Study Guide

Canto 4

by Ezra Pound

Canto 4 Themes

Themes and Meanings (Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

The foundation stones of a civilization, according to Pound, are in essence urbanization, writing, and religious consciousness. If a civilization is to survive, the moral law must be respected and observed. There must be self-discipline and control of the meaner passions: Lust, revenge, murder, and greed must be disallowed and foolish wars avoided. In Pound’s view history follows organic time and consists of “ideas in action.” These ideas in action result from the exercise of human will in conjunction with certain ethical frameworks. The actions occur at certain places and at certain times to produce cultural complexes. Such a complex includes language, knowledge, religious consciousness, myth and legend, morals, government, law, customs, and the arts. Through presenting selected past ideas in action, Pound wishes his reader to learn important truths about the present. To Pound, civilization is the inevitable destiny of a culture that is allowed to develop. He held that civilization follows the laws of the organic world and that cultural processes repeat themselves in cyclic stages.

According to R. W. Dasenbrock, “the pattern or repeat in history that fascinated Pound” was the “close interrelation between cultural achievement and violence.” This relationship is the dominant theme of Canto 4. Yet the focus on violence stands in contrast to five kinds of love that are also illustrated in the poem: lustful love (Tereus), courtly love (the troubadours), married love (Manlius and Vinia Aurancules), self-love (King Acrisius), and love of life (the Transcendental Light).