The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

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.

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...

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Forms and Devices

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

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.”


(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

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