Canto 81 is a free-verse poem of 173 lines in Ezra Pound’s long epic poem entitled the Cantos. “Canto” is an Italian word for song, poem, or chant. Pound worked on the Cantos for more than fifty years, from about 1915 until his death. Canto 81 is part of The Pisan Cantos (cantos 74-84), which Pound wrote in 1945 while a prisoner of war in the United States Army’s Disciplinary Training Center (DTC) near Pisa, Italy. With a naïve and misplaced faith in the economic reforms of Italian fascist dictator Benito Mussolini, Pound had delivered broadcasts over Rome Radio criticizing the United States’ actions in World War II. Without visits from family or friends and without his books, Pound wrote the eleven Pisan cantos mostly from memory as he struggled for survival during seven months of solitary confinement before being formally accused of treason.
This poem has two sections. The first ninety-two lines offer a meditation on attempts to find worth in life. Through short narratives and direct quotations, often in colloquial diction, the speaker presents ways of worship as well as rituals of everyday life from ancient to contemporary cultures. The first line grounds the poem in Greek antiquity: “Zeus lies in Ceres’ bosom.” Zeus is a newer male god resting like a baby or lover on the breast of Ceres, the older female god of corn and nature. The section ends with a journalistic account which states that “my ole man went...
(The entire section is 567 words.)