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The Cantos

3.89  ·  Rating Details  ·  4,213 Ratings  ·  90 Reviews
Delmore Schwartz said about The Cantos: "They are one of the touchstones of modern poetry." William Carlos WIlliams said "[Pound] discloses history by its odor, by the feel of it—in the words; fuses it with the words, present and past, to MAKE his Cantos. Make them."

Since the 1969 revised edition, the Italian Cantos LXXII and LXXIII (as well as a 1966 fragment concluding t
Paperback, 896 pages
Published June 17th 1996 by New Directions (first published January 1st 1956)
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Phenomenology of Spirit by Georg Wilhelm Friedrich HegelBeing and Time by Martin HeideggerCritique of Pure Reason by Immanuel KantFinnegans Wake by James JoyceThe Cantos by Ezra Pound
5th out of 232 books — 285 voters
The Complete Poems by Emily DickinsonLeaves of Grass by Walt WhitmanShakespeare's Sonnets by William ShakespeareThe Waste Land and Other Poems by T.S. EliotAriel by Sylvia Plath
Best Poetry Books
110th out of 1,619 books — 1,782 voters

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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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Mar 18, 2013 Geoff marked it as to-read
Though Pound's Cantos are going onto the "to-poke-at-with-a-stick" shelf, I have actually read a number of the poems over the past few months, and some of them are staggeringly stunningly wind-and-sea-and-stone-coast-wrought Hellenic dreambeauties. These from the first 15th or so of the book that I have breached. Then some are incomprehensible limbos. Gass's essay on Pound in "Finding A Form", where he spends the first two pages deconstructing the Fate hidden in his name and the rest chalking up ...more
Peycho Kanev
Aug 23, 2011 Peycho Kanev rated it it was amazing
Shelves: poetry
One of the greatest wordsmiths ever. Reading Pound, one feels the weight of civic responsibility. Pound rages at what he sees rending Western Civilization from its roots. He discloses history by mentioning it, using events as metaphors, as expressions, as examples of his points, and in doing this he expects you to know them. Pound's poetry convicts one to read Dante, to read Homer, to read the Troubadours. The Cantos really has no plot. The poem consists of approximately 120 shorter poems (thems ...more
Mar 11, 2015 Eric rated it it was amazing
It is difficult to estimate the totality of effect of Pound's having been. We can say this much. Without Pound there is no Williams, no Olson, no Zukofsky--to name only the most obvious suspects. But we might as well say that without Pound there is no Joyce, no Eliot. Lewis is, natheless, as the tree, having never been (nor yet is he to be) seen as much, if seen. Gaudier? Forget it. Antheil? Well, yes, but to what extent? Thus, and as simply, may we owe the finer and distinct shapes of poetry, p ...more
Nov 10, 2011 Hadrian rated it really liked it
Shelves: poetry
Phew. This is something. I feel like I've run a marathon, and I've only picked at parts of these.

This is a wholly absorbing set of poetry. Approximately 120 cantos which start off reminiscing about the Renaissance, going through all eras and ages of history, citing letters, missives, pamphlets, rages. History as poetry, a grand tour. Chinese characters, intricate, representing ideas and names and figures.

The chant, USURA, elicits rage and greed and war, and the titanic struggles against corrupti
Ken Moten
"And If you say that this tale teaches...
a lesson, or that the Reverend Eliot
has found a more natural who think
you will
get through hell in a hurry...
" - opening lines of Canto XLVI

You will not find a better summary of all that modernist poetry had to offer than Ezra Pound's decades long collection of poetry, written with The Divine Comedy in mind, that he simply called The Cantos. It is one of the most voluminous, complex, ambitious, and extreme works of literature ever released.
Wesley Blixt
Sep 24, 2009 Wesley Blixt rated it it was amazing
You want to reject Pound, as you want to reject Celine, for his politics, and for his role in the tragedy of the 20th century. But his is voice that gets inside you head and won't got way, and his incantations make your liver quiver. And you realize that there really is no Eliot or Hemingway or Williams or Ginsberg without him. No Beats. No Funk. And besides, the greatest tragedy he presided over was his own. Winter is icumin in, lude sing goddam . . .
Oct 23, 2009 Christan rated it it was amazing
Difficult, difficult read. It is also a work of genius. Demented genius at that. Imagine Pound living in an steel cage, writing under the glare of floodlights and open hostility. Certainly not a nice man, but also not an animal. There is no Emily Dickinson to be found here...
Jul 16, 2010 DoctorM rated it it was amazing
Brilliant, maddening, exhausting--- but one of the masterpieces of modern lit. There are sections that thrill the heart to read aloud and cantos that drive you into a fury with obscurantism and posturing. Every time the word "usura" comes up (a fortiori when it's a personified Usura) you remember Pound's lunatic politics and his support of Mussolini and Hitler's invasion of Russia. And certainly the madness of Pound's later years is just waiting here. But these poems are great powerful thunderin ...more
Kyle Muntz
Feb 12, 2015 Kyle Muntz rated it really liked it
Probably the most ambitious work of poetry ever, and interesting for so many reasons. Sections of this book are incredibly beautiful, timeless, and untouchable, paired with a bunch of fascinating intellectual moves and an attempt to bring together the history and mythology of everything, ever, in a single poetic work. Unfortunately, huge chunks (probably most of the book) are terrible, with a special mention going to a chunk near the center where Pound basically just lineates John Adam's letters ...more
Aug 23, 2010 Dennis rated it did not like it
Shelves: pomes-all-sizes
Ugh, if I could provide a rating of negative stars, this would be the one. Perhaps I'll finish it one day. In my death-bed senility I'll turn the last page and hauntingly tell that terrible grandchild, the one that's always torturing the cat or something, "Promise me one day you'll read this, it's a classic." I call this move the Reverse Rosebud. I'm spiteful like that; I've just committed to too many pages at this point.

I'm no great critic of poetry. I try not to overanalyze what I read that c
Oct 29, 2007 Catherine rated it it was amazing
after a few glasses of wine i LOVE this book. i haven't found very many deeper meanings in pound's rambling.. i think its just his intoxication with words and their rhythms that make it fantastic
Jun 19, 2014 TinHouseBooks rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: books-we-love
Miles Jochem (Editorial Intern, Tin House Books): You know you’re in for a doozy when the most famous literary appraisal of a book ends with the warning, “There are the Alps, / fools! Sit down and wait for them to crumble.” These lines, written by Basil Bunting, are about Ezra Pound’s Cantos, one of the pillars of Modernism. Pound ranks among the most controversial of writers, not least due to his open sympathy for anti-Semitic fascists. In fact, the US government charged him with treason in 194 ...more
Scott Gates
Oct 27, 2008 Scott Gates rated it did not like it
I think The Cantos is a disaster. Maybe you could justify this mess by citing it as an early example of “found poetry” (i.e., large chunks of it is stuff that Pound cribbed directly from primary sources, but he chopped the lines to make it look like poetry). I confess: I didn’t make it past Canto 28. There is some beautiful writing, but at a ratio of about three lines per five cantos. So it was difficult mathematically to justify carrying on in the face of this deluge of obscurantism.

There is s
Dec 16, 2007 Andy rated it it was amazing
I finally read it through this year (every word, with the exception of some pieces of the "China" cantos), and will go back to reread a bunch of it soon. Really, it deserves 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5 stars. It's necessary to read it in chunks: often a particularly opaque and kind of boring canto turns out to have a formal function in relation to the ones around it that gives it the status of a low-activity passage in a piece of music.

I'm with just about everybody else in preferring the "Pisans," but oth
James Debruicker
Dec 05, 2010 James Debruicker rated it really liked it
I know. I KNOW. Pound's indefensible as a person. He was a fascist and an anti-Semite and completely fucking nuts. He's also been dead for a while so I don't feel bad about reading this (much like I'll finally watch Roman Polanski films once that fucker kicks the bucket).

The parts about how shitty World War I is are fantastic. The parts about myth are fantastic. Then Pound goes off on a tear about... I don't know... the gold standard, or something, and then the banks that run the world, and the
Jul 18, 2007 Chester rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Fascists and Poetry Lovers
Well, a fascist he may have been, but his poetry is daring, difficult and beautiful. His images remain the best ever written...with a line he could conjure such feelings, such reactions -- and not always pleasant: "a condom full of black beetles". His writing, nigh inaccessible to those not possessing an almost encylopedic knowledge of classical literature, chinese mythology, science, poetry, etc. is in some senses the ultimate expression of the elitist movement of high modernism...and that's wh ...more
Brian Hischier
Aug 18, 2013 Brian Hischier rated it it was amazing
I only give this five stars because Pound is dead. If he was alive, I'd ask him to stop publishing, but by all means to keep writing this mind-boggling work----it was clearly important to him in ways I can't fathom. On the other hand, it makes complete sense. There are moments of clarity that remind me of old Pound, but Old Pound spreads them out so far across the work that I forget why I'm still reading. But that's what reading is, though: lots of words and a few great, memorable moments that a ...more
Jul 23, 2010 Cameron rated it it was amazing
Tough going, but worth it. Despite its size, it's incomplete, trails off. Full of false starts, wrong paths, arrogance. But also great beauty. It's a gorgeous failure, and well worth exploring, much like life.
Apr 07, 2010 Mark rated it it was amazing
So what if it doesn't cohere? When it's lovely, it's lovely. Parts are intensely moving. Demote the book, please. It's the magnum opus of an American eccentric, and should be read as such.
Aug 25, 2007 Clint rated it it was amazing
I could read this book again and again forever and still not completely get it, but it is one amazing book. Being fluent in 12 or 13 languages would help.
Dec 20, 2013 Anthony rated it really liked it
An epic masterpiece, heart breakingingly beautiful in many places, but uneven, and even unreadable in other spots.
Aug 09, 2008 Dundar rated it it was amazing
unending discovery of almost anything that is formed in poetry... never to be fully understood
Robert Riley
Jun 23, 2012 Robert Riley rated it it was amazing
The greatest poetic epic of the 20th century. Takes a lot of study, but worth every minute.
Jun 30, 2013 Ian rated it it was amazing
A great work. Canto XLV in particular is the true spirit of puck rock.
Jul 27, 2007 Mitch rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Takes years to read these fully. It did pay off. For me, anyway.
Nov 04, 2012 Luís rated it it was amazing
Simply indispensable.
Apr 04, 2007 Catherine rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: faves
currently using this book
Oct 14, 2008 Brian rated it really liked it
Almost a century after he began his epic Cantos, the shadow Ezra Pound throws across modern poetry is still immense. Along with T.S Eliot, he is an undisputed titan of modernist literature. But apparantly, hardly anyone actually READS him, not like they read Eliot, or Williams, or Stevens.

The reason for this could be his controversial political views (sympathising with Mussolini and his fascist regime won't win you many new friends, or readers), or the famed difficulty of his convoluted, comple
Nov 09, 2009 David rated it liked it
Ezra Pound has understandably had a bad press with his fascist leanings and eventual descent into madness. But so has Wagner. One has to separate the man from the work sometimes, and his poetry although often opaque to the point of unintelligibility has for me some flashes of beauty and insight. He's full of obscure allusions to the Classics which is a pain at times. Eliot does that as well, and sometimes you can't decide whether he's just showing off or has a valid association to make. Plenty o ...more
Oct 03, 2014 Ken added it
The Cantos of Pound
The phonebook of history
Watch him dial it in
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  • The Maximus Poems
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  • The Collected Poems
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Ezra Weston Loomis Pound was an American expatriate poet, critic and intellectual who was a major figure of the Modernist movement in early-to-mid 20th century poetry.

Pound's The Cantos contains music and bears a title that could be translated as The Songs—although it never is. Pound's ear was tuned to the motz et sons of troubadour poetry where, as musicologist John Stevens has noted, "melody and
More about Ezra Pound...

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“The temple is holy because it is not for sale” 39 likes
“M'amour, m'amour
what do I love and
where are you?
That I lost my center
fighting the world
The Dreams clash
and are shattered-
and that I tried to make a paradiso

I have tried to write Paradise
Do not move
Let the wind speak
that is paradise
Let the Gods forgive what I
have made
Let those I love try to forgive
what I have made.”
More quotes…