The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

Canto 49—often called the “Seven Lakes” canto—is one of a set of ten cantos appearing in the third book of Ezra Pound’s twentieth century epic, the Cantos. This long poetic sequence, including 120 cantos, weaves scores of subjects and themes into the longest important poetic work of the modern era. By the time the “Fifth Decad” of cantos was published, Pound had already been at work on his epic for nearly twenty years; he would continue to write new cantos for thirty more.

The time is late autumn, and the persona is evidently someone journeying down a canal, noting the passing landscape. In the poem’s first line, however, Pound tells us that “these verses” are “by no man”; his intention here is possibly to suggest that the poem itself is a natural object, swelling up from the landscape like the mist or the flocks of birds who live by the banks of the canal.

The persona is evidently standing in the riverboat’s small cabin, lit by a single lamp; later, in stanza 4, he describes the “hole of the window” from which he views the landscape he describes. The canto’s second line sets the scene: The persona travels late in the year, when the normally busy canal is empty. The weather is turning cold; during the course of the poem, the rain noted in the second line becomes a snow flurry. Meanwhile, under the heavy rain, plants growing on the banks, the reeds and bamboos, bend and creak. The cold rain and the persona’s loneliness evoke an aura of sadness, and he feels that the natural world empathizes with him.

Finally, in the second stanza, the weather clears. The sun sets and the moon rises over the surrounding hills. Although Pound gives the reader too little information to be certain about the exact landscape...

(The entire section is 727 words.)