The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

Canto 1 is the first poem in a long sequence of 120 cantos making up what the poet, Ezra Pound, conceived of as a twentieth century epic. Pound worked on the Cantos for nearly fifty years, weaving scores of subjects and themes into the longest important poetic work of the modern era. When he set out on his poetic odyssey, Pound conceived of his poem as a modern version of Dante’s The Divine Comedy (c.1320); his intention was to mirror Dante’s epic organization into “inferno,” “purgatory,” and “heaven.” Pound, following Dante, called the individual units of the epic cantos.

When Pound finished Canto 1, in 1921, he had no idea what the final shape of his modern epic would be, but he was aware that this first canto would have to act as an overture to whatever followed. So in many ways, Canto 1 is a capsule form of many of the themes and poetic devices that would come in the succeeding cantos. At the same time, this poem reflects many of Pound’s interests in subject and form that appear in his earlier works.

Canto 1 can be divided into two sections: The first, longer section (ending with “Lie quiet Divus”) is drawn from the Odyssey (c.800 b.c.e.), Book XI, and certain other Homeric works; the second half is a pastiche, which, although it still refers directly to Odysseus, also echoes other classic poems, chiefly a Homeric hymn to Aphrodite.

Although the...

(The entire section is 563 words.)