The Poem

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Pound begins Canto 29 with a reference to a cosmology and a tribute to light (lux). This description is consonant with the metaphysics of light proposed by the thirteenth century philosopher Grosseteste, whose thinking was familiar to Pound. According to Grosseteste light is from God and is the basis of matter and form. Any dimming of light in the cosmos indicates a decline and a decadence in matter owing to the privation of light. This view constitutes Pound’s notion of forma; forma is that something which produces “ideas,” especially “ideas in action,” which is Pound’s definition of history.

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Then Pound presents his views on the natures of women and love. Because of their biology and their beauty of face and figure, women are natural lures of men; hence they can be agents of enhancement to men or agents of destruction. Pound presents the latter type in Pernella, the concubine of Count Aldobrando Orsini of Verona. Having given birth to two male children, she wishes her second to be the heir to her lover’s estate despite the fact that Aldobrando has an heir in his grown son, Niccolò Orsini, Count of Petigliano, a gifted mercenary soldier. Believing that Niccolò’s courage will get him killed in battle in the near future, Pernella murders her first child in order to advance the second. Seeing into her ambition, Niccolò kills her second child. Foiled in her scheme, Pernella through false communication starts a war. For her treason Niccolò kills her.

Next Pound introduces the troubadours—those aristocratic poet-musicians whose favorite subjects were courtly love, war, and nature. They are represented here by Sordello di Goito (d. 1270), who loves the noblewoman Cunizza, the wife of Rizzardo di Bonifacio. Sordello runs away with her but soon loses her to a knight named Bonio. The other model is Arnaut Daniel (d. 1210), who loved a noblewoman of Gascony, the wife of Sir Guillem de Bouvilla. Ideally, courtly love was what the troubadours called “pure love”: It consisted of the union of the hearts and minds of the lovers without physical possession of the woman, the aim being the ennobling of the lover. In practice, “pure love” held a danger because it involved the fanning of illicit desires. If the couple’s spirits were weak, the lovers could lapse into adultery.

Pound now leaves early Renaissance Italy for the early twentieth century in the United States. He presents the allegorical figure of “Lusty Juventus,” who represents the spirit of youth as a life force. He confronts an old funeral director in front of the latter’s house. This man has daughters whose behavior has caused comment among residents of the town. The undertaker does not know how he feels about his daughters. Apparently these young women have revolted against their Protestant heritage and have become “flappers” of the Jazz Age. “The wail of the phonograph” is that of a “djassban” hammering out sexy music suggestive of a “pornograph” to the father’s ear. As the representative of the Protestant conscience, he is confused. He has habitually been opposed to drinking alcohol, smoking cigarettes, playing cards, and, above all, dancing and free love. It may seem that Pound’s leap from Renaissance Italy to the 1920’s Jazz Age in the United States is a big leap in “clock time.” However, in the Cantos Pound is not concerned with clock time, placing the emphasis on “organic time.” Pound held that cultural complexes as processes repeat themselves in accord with Friedrich Nietzsche’s principle of the “eternal return.”

Juventus speaks in the voice of Grosseteste on the relation of light to matter and forma. The American landscape merges into the European scene and becomes multilingual. The main theme of Canto 29 is now spelled out: “the female/ Is an element, the female/ Is a chaos/ An octopus/ A biological process.” At this point the Lord of Light appears in the person of Helios.

Forms and Devices

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Last Updated on May 10, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 218

Canto 29 has a principal theme—the exploration of the power of the female sex and the danger inherent in the practice of courtly love—but it has no formal pattern. Rather, it proceeds in a manner similar to the jazz improvisations of such virtuosos as Bix Beiderbecke on the cornet or Art Tatum on the piano, whose styles were very personalized. Pound considered poetry to be “charged language” closely related to music and to common speech. His main technical devices are the use of a persona and its metamorphosis; he employs changelings and their voices, juxtaposition of facts, events, and quotations (often in foreign languages), and dependence on an ideographic method based on the pattern of a certain class of Chinese characters or ideograms.

Canto 29 is but a section of a whole, the Cantos, a modern epic poem that is a cultural history of the world in which the poet seeks to reveal the organic unity of civilizations. Hence it is multicultural and multilingual. Pound intended it to be didactic and personal. He comments on the past in order to shed light on the present from his unique point of view. He might have said of the Cantos what Walt Whitman said of his Leaves of Grass (1855): “Camerado, this is no book;/ Who touches this touches a man.”

Bibliography

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Last Updated on May 10, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 123

Froula, Christine. A Guide to Ezra Pound’s Selected Poems. New York: New Directions, 1983.

Heymann, David. Ezra Pound: The Last Rower. New York: Viking Press, 1976.

Kenner, Hugh. The Poetry of Ezra Pound. London: Faber & Faber, 1951. Rev. ed. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1985.

Knapp, James F. Ezra Pound. Boston: Twayne, 1979.

Laughlin, James. Pound as Wuz: Essays and Lectures on Ezra Pound. St. Paul, Minn.: Graywolf Press, 1987.

Nadel, Ira Bruce. Ezra Pound: A Literary Life. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004.

Stock, Noel. The Life of Ezra Pound. 1970. Rev. ed. San Francisco: North Point Press, 1982.

Surette, Leon. Pound in Purgatory: From Economic Radicalism to Anti-Semitism. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1999.

Tryphonopoulos, Demetres P., and Stephen J. Adams, eds. The Ezra Pound Encyclopedia. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 2005.

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Themes