“Canto 116” (or “Canto CXVI,” as it was first known) was composed in Italy in 1959. It is a relatively short poem in free verse. Its seventy-four lines vary in length from three to eleven syllables. The figure the poem makes on paper is jagged because of frequent indentation; many of its lines begin in the middle or toward the end of the page.
Upon scrutiny, “Canto 116” reveals a threefold structure: Part 1, so called, extends from Neptunus (Neptune) of line 1 to Justinian, including the next line (line 22), “a tangle of works unfinished.” Muss (Mussolini), the “old crank” dead in Virginia, and the vision of the Madonna are stages in this section. Part 2, comprising the next thirty-four lines, begins with the definite emergence of the first-person narrator (“I have brought the great ball of crystal”) and ends with a concession in line 56: “even if my notes do not cohere.” This median group of lines may be further subdivided into two unequal parts, from line 23 to line 31 and from line 32 to line 56. Finally, part 3 goes from line 57 (“Many errors”) to the end of the poem (line 74), “to lead back to splendour.” The quest for paradise is brought to a rest here, but it promises a new dawn and a renewed beginning.
The first character to burst upon the scene is Neptune, the god of the seas in Greek mythology, whose mind frolics like leaping dolphins. Then there is talk about cosmos-making in a world of the possible: the political realm of Benito Mussolini, the dictator of Italy from 1922 to 1943, and the poetic sphere of fashioning an epic poem, Ezra Pound’s Cantos themselves. The “record” (line 8) and the “palimpsest” (line 9)...
(The entire section is 695 words.)