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...

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Forms and Devices

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

The Seven Lakes canto is generally considered one of the most beautiful portions of the Cantos. In theme and language, it reflects Pound’s lifelong love of Chinese and Japanese poetry. Although it is impossible to render oriental verse forms into English, Pound here tries to capture the flavor of a classic Chinese poem, using short free-verse lines and syntax that often dispenses with the subject-verb-object structure of English sentences. Largely, then, the canto is made up of traditional natural images drawn from Chinese poetry.

Canto 49 is an imitation of the classical Chinese shih, or song, first collected in the ancient Shih Ching (Classic of Songs). The main structural characteristic of the shih, which Pound adopts here, is the use of short one-or two-syllable words, grouped in four-word lines. Stanza 6 exactly reproduces one such shih. As a result, the rhythm of the poem is terse and far more clipped than most Western poetic styles.

Even though the language of the Seven Lakes canto is direct, the imagery attempts to suggest emotion rather than state it openly. Thus the persona never tells the reader what he himself is feeling; instead, he allows the imagery of the natural world to do that for him. The heavy rain falling in the twilight of the first stanza, the bent reeds, and the “weeping” bamboos all strongly indicate the persona’s sadness and loneliness, and the fire and ice of the cloud in the third...

(The entire section is 425 words.)


(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

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