Sestina: Altaforte Themes
by Ezra Pound

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Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

The historically specific persona and setting, the medieval verse form, and the archaic word use of “Sestina: Altaforte” combine to suggest one of the poem’s major themes: the culturally specific consciousness of a warrior during the Middle Ages. At this period in his poetic development, Pound was very much under the influence of the English poet Robert Browning, part of whose fame rests on his dramatic monologues, poems whose speaker is a real or fictional character usually drawn from past history. Pound was fascinated with this use of “personae” (the word originally meant “masks”), through which a poet could enter into a sensibility utterly different from his own: The challenge of creating another kind of awareness—remote in time and preoccupations from his own—excited him.

Indeed, De Born’s personality, as the reader sees it in “Sestina: Altaforte” is in conflict with most modern assumptions about the value of peace over war, of nonviolence over violence. The poem turns ironically about the reversal the persona places on these assumptions: For him, war and death are paradoxically life-giving, and art and joy are to be found in the cries and noisy clamor of battle. Similarly, De Born’s view of nature contrasts strongly with contemporary perceptions. The modern person, conditioned in part by the Romantics to see nature as benign and serene, may well be shocked by De Born’s glorification of the violence of natural phenomena—the bloodiness of a sunrise or the way a storm “kills” a peaceful afternoon.

Ultimately, the irony in “Sestina: Altaforte” is twofold: First, there is the irony arising from the contrast between De Born’s sensibility and that of the modern reader; second, there is the narrative irony existing between Pound’s warlord persona and Pound himself.

The period during which this poem was written has often been viewed as a golden age in Europe, whose...

(The entire section is 477 words.)