THE MALATESTA CANTOS (VIII-XI)
Though we are ignorant about many matters in Pound’s work, at least one point has gradually attracted a substantial consensus: the decisive event in the formation of The Cantos occured when Pound composed the Malatesta Cantos in 1922 and 1923. This event marked a catalytic moment. It enabled Pound to discover poetic techniques essential to the formal repertory of The Cantos, such as the direct quotation of prose documents, a device that effectively dissolved the distinction between verse and prose—a crucial development in the history of modern poetry. Equally important, the Malatesta Cantos precipitated a radical revision of all the earlier cantos, crystallizing the design of the larger poem, which had until then remained obscure for Pound himself. These events, the outcome of an intense struggle with an enormous body of historical materials, consumed eleven months of his life. Yet their reverberations extended far beyond 1923. In later cantos Pound returned to historical topics connected with Malatestian material some one hundred times. In prose he treated the subject in reviews and essays of the 1930s, at times comparing himself with Sigismondo Malatesta and his work with the church Sigismondo had constructed. In his private life he talked about Sigismondo to anyone who would listen; he purchased slides and photographs of historical documents important for Sigismondo’s life or times; he kept above his writing desk a bas-relief that depicted Isotta degli Atti, the woman who had allegedly inspired Sigismondo’s greatest achievement; and in the closing years of his life he journeyed to Rimini again to visit the church of San Francesco one last haunting time. For Pound, it is clear, the issues he had encountered in the dramatic moments of 1922-23 became a reference point for all his subsequent thinking about civilization and cultural politics. The Malatesta Cantos are a locus for exploring the entire project of The Cantos, the central aspirations of literary modernism, and the intricate history of their critical reception by modern scholarship.
(Lawrence Scott Rainey. Ezra Pound and the Monument of Culture 4)
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