One assignment for my Pound and Williams seminar is to create an allusion chart for one of Pound’s Cantos. I hope that, freed from the paper demand to make an argument, students might follow lines of reference further and more curiously and with greater rigour also, than they otherwise might.
Here then, the in-class work they start with, and the sample allusion chart I give them, for Canto II, my first love.
Your fifth hour assignment for Pound is to complete an allusion chart for one canto (or a passage from a longer canto). Today’s work will give you some practice with that.
Carroll F. Terrell’s A Companion to The Cantos of Ezra Pound (Vol. 1. Vol. 2.)
Begin by choosing, with your partner, a canto to work with. Then turn a sheet of paper sideways and creating three columns: “Line or Phrase,” “Allusion or Translation,” “Significance, Issues, Questions” (see example below).
Working together, from the start of the canto, note every allusion you find (left-hand column); use Terrell and your own wits to explain the allusion (middle column); and consider the significance of the allusion, issues it raises, and questions left unanswered (right-hand column).
If you note allusions that aren’t in Terrell, you can track those, too. For instance, we noted in class that the rhythm of Canto I echoes the rhythm Pound’s “Seafarer.” So, we might enter “(four-beat accentual rhythm)” in the lefthand column; in the middle column, something like “Recalls Pound’s translation of “The Seafarer” and Old English rhythm generally”; and, in the right-hand column, something like “Overlays two sea journeys: seafarer’s and Odysseus’s; and a search for beginnings here: the roots of poetry in English, the roots of the epic.”
In the middle column, the challenge is to choose the salient information from Terrell, or any other source you use. Don’t just plunk it down verbatim – select and digest. (Any other sources should be noted in a Works Consulted page at the back.) In the right-hand column, the challenge is to make appropriate inferences from the allusion. Don’t be afraid to have questions and to ask them. Pertinent questions are just as good as clever inferences.
An allusion chart for Canto II
|Line or phrase||Allusion or Translation||Significance, Issues, Questions|
|Hang it all, Robert Browning||Robert Browning, author of Sordello, who treats the poet Sordello as a dramatic mask. • EP regards Sordello as the last epic in English—will pick up where RB left off. • Material recycled from first attempt at Cantos.||Signals EP will use dramatic masks (personae) just as Browning does—so “I” may or may not mean Pound himself. • The Cantos are an epic but what “epic” means is up for grabs. • EP recycling own work and recycling culture’s work as well.|
|but the one “Sordello”||The hero and mask of Browning’s poem. Italian troubadour (singer and poet, from French, trouver). Abducted the wife of his patron—somewhat in the style of courtly love—but, oops. Fled. • Returned a gift of five castles (for military service) because felt he was “far richer through his poetry” (CT).||Masks as above. • EP’s early work translating (and imitating) troubadours comes into play here. How and why do troubadours matter? • Love and love’s transgressions introduced as theme. Connection to come between human love and earth’s fertility. • Tension (or interplay) introduced between material productions (castles) and artistic ones (songs).|
|Lo Sordels si fo di Mantovana||“Sordello is from Mantua” (Italian).||EP uses places (and persons) as metonyms for values and practices—how does Mantua work in that light? • First use of Italian—after Latin at end of Canto I, and several Classical Greek allusions. Signals attention to Mediterranean cultures.|
|So-shu churned in the sea||Reference uncertain. May be corruption of “Shiba Shojo,” Japanese for a Chinese poet who, according to Li Po, created “foam instead of waves” (CT). • Or, contrary to CT, may be a Japanese transliteration of Chinese Taoist philosopher Chuangtse.||If former—would seem to mark what a poet should not do—and stands in contrast to Browning. • If latter—may be an approving reference—do all of EP’s references mark either approval or disapproval? (Compare to his treatment later of “Taozers.”) • Either way—line marks transition to seascape.|
|daughters of Lir||Lir—Celtic god of the sea—seals are for EP his daughters. • Seals closely linked with Greek figure of Proteus—minor god who shifts shapes.||Pun on Lear? • Proteus—minor Greek God—characterized by transformation, as in “protean.” Figures in story of Odysseus (c.f. Canto I).|
|eyes of Picasso||“evokes the artist’s faculty for changing the shape of the things he sees” (CT)||What do Proteus and Picasso have in common? Metamorphosis. One alters his own form, the other alters the forms he sees. Not a coincidence that canto centres on a story out of Ovid’s Metamorphoses. • Could Lear fit in here too? He goes through a profound change of condition—if not of form. (C.f. tragic figures of canto IV.)|
|daughter of Ocean||Capital “O” makes ocean either an abstraction—not EP’s style—or a being. Makes the sea a god.||From class: “gods are a way of seeing nature.”|
|Eleanor, ελεναυσ and ελεπτολισ!||Eleanor: Helen of Troy, Eleanor of Aquitaine. • ελεναυσ: ship-destroying. • ελεπτολισ: city-destroying.||Helen of Troy was “cause” of Trojan War—in which ships and in the end a city were destroyed. Curious misogyny by which a woman is blamed for a war men started, fought, and killed women and children in (as well as each other). Connect to efforts in later cantos to find a single cause for WWI and WWII: usury. • Eleanor of Aquitaine: “archetype of the femme fatale, inspiring both strife and poetry” (CT). Women and men both stand as types or archetypes in Cantos … do either ever stand as individuals?|
|“Let her go …”||Voices of old men of Troy (“murmur of old men’s voices”) who wanted to send her back to Greece and end the war.||EP seems to disdain their timidity—a failure of the life instinct—and yet they share his aversion to war. What gives? • Note how he reconfigures his source: instead of admiration—rejection, as in Homer, he gives us rejection—admiration—rejection. Why?|
|Schoeney’s daughters||Schoeneus, father of Atalanta, “who, like Helen, through her beauty caused the death of many men” (CT)||So we have three femmes fatales now—Helen of Troy, Eleanor of Aquitaine, and Atalanta—brought together for what they have in common. Is this misogyny or a working method (or both)? Depends (in part) on whether he treats male archetypes likewise. A sense here of the ideogrammatic method though: bringing together three things (rose, rust, robin) to express what they have in common (redness).|
|by the beach-run, Tyro||In the Odyssey, Odysseus, in Hades, sees Tyro, who fell in love with the god of the river Enipeus. Poseidon, god of the sea, took on his form, put her to sleep, and raped her.||Reference to O.’s journey to Hades connects this canto to Canto I. • A vignette from the Odyssey but has all the marks of Ovid’s Metamorphoses—a transition, then, from the first canto’s focus on the heroic archetype (Odysseus) to the second’s focus on the theme of transformation (Bacchus).|
|arms of the sea-god||Poseidon—though Proteus is here too—from a bit earlier—and Dionysos’ theophany (revelation of the god), soon to come, makes him a sort of sea god, also.||The identities of the gods are themselves protean—ever-shifting—Proteus becomes Poseidon becomes Dionysos. So the way he treats women (triad of Helen, Eleanor, Atalanta) he also treats gods.|
|And by Scios||Chios, an Aegean island.||The transition begins to the canto’s second major movement—the theophany of Dionysos—starts by locating us in spot where that theophany begins.|
|to left of the Naxos passage||Naxos another island—and a center of the Dionysos cult.||Continues the specification of location. Interesting that something mythic will happen as if historic—i.e. in a particular place (also, at a time?).|
|a young boy||Bacchus, god of wine and fertility, also known as Dionysos, Zagreus, Iacchus, Lyaeus.||A central motif of the Cantos. As Canto I belongs to Odysseus, Canto II belongs to Dionysos.|
|loggy with vine-must||Loggy: heavy, sluggish (OED). Vine-must: new wine. The source is Ovid’s Metamorphoses.||The god of wine is drunk? I guess that fits.|
|“Cum’ along lad”||A Classical Greek myth, taken from a Roman source, rendered in British Cockney voice.||From class: One time laid on another as if on a flat plane (post-Cubist). But why lay times on one another in this way? Pound said, “All times are contemporaneous in the mind.”|
|And I said||Who is “I”? Sixteen lines later identifies himself as Acoetes—captain of the ship.||From class: The information necessary to interpret an allusion or a foreign phrase is often sitting nearby in the poem. Same thing done here with identity of speaker. • Pound’s use of personas.|
|And an ex-convict … a little slave money.||Acoetes still speaking. Retells the story of Dionysos’s abduction.||Why is Acoetes given such a prominent speaking part? Is he as important as Odysseus? Or is he just here as witness and storyteller? Either way, EP likes him because he honours the gods.|
|God-sleight then, god-sleight: / Ship stock fast in sea-swirl||Long, slow syllables resemble rhythms of “The Seafarer.” • Repetition prominent.||Three sea voyages overlaid now: that of Odysseus, that of Dionysos, and that of the seafarer. Is EP composing an ideogram? • Repetition foreshadows extended repetitive patterns both in this canto and in canto IV. Something here about suspension of time.|
|King Pentheus||The king to whom Acoetes is speaking. “Acoetes is telling the story of his crew’s attempt to kidnap the god as a warning” (CT). Pentheus will refuse to honour the god and will end up torn to pieces by the god’s ecstatic followers.||Pentheus lines up with sailors who don’t honour the god—who treat the sacred in a profane way—as a means of profit. EP’s values implicit here.|
|grapes with no seed but sea-foam||The theophany begins.||EP is doing more than translating Ovid. He’s reimagining the story Ovid told—passing Ovid’s tale through the prism of Cubist practice—so that the gist of it is made new again.|
|And the sea blue-deep about us, / green-ruddy in shadows||Theophany culminates.||Note subject-rhyme with end of passage immediately before the Dionysos section—“a wine-red glow in the shallows.”|
|And Lyaeus: “From now, Acoetes, my altars …”||Lyaeus: name for Dionysos “in his function as the god of wine and ecstasy” (CT).||The god adopts Acoetes as his priest. This is EP’s own addition to the story—the god says, in effect, “From now on, Acoetes, you’ll tend to my altars.” (Elisions like this are common … when a passage, though in English, is obscure, try to feel out what words have been trimmed away.)|
|Black snout of a porpoise / where Lycabs had been||Lycabs is a member of Ulysses’s crew. (Ulysseus is Latin form of Odysseus.)||By importing Lycabs from crew of Odysseus to crew of Acoetes, EP has spliced stories of Odysseus and Dionysos together. Highlighting their importance to these early cantos: Odysseus, the journeying hero, is central figure of I, Dionysos, metamorphic god, central figure of II. • Lycabs makes no appearance in Homer’s Odyssey—only in Ovid’s telling, elsewhere in the Metamorphoses, of Odysseus’s journeys. So this is EP’s retelling of Ovid’s retelling of Homer. Compare to end of canto I: EP’s translation of Divus’s translation of Homer. Another way of laying different temporal plans flat on top of each other.|
|Medon’s face like the face of a dory||Medon another member of Ulysses’s crew in Ovid’s telling of Homer’s story.||But Medon does appear in Homer’s Odyssey—he’s Odysseus’s herald, and at home on Ithaca, not part of the crew.|
|And you, Pentheus, / Had as well listen to Tiresias||Tiresias—seer of Thebes—in Ovid sometimes male and sometimes female. Blind but given the power to see the future. Like Acoetes he advises Pentheus to worship Dionysos.||Not to heed a seer is really dumb. Not to heed someone who’s stood beside a god is also pretty dumb.|
|and to Cadmus||Grandfather of Pentheus and founder of Thebes. “[T]he stones of the walls of Thebes rose to the rhythm of the music Amphion played on his lyre. The walls are conceived as the magical protective walls around the archetypal city which were traced in the air by ritual dance, music, and incantation.”||CT seems to think city walls are important—why? Note second line of canto IV: “Troy but a heap of smouldering boundary stones.” Something about how a gesture—a dance—can assume a durable form—as a wall. Something about relation of energy to matter, act to thing, verb to noun. Compare to “the tensile light” in later cantos—light that’s both energy and substance.|
|Ileuthyeria||“an inadvertent conflation of Eileithyia, the goddess of childbirth, with Eleutheria, H [Greek], a marine organism of the genus of bisexual jellyfish” (CT)||Significance obscure. Connection of bisexuality of jellyfish to gender transformations Tiresias goes through? But that’s connecting dots mostly outside the poem now.|
|Fair Dafne of sea-bords||Daughter of Peneus, a river god.||A subject-rhyme with Tyro, in love with a river god, Enipeus? At least, a return to the mouth of the river, where the canto began—its long central section having taken place mostly at sea. And beginning of the transition from Dionysos back to Tyro.|
|So-shu churned in the sea||(As above.)||Canto structured almost like nested parentheses: ((( ))). It opened with So-shu, and now returns to him; and will return shortly as well to Tyro.|
|glass wave over Tyro||(As above.)||After so much transformation, a return to where we were, at the outset. Suggests almost an eternal now—in which the rape of Tyro is always occurring. Traumatic and yucky, unless, as suggested before, gods are a way of seeing nature—here, a way of seeing the point where the river meets the sea? How is this “way of seeing nature” different from our common sense or scientific ways of seeing it?|
|Hesperus||“Evening star sacred to Aphrodite” (CT).||Near end of canto II, just as near end of canto I, an invocation of or to Aphrodite—goddess of love, and, for EP, of what else? What’s her role in this poem? The patron of Odysseus was Athena, who’s not shown up yet at all.|
|The tower like a one-eyed great goose||Whose tower? CT is silent.||Suggestion of a prison, a watch tower; also phallic.|
|And we have heard||Identity of “we” unclear.||“We” confirms we’ve left persona of Acoetes behind—he speaks only as an “I.”|
|the fauns chiding Proteus||Proteus—sea-god with power of metamorphosis.||How many gods here associated with metamorphosis? Dionysos, Proteus, Poseidon … mythological overkill? Or is Pound building an ideogram?|
|and the frogs singing against the fauns||Reference to Aristophanes’s The Frogs—in which Dionysos and his companion, down in hell, try to drown out the croaking of “infernal frogs” (CT), perhaps with a “hemichant,” a technique of Aristophanes’s comedies that sets “one part of the chorus against the other”—i.e. it’s polyphonic.||Reference to hell recalls Odysseus’ journey to hell in canto I. • Allusion to hemichant—fauns singing against Proteus, frogs singing against the fauns—suggests something about the working method of the Cantos themselves: voices will be juxtaposed, some aligned with each other (within one subset of the chorus), and some at odds with each other (different subsets of the chorus).|
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