Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

The imagery in Canto 74 suggests that human beings will only fulfill their real potential when they bring themselves into harmony with the light of the gods—when, along with the animals and plants, they move in natural sympathy with the universe.

Standing in the way of such potential are a number of obstacles; not the least of these is economic corruption. For Pound, usury symbolized that corruption, because, he believed, usurers make money with money; that is, they contribute nothing to the actual physical well-being of humankind. Earning money through interest on loans occurs only on paper: Lenders are not manufacturers or farmers or artisans, and thus they are out of tune with the natural world.

Canto 74 frames this generalized theme in Pound’s own individual perspective. He places the dry world of economics and the abstractions of history in a human context, his own. An aging poet awaiting trial for treason, Pound sees himself as a victim of the modern world’s corruption. He also views himself, with all human beings, as a victim of time itself: Throughout the poem, he is flooded with memories of his own past. Yet, as a citizen of the world, as a well-known poet and thinker, Pound’s personal life intersected with some of the greatest events of the twentieth century, and so in the lyrical intensity of The Pisan Cantos, he welds together these major themes: the disharmony of the modern world and his own personal tragedy.