The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

In some respects, this poem is not only old-fashioned but archaic—quite different from the modern free-verse poetry for which Ezra Pound is famous. For one thing, as the poem’s title indicates, the verse structure is that of the sestina, a form invented by the Provençal poets of the early Middle Ages. For another, the speaker is Bertran De Born, a medieval warlord.

The sestina is a complex seven-stanza verse form: The first six stanzas are six lines long, and the seventh stanza, the “envoy,” is three lines long. The first six stanzas all use the same set of concluding words in their six lines, but these recurrent words shift position as the stanzas progress so that the word that ended line 1 in stanza 1, for example, ends line 2 in stanza 2, line 4 in stanza 3, and thus the pattern continues. In a sense, these recurrent ending words take the place of rhyme in giving structure to the stanzas. In this sestina, the ending words are “peace,” “music,” “clash,” “opposing,” “crimson,” and “rejoicing.”

In the lines appearing before the first stanza, Pound provides some background information to help the reader make his or her way through this difficult verse form. “Loquitur” means “speaker,” in this case “En” (Sir) Bertrans De Born. In La divina commedia (c. 1320; The Divine Comedy) Dante portrays De Born as a “stirrer up of strife,” a characterization that fits his remarks in the poem that follows. “Eccovi!” is Italian for “here you are,” which is addressed to the reader, as is the following line, “Judge ye!”; Pound is inviting the reader to make his or her own judgment about whether Dante’s condemnation of De Born was fair. Finally, Pound...

(The entire section is 710 words.)