Canto XX commentary

This Canto seems to me a summation of Cantos 1-19
with variations — new ideograms [concrete particulars]
illustrating major themes.

Sound slender, quasi tinnula,

nice aliteration without Swinburnian
quasi tinnula, “as if ringing” [Catullus];
you can almost hear the ringing

Ligur’ aoide

“Sweet song” [Homer]; Odysseus from Canto I,
this time tempted
by the Sirens…more Odyssean themes will recur
in this Canto, and later

Ligur’ aoide: Si no’us vei, Domna don plus mi cal,
Negus vezer mon bel pensar no val.”

“And if I see you not, lady who enflames me,
No sight is worth the beauty of my thought”
[Bernart de Ventadom];
seductive beauty, like the Sirens’ song,
but not destructive [leads to
Tantrik contemplation
not to crashing on rocks];
recorso of Provencal cult -of- love theme
[Cantos 4-6]

Between the two almond trees flowering,

Two almond trees flowering: the uniquely
Poundian mix of simplicity and loveliness

The viel held close to his side;
And another: s’adora”.

“She is adored” [Cavalcanti]. I think Ez
takes this literally, a deliberate heresy against
Catholic orthodoxy,
and continuation of Provencal theme.
Cf Provencal/Cavalcaanti theme in Canto 6.
See EP’s essays “Psychology & Troubadours”
and “Cavalcanti” and maybe my Ishtar Rising.
[Dante put at least 2 of the Cavalcanti family
in Hell for heresy….]

“Possum ego naturae
non meminisse tuae!”

“Can I forget thy nature” or “thy inwit”
or “thy soul” [Propertius, praising Cynthia
for beauty not visible but felt];
EP cites this often in his prose as
proof that the troubadours did not
“invent” love, as cynics claim;
actually, Propertius praises Cynthia’s
kindness; cf Cunniza da Romano “who freed
her slaves on a Wednesday” [Cantos 6 & 30]

Qui son Properzio ed Ovidio.

Advice to go read Propertius and Ovid on amor

This “overture” combines English, Latin, Provencal,
Greek & Italian into a totally unique melodic structure

The boughs are not more fresh
where the almond shoots
take their March green.

Loverly, loverly

And that year I went up to Freiburg,
And Rennert had said: Nobody, no, nobody
Knows anything about Provencal, or if there is anybody,
It’s old Levy.”

Rennert & Levy: leading scholars in Provencal
language and poetry — the subject of Pound’s M.A.
thesis and a source of many of his translations.
One minor but persistent theme
in the Cantos: Ez’s effort to discover
what the troubadours really meant….

And so I went up to Freiburg,
And the vacation was just beginning,
The students getting off for the summer,
Freiburg im Breisgau,
And everything clean, seeming clean, after Italy.

An ideogram: German towns always seem
clean after Italy. Chew on it.

And I went to old Levy, and it was by then 6.30
in the evening, and he trailed half way across Freiburg
before dinner, to see the two strips of copy,
Arnaut’s, settant’uno R. superiore (Ambrosiana)
Not that I could sing him the music.

Note echo of sea-surge rhythm recurrent
since Canto I.
(the two strips of copy,
Arnaut’s, settant’uno R. superiore (Ambrosiana)):
MS. in which Dante uses a Provencal “word,” noigandres,
from troubadour Arnaut Daniel. The meaning of
this “word” remains in dispute

And he said: Now is there anything I can tell you?”
And I said: I dunno, sir, or
“Yes, Doctor, what do they mean by noigandres?”
And he said: Noigandres! NOIgandres!
“You know for seex mon’s of my life
“Effery night when I go to bett, I say to myself:
“Noigandres, eh, noigandres,
“Now what the DEFFIL can that mean!”

Levy did have a guess, which follows shortly

Wind over the olive trees, ranunculae ordered,
By the clear edge of the rocks
The water runs, and the wind scented with pine
And with hay-fields under sun-swath.
Agostino, Jacopo and Boccata.
You would be happy for the smell of that place
And never tired of being there, either alone
Or accompanied.
Sound: as of the nightingale too far off to be heard.
Sandro and Boccata, and Jacopo Sellaio;
The ranunculae, and almond,

Italian landscapes and painters [and aromas]
hinting of the paradiso terrestre coming at the climax
of the poem

Boughs set espalier.
Duccio, Agostino; e l’olors –
The smell of that place – d’enoi ganres.

Espalier: against the wall
l’olors: the aromas
d’enoi gangres: staves off boredom
[Old Levy’s surmise! it’s two words]

Air moving under the boughs,
The cedars there in the sun,
Hay new cut on hill slope,

The last line uses monosylables to create
a chopped effect, as in EP’s Chinese translations.
He thought English verse had become too legato.

And the water there in the cut
Between the two lower meadows; sound,
the sound, as I have said, a nightingale
Too far off to be heard.
And the light falls, remir,
from her breasts to thighs.

remir: I gaze; another Provencal word
from Arnaut. This part of the paradiso
seems Franco-Italian….

He was playing there at the palla,
Parisina – two doves for an altar – at the window,
” E’l Marchese
Stava per divenir pazzo
after it all.” And that was when Troy was down

Parsina Malatesta, cousin of Sigismundo [Cantos 8-11]
married Nicolo d’Este [El Marchese.]
When convinced she had an affair with his
son, Nic had them both beheaded.
Stava per divenir pazzo: and then he went
nutz [presumably from grief/guilt?]

Echo of Helen of Troy [Canto 2]

In general, Pound sees Rennaisance “villians”
as passion-driven, modern “villians” greed-driven.

[& once again, unlike Dante, Ez allows
for ambiguities and mixed cases]

Borso d’Este, 3rd son of Nic, continually
tried to bring peace between warring
Italian states.

And they came here and cut holes in rock,
Down Rome way, and put up the timbers;
And came here, condit Atesten…

History of d’Este family

“Peace! keep the peace, Borso.”

Borso d’Este, 3rd son of Nic, continually
tried to bring peace between warring
Italian states.

And he said: Some bitch has sold us
(that was Ganelon)

Nic Este becomes Roland, betrayed to the Moors
by Ganelon. Cf editing in Griffith’s Intolerance
[EP follows Chanson Roland, poem not history//
cf openings of Cantos 2 and 8….]

“They wont get another such ivory.”

[Roland’s horn high quality]

And he lay there on the round hill under the cedar
A little to the left of the cut (Este speaking)
By the side of the summit, and he said:
“I have broken the horn, bigod, I have
“Broke the best ivory, l’olofans.”

Jumping back and forth between Este and Roland:
the common theme, betrayal of trust

The ivory was from an elephant;
Roland broke the horn over the skull of
an Arab sent to finish him off…..

Understated irony: Roland is dying
but fusses about a broken horn

And he said:
“Tan mare fustes!”

Roland’s last words, in the Chanson.
“The wrong time.” EP often cited this as an example
of the power of brevity.

pulling himself over the gravel,
“Bigod! that buggar is done for, “They wont get another such ivory.”
And they were there before the wall, Toro, las almenas,
(Este, Nic Este speaking)

Este “becomes” the Spanish national hero, El Cid,
no longer “being” Roland.

[“bigod,” “bugger” etc.: EP believed in following
the tone & style of the original, not making
all antient script sound like Queen James Bible.]

                                               Under the battlement 
(Epi purgo) peur de la hasle, 
And the King said: 
                                  "God what a woman! 
My God what a woman" said the King telo rigido. 
"Sister!" says Ancures, "'s your sister!" 
Alf left that town to Elvira, and Sancho wanted 
 It from her, Toro and Zamora. 
                                                       "Bloody spaniard!

More scraps from the Poema del Cid.
The king got a hard-on [telo rigido] and then felt
abashed to learn the woman was his sister.
We see Eros in many forms in this Canto.

Neestho, le'er go back...

The English translates the Greek. Echo from
Canto 2: Helen again. “Let her go back to the ships”

                                            in the autumn." 
"Este, go' damn you." between the walls, arras, 
Painted to look like arras. 
Glaze green and red feathers, jungle, 
Basis of renewal, renewals; 
Rising over the soul, green virid, of the jungle, 
 Lozenge of the pavement, clear shapes, 
Broken, disrupted, body eternal, 
Wilderness of renewals, confusion 
Basis of renewals, subsistence, 
Glazed green of the jungle;             

Post-Darwinian view of nature as process,
not “thing.” Subject-rhyme with the many appearances
of Dionysus & Chinese fertility-gods. Damn
good rhythms in there too.

Zoe, Marozia, Zothar,
                                            loud over the banners, 
Glazed grape, and the crimson,              

Este thinking of other unfaithful wives;
imagery of delerium

                     cosi Elena vedi,
             where Helen walked
Eros combines joy, love and the continuation
of fertility? Sorta...
In the sunlight, gate cut by the shadow; 
And then the faceted air:
Floating. Below, sea churning shingle.
Floating, each on invisible raft,
On the high current, invisible fluid,
Borne over the plain, recumbent,
The right arm cast back,
the right wrist for a pillow,
The left hand like a calyx,
Thumb held against finger, the third,
The first fingers petal'd up, the hand as a lamp,
A calyx.
From toe to head
The purple, blue-pale smoke, as of incense;
Wrapped each in burnous, smoke as the olibanum’s
Swift, as if joyous.
Wrapped, floating; and the blue-pale smoke of the incense
Swift to rise, then lazily in the wind
as Aeolus over bean-field,
As hay in the sun, the olibanum, saffron,
As myrrh without styrax;
Each man in his cloth, as on raft, on
The high invisible current;
On toward the fall of water;
And then over that cataract,
In air, strong, the bright flames, V shaped;

Another kind of paradiso–but Ez does not identify
it immediately

                Nel fuoco 
D'amore mi mise, nel fuoco d'amore mi mise...

& yet another kind of paradiso: St Francis’s
“In the fire of love He has me,
in the fire of love He has me”

Yellow, bright saffron, croceo; 
And as the olibanum bursts into flame, 
The bodies so flamed in the air, took flame, 
                "...Mi mise, il mio sposo novello."

[“… has me, my new spouse.”
This Canto may record indirectly the beginning
of Ez’s affair with violinist Olga Rudge and
his wife’s briefer affair with an unknown Egyptian.]

Shot from stream into spiral,

Or followed the water. Or looked back to the flowing; 
Others approaching that cataract, 
As to dawn out of shadow, the swathed cloths 
Now purple and orange, 
And the blue water dusky beneath them, 
               pouring there into the cataract, 
With noise of sea over shingle, 
                       striking with: 
                       hah hah ahah thmm thunb, ah 
                       woh woh araha thumm, bhaaa. 
And from the floating bodies, the incense 
       blue-pale, purple above them. 
Shelf of the lotophagoi, 

[lotus-eaters from Homer. It was their Paradise
we visited before St. Francis’s!]

Le paradis ne c’est pas artificiel
but is jagged
For a flash
for an hour
Then agony.
Then an hour

— Canto 90-something
writ in ye olde bugg house
paraphrasing baudilaire

I think he meant Baud was stoned on dope but he, Ez, wasn’t;
I see no evidence that Ez ever got stoned.
But he did pranayama everyday and spent
40some years meditatin’
on Chinese ideograms like cloud over
falling rain over
dancing shaman
which he finally rendered “sensibility.”
Chinese + pranayama may = “stoned” perception……

Aerial, cut in the aether. 
With the silver spilla, 
The ball as of melted amber, coiled, caught up, and turned. 
Lotophagoi of the suave nails, quiet, scornful, 
                " Feared neither death nor pain for this beauty;
If harm, harm to ourselves."

[Wot all us dopers say….]

And beneath: the clear bones, far down, 
Thousand on thousand, 
                " What gain with Odysseus, 
" They that died in the whirlpool 
" And after many vain labours, 
" Living by stolen meat, chained to the rowingbench, 
" That he should have a great fame 
                " And lie by night with the goddess? 
" Their names are not written in bronze 
             " Nor their rowing sticks set with Elpenor's";
Nor have they mourned by sea-bord.
             " That saw never the olives under Spartha 
" With the leaves green and then not green, 
             " The click of light in their branches; 
" That saw not the bronze hall nor the ingle 
" Nor lay there with the queen's waiting maids, 
" Nor had they Circe to couch-mate, Circe Titania, 
" Nor had they meats of Kalupso 
" Or her silk shirts brushing their thighs. 
" Give! What were they given? 
" Poison and ear-wax,

[so they wdn’t hear the Sirens’ song]

                                      and a salt grave by the bull-field, 
" neson amumona, their heads like sea crows in the foam, 
" Black splotches, sea-weed under lightning; 
" Canned beef of Apollo, ten cans for a boat load." 
Ligur' aoide.             

“Sweet song” — used ironically now.

This powerful and powerfully rhythmic passage
marks a turning point. Occidental individualism
seen as flawed at the root. Cf “the poor devils
dying of cold” in Cantos 9, 10; the trenches
of World War I in Canto 16….

Rescuing a sane
individualism and merging it with a
sane holism represent the major task
Ez set himself in the Cantos

And from the plain whence the water-shoot,
Across, back, to the right, the roads, a way in the grass,
The Khan’s hunting leopard, and young Salustio
And Ixotta; the suave turf
Ac farae familiares, and the cars slowly,
and the panthers, soft-footed.

Malatesta wealth….leopard from an unknown Khan…
ac farae familiares: wild animals
[sounds like Citizen Kane‘s Xanadu];

Salustio Malatesta: murdered by his brother;
Ixotta: Sigismundo’s beloved, to whom the
Temple is dedicated.

Plain, as the plain of Somnus, 
                the heavy cars, as a triumph, 
Gilded, heavy on wheel, 
                and the panthers chained to the cars, 
Over suave turf, the foam wrapped, 
Rose, crimson, deep crimson, 
And, in the blue dusk, a colour as of rust in the sunlight, 
Out of white cloud, moving over the plain, 
Head in arm's curve, reclining; 
The road, back and away, till cut along the face of the rock, 
And the cliff folds in like a curtain, 
The road cut in under the rock 
Square groove in the cliff's face, as chiostri, 
The columns crystal, with peacocks cut in the capitals, 
The soft pad of beasts dragging the cars; 
Cars, slow, without creak, 
And at windows in inner roadside: 
                le donne e i cavalieri 
                smooth face under hennin, 
The sleeves embroidered with flowers, 
Great thistle of gold, or an amaranth, 
Acorns of gold, or of scarlet, 
Cramoisi and diaspre 
                 slashed white into velvet; 
Crystal columns, acanthus, sirens in the pillar heads; 
And at last, between gilded barocco, 
Two columns coiled and fluted, 
Vanoka, leaning half naked, 
                  waste hall there behind her.             

The images and sounds transcend even Canto 2…..

” Peace!
Borso…, Borso!”

A cry for Borso d’Este, who tried to bring
peace to Italy

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