Critical opinion on Pound's The Cantos is more divided than is the critical opinion on any other important modernist work, and the epic's critical fortunes have risen and fallen with time. Even during the half-century during which the work appeared in installments, readers and critics were widely divided on the poem's merits. As the critical literature on The Cantos is vast, here we will look only at how some of the most prominent writers and critics have felt about Pound's epic.
As the poem was being composed, even Pound's close friends and admirers were unsure about the structure of the poem—how it fit together and what it would look like as a whole. The Irish poet William Butler Yeats wrote in 1936 that "the relation of all the elements to one another, repeated or unrepeated, is to become apparent when the whole is finished... Like other readers I discover at present merely exquisite or grotesque fragments." Yeats felt that the poem had "more style than form; at moments more style, more deliberate nobility and the means to convey it than in any contemporary poet known to me, but it is constantly interrupted, broken, twisted into nothing by its direct opposite, nervous obsession, nightmare, stammering confusion."
T. S. Eliot echoed Yeats' criticisms, writing in 1946 that in '‘The Cantos there is an increasing defect of communication, not apparent when he is concerned with Sigismondo Malatesta, or Chinese dynasties,...
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