Christopher's Reviews > Selected Cantos

Selected Cantos by Ezra Pound
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Jul 18, 2007

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The SELECTED CANTOS of Ezra Pound is the poet's own collection of those portions of his magnum opus that he thought the best and most representative of the work.

I won't attempt here to review the Cantos in any real depth. Suffice it to say that in a work of 818 pages, written from youth through maturity and mental breakdown to senescence, with a wide variety of concerns from Chinese antiquity to kooky modern economics, the material within is quite heterogenous and inconsistent. In the complete work there are portions of total banality and clumsiness, and of course Pound's infamous anti-Semitism. But there are also moments of awesome and inspiring poetry, especially in the exotic Chinese poems and in the chronicle of individual experience in the Pisan cantos. I can't promise to anyone that they will like the Cantos--a reason why all of my reviews of its editions are three stars--but for me, I find some of Pound's own lines to explain my attitude towards the work, "What thou lovest well remains, the rest is dross". There's enough here to make me a very happy reader, in spite of all the faults.

What does this SELECTED CANTOS volume offer? Well, for one, it's much more accessible than the complete edition. Instead of an intimidating hardbound 818 pages, we get a softcover of 119 pages. This is much more manageable for one who wants to discover some of the work before committing to buying the whole. The selection was made in 1966, when all but the final two poems were written. It is representative of the whole, as we do get the final cantos where Pound mourns his inability to write a "paradiso". The Fragment for the final Canto, which I think doggerel, is thankfully missing. The publisher added 200 more lines to the excepts of Cantos already selected here, as well as some fragments of Cantos which appeared in 1970.

As the selection was made so late, after Pound had to show contrition for his anti-semitic demagogery of the 1930s, the selections here avoid that most uncomfortable and deplorable material. This works out very well. An excerpt is given here from Canto LII that shows a beautiful transformation of a Chinese calendar text into almost Hesiod-like metres; all the awful Jew-hating content from the beginning of that canto, so inconsistent with the following material, is nicely trimmed away. However, Pound's interest in the consequences of usury are still represented. Canto XLV, beginning "With usura hath no man a house of good stone", is one of the most striking poems of the work and did indeed have to be found here.
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