twenty against me,

Beginning of the story of Dionysus
kidnapped into slavery….

Mad for a little slave money.

Two of the major evils in Pound’s
universe — avarice and slavery —
joined in one line. Introduction
of economics theme. Note the
“mad”: in Richard St Victor, a major
source of structure in Cantos,
all obsessions = madness,
due to lack of balance.
These sailors thus continue the
Inferno of Canto I in a new form,
by metamorphosis

St Victor divided mind’s functions
into three: 1] mind without discipline,
driven by passions and obsessions;
2] disciplined rationality; 3] mind
united with objects or with allness
by love. EP uses these as analogs
of Dante’s Hell, Purgatory [purification/
alchemical Great Work] and Paradise.
More on that as we proceed!

And they took her out of Scios
And off her course…
And the boy came to, again, with the racket,

And looked out over the bows,
and to eastward, and to the Naxos passage.
God-sleight then, god-sleight:
Ship stock fast in sea-swirl, Ivy upon the oars, King Pentheus,

Acoetes, the honest sailor, now in
Euripides Bachae, telling this story
as warning to Pentheus. Pentheus
tried to stamp out Dionysian relgion:
first image of religious bigotry
in the poem

Maybe EP also had in mind
what he later calls “the
constriction of Bachus” in U.S.
— alcohol prohibition.

               grapes with no seed but sea-foam,
Ivy in scupper hole.
Aye, I, Acoetes, stood there,
               and the god stood by me,
Water cutting under the keel,
Sea-break from stern forrards,
               wake running off from the bow,
And where was gunwale, there now was vine-trunk,
And tenthril where cordage had been,
                grape-leaves on the rowlocks,
Heavy vine on the oarshafts,

Emphasis on Dionysus as god of
vegetation, not just of wine
And now the great cats of Dionysus
appear, first as sound and sensation:

And, out of nothing, a breathing,
                hot breath on my ankles,

Then starting to manifest in vision:

Beasts like shadows in glass,
                 a furred tail upon nothingness.

Smell, sound and sight combined:

Lynx-purr, and heathery smell of beasts,
                where tar smell had been,
Sniff and pad-foot of beasts,
                eye-glitter out of black air.
The sky overshot, dry, with no tempest,
Sniff and pad-foot of beasts,
                fur brushing my knee-skin,
Rustle of airy sheaths,
                dry forms in the aether.
And the ship like a keel in ship-yard,
                slung like an ox in smith's sling,
Ribs stuck fast in the ways,
                grape-cluster over pin-rack,
                void air taking pelt.

WoW!!! especially “void air taking pelt”
Those Magick Cats of Dionysus — Ez had a thing about
cats. Always had a dozen or more. Often a lot more.
Took in strays, the works. Hemingway called Ez
& Dorothy’s pad in Rapollo “the cat house.”

Lifeless air become sinewed,
                feline leisure of panthers,
Leopards sniffing the grape shoots by scupper-hole,
Crouched panthers by fore-hatch,
And the sea blue-deep about us,
                green-ruddy in shadows,
And Lyaeus: "From now, Acoetes, my altars,
Fearing no bondage,
                fearing no cat of the wood,
Safe with my lynxes,
                feeding grapes to my leopards,
Olibanum is my incense,
                the vines grow in my homage."

Lyaeus: anudder name for Dionysus.

I’ve read an interlinear [Latin/English]
Ovid and find his sound [melopoetic]
great as Pound’s but in imagery [phantapoetic]
EP wins by a neck. At least in this passage.

The back-swell now smooth in the rudder-chains,
Black snout of a porpoise
                where Lycabs had been,
Fish-scales on the oarsmen.
                And I worship.
I have seen what I have seen.
                When they brought the boy I said:
"He has a god in him,
                though I do not know which god."
And they kicked me into the fore-stays.
I have seen what I have seen:
                Medon's face like the face of a dory,
Arms shrunk into fins. And you, Pentheus,
Had as well listen to Tiresias, and to Cadmus,
                or your luck will go out of you.
Fish-scales over groin muscles,
                lynx-purr amid sea...

The greedy sailors metamorphed to fish =
Pound’s view of avarice descending
to pre-human evolution.

And of a later year,
               pale in the wine-red algae,
If you will lean over the rock,
               the coral face under wave-tinge,
Rose-paleness under water-shift,
               Ileuthyeria, fair Dafne of sea-bords,
The swimmer's arms turned to branches,
Who will say in what year,
               fleeing what band of tritons,
The smooth brows, seen, and half seen,
               now ivory stillness.

Ileuthyria — Pound’s invention, combining
Eleuthyria, freedom, with Ieliethria,
goddess of childbirth. Cf later creation
of “Isis Kuanon,” final name of goddess
in closing Cantos — Egyptian goddess of
childbirth [and other mysteries] +
Chinese goddess of infinite mercy.

Arms to branches = metamorphosis
again. Cd refer to several classic myths

And So-shu churned in the sea, So-shu also,
                using the long moon for a churn-stick...

Foam on the waves? + repeat

Lithe turning of water,
                sinews of Poseidon,
Black azure and hyaline,
                glass wave over Tyro,

Another repeat. Structure of Cantos
more like symphony than traditional
poesy. But do look at the montages
of Griffith’s Intolerance as another

Close cover, unstillness,
                bright welter of wave-cords,
Then quiet water,
                quiet in the buff sands,
Sea-fowl stretching wing-joints,
                splashing in rock-hollows and sand-hollows
In the wave-runs by the half-dune;
 Glass-glint of wave in the tide-rips against sunlight,
                pallor of Hesperus,
Grey peak of the wave,
                wave, colour of grapes' pulp,

Olive grey in the near,
                far, smoke grey of the rock-slide,
Salmon-pink wings of the fish-hawk
                cast grey shadows in water,
The tower like a one-eyed great goose
                cranes up out of the olive-grove,

Sometimes a tower like a one-eyed great goose means a tower
like a one-eyed great goose. “Call pork pork in your
proposals,” one of EP’s favorite Chinese Emperors
instructs his subalterns.

The haiku also influenced EP — not
the 5-7-5 rule but the juxtaposition
of precise images.

And we have heard the fauns chiding Proteus

Proteus: yet another sea-god but also
a god of metamorphoses…

               in the smell of hay under the olive-trees,
And the frogs singing against the fauns

               in the half-light.

Fauns: permanence? Frogs: change?
I think of the fauns as permanent
because Crazy Uncle Ez defined gods, nymphs, dryads etc
as “eternal states of mind.”
Ends in mid-sentence again/

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