COMPANION TO THE HELL CANTOS
Annotations in the List of Works Cited:
Contributor name. The Online Companion to The Cantos of Ezra Pound, IV: n.gloss number. The Cantos Project. Web. Date of access.
Example: Preda, Roxana. The Online Companion to The Cantos of Ezra Pound, IV: n.13. The Cantos Project. Web. 5 September 2016.
(Contributor name, OCCEP IV: n.no).
Example: (Bressan, OCCEP IV: n.3). If no name is indicated, the gloss or translation was written by Roxana Preda. In this case, the citation will have this format: (OCCEP IV: n.13).
References to The Cantos
As The Cantos Project is numbering the lines of The Cantos, references to cantos already glossed will be by canto number and line(s), as standard with classical works. Example: III: ll.7–17.
For cantos that are not yet glossed within the project, the references will be by canto number slash page number, as standard in the research on the poem. Example: III/12. The page number refers to the American edition of The Cantos by Ezra Pound. New York: New Directions, 1998.
© Roxana Preda. Companion to XIV and XV [The Hell Cantos], 11 June 2017.
LIST OF ABBREVIATIONS
Terrell, Carroll F. A Companion to The Cantos of Ezra Pound. Berkeley: U of California P, 1993.
Alighieri, Dante. Inferno. Translated with a commentary by Charles S. Singleton. Princeton: Princeton UP, 1970.
Pound, Ezra. Ezra Pound to His Parents – Letters 1895-1929. Eds. Mary de Rachewiltz, A. David Moody and Joanna Moody. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2011.
Pound, Ezra. Literary Essays of Ezra Pound. Ed. T. S. Eliot. New York: New Directions, 1968.
Pound, Ezra. Ezra Pound’s Poetry and Prose. Contributions to Periodicals. Eds. Lea Baechler, A Walton Litz and James Longenbach. New York: Garland, 1991.
Pound, Ezra. Selected Prose, 1909-1965. Ed. William Cookson. New York: New Directions, 1975.
- Io venni... muto – I. “I came to a place mute of all light” (Inf V: 28). Pound’s quote refers to Dante’s arrival into the second circle of his Inferno. The quotation gives Pound a way to begin (going from light into darkness) corresponding to the ending of his canto XV (where he re-emerges into the light).
Dante’s passage suggests three formal elements that will define Pound’s own Hell: darkness, turbulence, and noise:
“Now the doleful notes begin to reach me; now I am come where much wailing smites me. I came to a place mute of all light, which bellows like the sea in tempest when it is assailed by warring winds. The hellish hurricane, never resting, sweeps along the spirits with its rapine; whirling and smiting, it torments them. When they arrive before the ruin, there the shrieks, the moans, the lamentations” (Inf. V 28-35).
- . . . . . . . . . . e – David Lloyd George (1863-1945), British liberal politician and Prime Minister during WWI. He was responsible both for the way the war was conducted on the British side and for the country’s participation in the Versailles Conference in 1919. Pound here refers to Lloyd George’s own political rhetoric and the way he conducted war propaganda.
“As wartime Prime Minister, Lloyd George had grasped the need for mass opinion management far better than his predecessor Herbert Asquith; symbolic of this is the fact that, on being appointed Prime Minister, Lloyd George’s first act on leaving Buckingham Palace was to have dinner, not with his political advisers, but with the proprietors of the News of the Worldand the Daily Telegraph” (Kibble 65).
- . . . . . n – Woodrow Wilson (1856-1924), American politician who served as America’s president 1913-1921. Pound had a few important grudges against Wilson: the fact that he had involved the United States in WWI too late (“What America Has to Live Down” I. P&P III: 266); the rise of bureaucracy, especially passports (SP 219); and the wooden official language (L/HP 565). Pound believed that “Le style c’est l’homme” and that the character of a person is discernible in the way the person talks and writes.
Pound wrote in a “Paris Letter” to The Dial in May 1922:
“A sense of style could have saved America and Europe from Wilson; it would have been useful to our diplomats. The mot juste is of public utility. I can’t help it. [...] We are governed by words, the laws are graven in words, and literature is the sole means of keeping these words living and accurate” (LE 409).
Pound’s opinion diverged from that of ordinary Americans, for whom the rhetoric of Wilson’s propaganda had been very effective:
“Woodrow Wilson’s speeches had been hugely successful in bringing American sympathy behind the idea of entering the war; his declaration of the ‘Fourteen Points’ which the USA was fighting to defend showed that Wilson had learnt the power of brief arresting statements from recent developments in advertising. Harold Lasswell, in his 1927 book on propaganda techniques, described Wilson as the ‘great generalissimo on the propaganda front’, and criticized his cynical use of the ‘monumental rhetoric’ of liberal ideals” (Kibble 65-66).
- . . . . . . r – Alfred James Balfour, 1st Earl of Balfour (1848-1930), British Conservative politician and Prime Minister 1902-1905. During WWI, he was Foreign Secretary in Lloyd George’s Cabinet.
The image Pound employs, satirizing Balfour’s elegant and scrupulous public appearance, may have been taken from an unpublished caricature by Max Beerbohm that Pound saw in the offices of The New Age. He refers to it again in Canto 46 (Hofer 483):
Five million being killed off ...
couple of Max's drawings,
one of Balfour and a camel, an'
one w'ich fer oBviOus reasons haz
never been published, ole Johnny Bull with a 'ankerchief. (XLVI/232)
- . . . . . . . . . . . m – Arthur Hamilton Lee, 1st Viscount Lee of Fareham (1868–1947), British soldier, diplomat and philanthropist. During WWI, he was Director-General of Food Production and after the war he became Minister of Agriculture. In 1921, he became First Lord of the Admiralty and participated along with Lord Arthur Balfour in the Washington Naval Conference for the Limitation of Armaments, which concluded on 9 February 1922 (Hofer 483).
In a “Paris Letter” to The Dial of the same year, Pound compared the newly-elected American President Harding to both Balfour and Fareham, indicating that behind the correctness and starched elegance of their clothes, they hide demagoguery and criminal negligence of language:
“Be it far from me to depreciate the advantages of having a president who can meet on equal trouserial terms such sartorial paragons as Mr Balfour and Lord (late Mr) Lee of Fareham (and Checquers) but be it equidistant also from me to disparage the public utility of accurate language which can be attained only from literature, and which the succinct J. Caesar, or the lucid Macchiavelli, or the author of the Code Napoléon, or Thos. Jefferson, to cite a local example, would have in no ways despised” (LE 409).
- . . . . . . . f – Basil Zaharoff (1849-1936). Born as Zacharias Basileos in Turkey. Zaharoff’s life was a string of successful criminal activities, starting with arson, bribery, sabotage, and going on to active intervention in European politics, selling arms to both sides of an armed conflict, and instigator of wars. Zaharoff became an arms dealer for Nordenfelt Armament, then a director at Vickers Armstrong. After WWI, he was decorated with the Order of the Bath and the Order of the Garter (Davenport Hines at Oxford DNB).
- . . . . . . . . . n and the press gang – Gilbert Keith Chesterton (1878-1936), English writer, journalist, and critic.
Pound detested Chesterton, whom he blamed for a “system” whereby the hack journalist writes about things and persons he knows nothing about in such a manner as to hide his ignorance. While observing that there is no way the journalist can know about all the diverse subjects he is required to write about, Pound remarked that ignorance of the subject is the only way someone can live by the pen in English journalism. (“Revolt of Intelligence” IV (1920) in P&P IV : 3-4). See also Pound’s letter to Quinn in Sources.
“Chesterton and the staff of the New Witness did not restrict themselves to the pages of a single journal. As Chesterton observed of himself, his brother, and Hilaire Belloc in the pages of A. R. Orage’s The New Age (a favorite venue of Pound’s), “We can’t write in every paper at once,” adding, presumably earnestly, “We do our best.” This attitude prompted Pound [...] to damn Chesterton as the leader of London’s “press gang” (14/61)—as opposed to its more traditionally literary poetry “gangs” that he himself had labored to join prior to forming the avant-garde Vorticist gang with Wyndham Lewis” (Hofer 467-75).
- ΕΙΚΩN ΓHΣ – Gr. “Image of the earth.”
- THE PERSONNEL CHANGES – the phrase suggests that “these people are more important for the roles they play than as individuals” (Kibble 65).
- Pearse – Patrick Henry Pearse (1879-1916) – Leader of the Sinn Fein and commander in chief of the Irish forces during the Easter Rising of 1916. He was executed after surrendering (C n.12).
- MacDonagh – Thomas MacDonagh (1878-1916), Irish patriot engaged in the Easter Rising and executed (C n.13).
- Captain H – Captain J. Bowen Colthurst (1880-1965), British army officer who fought in WWI and against the Irish in the Easter Rising, 1916. He was discovered to have shot Irish prisoners without trial and killed civilians on the street at whim. After considerable effort and insistence, he was court-martialled and confined to Broadmoor Criminal Asylum, but released after a year. Bowen emigrated to Canada and lived an undistinguished life, safe from the IRA, which was looking for him (C n. 14; Anderson).
“Captain H” is a misprint. Pound’s drafts, as well as the 1925 edition of A Draft of XVI Cantos have “Captain B.” Draft.
- Verres – Gaius Verres (120-43 BC), Roman administrator whose corruption became legendary: “He plundered provinces, sold justice, avoided prosecution by selling power and influence” (C n. 15). Verres’ gross exploitation and mismanagement of Sicily led to his being indicted by Cicero. His speech was so effective that Verres’ defence counsel advised him to leave Rome and hide in Marseilles (Badian at Britannica Online).
Calvin – Jean Calvin (1509-64) French religious reformer and pivotal theologian of Puritanism. Pound calls him here a “bigot,” which accords with other criticisms of Calvin in Pound’s prose writings. In Pound’s eyes, Calvin was guilty of having revived the Bible as a religious, historical, and moral guide for the modern world. In “A Serious Artist” (1913), Pound stated that it is stupid to apply an ethics devised for a primitive nomad tribe to a modern population living in a metropolis (LE 42).
In Guide to Kulchur (1938), Pound affirmed that puritan morality had reduced the scale of differentiations of evil as manifest in Dante’s Inferno to the “single groove of sex” (GK 185):
“Nothing cd. be less civil, or more hostile to any degree of polite civilization than the tribal records of the hebrews. There is not a trace of civilization from the first lies of Genesis up to the excised account of Holophernes. The revival of these barbarous texts in the time of Luther and Calvin has been an almost unmitigated curse to the occident” (GK 330).
St Clement of Alexandria – Titus Flavius Clemens known as Clement of Alexandria (c.150-c.220). Greek theologian of the early Christian church. His work Protrepticus [“Exhortation”] is a systematic critique of pagan faith and mysteries from the Christian standpoint.
Additionally, Clement’s writings include “The Instructor” whereby he delineates a point by point set of rules on how Christians should behave, and what to wear and eat. Clement’s writings illustrate Pound’s early objection to Christianity, namely that it intrudes into the private sphere, seeking to control it through propaganda. In this sense, Clement’s efforts are on a par with those of Boniface XV and Arthur Ingram, the Bishop of London, who sought to regulate sexuality during WWI (see XIV n.17, 19 and XV: n.4-5). Protrepticus.
See also canto XIII for the distinction Pound made between Christianity and Confucianism in the question of the respect for the individual, public and private.
- Westminster – district of West London where the Houses of Parliament are located.
Matthew Hofer observed that Pound’s metaphor of the “greasy sky,” and evocation of “the invisible, many English” reminds the reader of T. S. Eliot’s “unreal city/ Under the brown fog of a winter dawn/ A crowd flowed over London bridge, so many,/ I had not thought death had undone so many (The Waste Land 60-63; Hofer 479).
The suggestion is very persuasive, as Pound had recently finished editing Eliot’s poem when he started the composition of canto XIV. Both this canto and the passage of The Waste Land ultimately refer to Inf II: 22-51, describing the hell of the anonymous multitude, who had done neither good nor evil and were received neither in hell nor heaven.
- . . . . . . . . – Giacomo Polo Givanni della Chiesa (1854-1922) was Pope Benedict XV (1914-1922). During his pontificate, which began at the start of WWI, he made several peace initiatives, which were rejected by the politicians of the day. He was also responsible for bringing together the various dispersed bits of Catholic legislation under a common text called Code of Canon Law, which became operational in 1918 and was replaced only in 1983. Pound’s metaphors show the poet made him responsible for the Church intervention into the sexual morality of the day and its strident propaganda for sexual control.
- pets-de-loup – Fr. “wolf farts,” derogatory designation of university scholars. Pound blamed academics as much as journalists for the perversion of language and literature. See his essay series “Provincialism the Enemy,” 1917 (SP 189-203).
- . . . . . m - Arthur Foley Winnington-Ingram (1858 –1946) was Bishop of London from 1901 to 1939.
During WWI, Ingram initiated a crusade against vice in London with a series of addresses published in 1917 under the title “Cleansing London.” In them, he attacked unregulated sex, prostitution, theatre, the use of public spaces such as parks for sex, alcohol, infidelity, and birth control, calling for a religious awakening to public and private sin under the slogan “purge the heart of the empire before the boys come back” (Grayzel 132).
Ingram was present at the Lambeth Conference in 1920. The conference's uncompromising and unqualified rejection of all forms of artificial contraception was contained in Resolution 68, which said, in part:
“We utter an emphatic warning against the use of unnatural means for the avoidance of conception, together with the grave dangers – physical, moral and religious – thereby incurred, and against the evils with which the extension of such use threatens the race. In opposition to the teaching which, under the name of science and religion, encourages married people in the deliberate cultivation of sexual union as an end in itself, we steadfastly uphold what must always be regarded as the governing considerations of Christian marriage. One is the primary purpose for which marriage exists, namely the continuation of the race through the gift and heritage of children; the other is the paramount importance in married life of deliberate and thoughtful self-control.” (Quoted in “Lambeth Conferences” Wikipedia.)
The outcome of the Lambeth Conference of 1920 did nothing else but consolidate what EP knew from 1913. This is his protest against Ingram in “The Serious Artist” (1913) and the root of his “condom full of black beetles” image:
“An ethic based on a belief that men are different from what they are is manifestly stupid. It is stupid to apply such an ethic as it is to apply laws and morals designed for a nomadic tribe, or for a tribe in the state of barbarism, to a people crowded into the slums of a modern metropolis. Thus in the tribe it is well to beget children, for the more strong male children you have in the tribe the less likely you are to be bashed on the head by males of the neighbouring tribes, and the more female children the more rapidly the tribe will increase. Conversely, it is a crime rather worse than murder to beget children in a slum, to beget children for whom no fitting provision is made, either as touching their physical or economic wellbeing. The increase not only afflicts the child born but the increasing number of the poor keeps down the wage. On this count the bishop of London, as an encourager of this sort of increase is a criminal of a type rather lower and rather more detestable than the souteneur” (LE 42).
Hell is the state of man dominated by his passions; who has lost ‘the good of his intelligence’
(Ezra Pound Spirit of Romance 129)
- Grasse – town in the south of France famous as the seat of the French perfume industry. Pound may have punned on the name: in French, “graisse” means fat.
- middan – Variant of midden, dunghill (C XV, n.2).
- . . . . . . r – Alfred Balfour, mentioned in the previous canto. See OCCEP XIV: n.4.
- . . . . . . Episcopus . . . . . . . . sis – L. Ingram Episcopus Londonensis (“Ingram the Bishop of London”). Pound blasts Ingram a second time (see also XIV 87; OCCEP XIV n.19), giving him the same punishment Dante gave to clerics guilty of simony (trading in church offices, or more generally, monetizing the transcendent) in the eighth circle of hell (the Malebolge): to be buried head down in a hole with legs waving in the air (Inf XIX).
- lady golfers – Bishop Ingram liked sports, particularly tennis and golf, and did not mind combining his ecclesiastical work with a game in his spare time. In Vanity Fair, he was caricatured with a tennis racket in his hand. When Ingram went to America to preach in colleges, he made it a point to say that even at the advanced age of 68, he counted on young partners in the games (Brooklyn Daily Eagle, September 19, 1926. 78).
- . . . . . n – Edward Carson (1854-1935), Irish unionist politician active in the 1921 partitioning of Ireland into a Catholic independent South and a Protestant North belonging to the United Kingdom.
- . . . . . . . h – Karl Theodor Helfferich (1972-1924), German politician, economist and financier. Helfferich was a monarchist conservative, who campaigned against the Versailles treaty, the Weimar republic and Germany’s payment of war reparations. Pound sees him as “an inciter to violence,” which is accurate, as Helfferich was a member of the German National People’s Party, founded in 1918 to combat the Weimar Republic. The organisation decisively contributed to the ideological climate conducive to WWII and collaborated with Hitler’s National-Socialist Party. It was dissolved in 1933.
It is to be noted that none of the Cantos editions have the right number of dots corresponding to Helfferich's name. Not even William Bird, the first publisher of this canto, managed to get it right. Draft.
- . . . . . . . ll – Winston Churchill (1874-1965). British politician who served as Prime Minister during WWII (1940-1945) and again in 1951-55. Churchill started his career as an officer in the British army at the time of its wars in India and Africa and was also active as a war correspondent. During WWI, he was First Lord of the Admiralty and responsible for the disastrous campaign at Gallipoli.
- USURA – Pound makes usury (understood as modern financial capitalism) the arch-monster presiding over his hell. He wholly subscribed to C. H. Douglas’ views concerning the role that banks had played in financing WWI and the profit they were making out of the carnage. In his series of articles for The New Age, which he published in 1920 under the title Economic Democracy, Douglas affirmed:
“For every shell made and afterwards fired and destroyed, for every aeroplane built and crashed, for all the stores lost, stolen or spoilt, the financier has an entry in his books which he calls wealth, and on which he proposes to draw interest at 5 per cent, whereas that entry represents loss not gain, debt not credit, to the community, and, consequently, is only realizable by regarding the interest of the financier as directly opposite to that of the community. Now it must be perfectly obvious to anyone who seriously considers the matter that the State should lend, not borrow, and that in this respect, as in others, the financier usurps the function of the State” (Economic Democracy >121; italics in original).
- laudatores temporis acti – L. “admirers of past times.” From Horace Ars poetica 173. The original reads: “Laudator temporis acti” (C XV n.5).
- fabians – The Fabian Society was founded in England in 1884 as a socialist group committed to a slow progress towards economic justice. It was named after the Roman general Quintus Fabius Maximus Verrucosus, called “Cunctator” (“The procrastinator”) who fought against the superior army of Hannibal by harassment, attrition, and avoidance of open conflict. Under the guidance of Sydney and Beatrice Webb, the Fabians contributed to the formation of the Labour party in 1900 and have been affiliated to it ever since. The Fabian society proposed the introduction of the minimum wage in 1906, the creation of a national health service in 1911 and the abolition of hereditary peers in 1917. It founded the London School of Economics in 1900.
Pound criticised Fabian ideology and contrasted it to Douglas’ humanism, maintaining that the Fabians were subsuming the individual to regimentation. By contrast, Douglas was supporting the rights of the individual against centralisation of power:
“Fabianism and Prussianism alike give grounds for what Major Douglas has ably synthesized as ‘a claim for the complete subjection of the individual to an objective which is externally imposed on him; which it is not necessary or even desirable that he should understand in full’” (Probari ratio” (1920) SP 207). “The Fabians and persons of Webbian temperament have put forward the ideal: man as social unit” (“Economic Democracy” (1920) SP 210).
- . . . . . s – Cyrus Hermann Kotzschmar Curtis (1850–1933) American publisher of the middlebrow Saturday Evening Post and Ladies’ Home Journal.
- . . . . . . . . ffe – Alfred Harmsworth, Lord Northcliffe, owner of The Times, the Daily Mail, Answers and Tidbits.
“Pound seems to want Northcliffe to be more readily identifiable than the other ‘rotters’, leaving the last three letters of his name visible. The ‘cannon-ball’ is an appropriate punishment for the man whose paper carried the slogan ‘THE PAPER THAT GOT THE SHELLS AND THE MEN’. […] The epithet would fit Northcliffe in particular, who had been using the Daily Mail to call for conscription since 1907, and had argued from the start of the War that propaganda could be one of Britain’s main weapons. Northcliffe – known by German propagandists as ‘The Minister of Lying’ – also recognised the linguistic power of advertising” (Kibble 66).
- et nulla fidentia inter eos – L. “no trust among them.”
- twitching backs – an image which may have been inspired by Dante’s circle 17 of the Inferno where usurers stand on a hot ground in a rain of fire:
“Their grief was bursting forth through their eyes: with their hands they the defended themselves, now here, now there, sometimes from the flames, sometimes from the burning ground; not otherwise than dogs do in summer, now with muzzle, now with paw, when they are bitten by fleas, or flies, or gadflies. When I set my eyes on the faces of some of these, on whom the grievous fire descends, I did not recognize any of them, but I perceived that from the neck of each hung a pouch, which had a certain color, and a certain device, and thereon each seemed to feast his eyes” (Inf XVII: 46-57).
- . . . . . . . . . . c – The New Republic, American journal of opinion founded in 1914 by Herbert Croly, Walter Lippmann and Walter Weyl. The magazine was influential in the decision of the Wilson administration to involve the US in WWI. Pound affirms in the canto that the majority of British weeklies were copies of TNR.
- . . . . . . nn – Walter Lippmann (1889-1974), American journalist, political commentator and media critic. Lippmann was the founding editor of The New Republic and author of the influential book Public Opinion (1922).
After WWI, Lippmann became adviser to Woodrow Wilson and helped draft the Fourteen Points Plan and the concept of the League of Nations. (Britannica.com)
- my guide – The Latin poet Virgil was Dante’s guide through Hell and Purgatory, since the Divine Comedy has its seed in Aeneid Book VI, in which Virgil describes Aeneas’ descent into the underworld where he can see both Tartarus and Elysium. Pound chooses Dante and then Plotinus as guides.
Looking at the portal of hell at the beginning of his journey, Dante reads of the principle of good: “la somma sapienza e il primo amore” (“the supreme wisdom and the primordial love”) and hears from Virgil: “Noi siam venuti al loco ov’ i’ t’ho detto/ che tu vedrai le genti dolorose/ c’hanno perduto il ben de l’intelletto” (Inf III: 16-18). (“We have come to the place where I have told you you will see the wretched people who have lost the good of the intellect”). For Plotinus, man’s soul is riven by the division between Good (pure intelligence sufficient unto itself) and Evil (formless matter). Pound thus indicates there is no disagreement between Dante and Plotinus on the nature of good and evil.
- this bolge – Pound’s construction here is ungrammatical, which adds to some confusion. “Bolge” is the plural of “bolgia” (I. “ditch”). Dante’s ten evil ditches (“Malebolge”) in the eighth circle of hell are just above the ultimate evil of the ninth circle, the very bottom of his inferno. The ten categories of sinners that Dante places here represent variants of fraud: pimps and seducers, flatterers, simonists, astrologers, grafters, hypocrites, thieves, false counselors, schismatics and falsifiers (Inf XVIII-XXIX). Pound seems to have in mind the last bolgia, that of the falsifiers, which Dante presents as a ditch so full of corruption that “every animal, even to the little worm, fell dead” (Inf XXIX: 60-62). The sinners themselves are full of scabs:
“I saw two propped against each other, as pan is leaned against pan to warm, spotted from head to foot with scabs; and never did I see curry comb plied by stable boy whose master waits for him, nor by one who unwillingly stays awake, as each of these plied thick the clawing of his nails upon himself, for the great fury of the itch which has no other succor; and the nails were dragging down the scab, as a knife does the scales of bream or of other fish that has them larger” (Inf XXIX: 73-84).
- Andiamo – I. “Let’s go.” The Italian indicates that Pound is still thinking of Dante as his guide. Dante tells Pound to pass on, as he had heard Virgil tell him so many times during his own journey in hell.
- bog-suck – According to Plotinus, the soul of man was both a part of the world of eternal intelligible forms (the nous), and part of a mortal body, therefore committed to the materiality of sensory experience. The soul thus can be engulfed by the material, if it does not separate the two spheres and does not aspire to re-unite with the part of itself which is intelligible form, therefore authentic, good and eternal (Liebregts 25-27).
- he said – Plotinus, Neoplatonic philosopher (205-270) who lived in Alexandria and Rome. His lecture notes, comments and meditations were collected and edited by his student Porphyry in a work entitled The Enneads (books divided into nine chapters from the Greek word “εννέα,” “nine”).
For Plotinus, the definition of the Good, “interested as we are not in its cause, but in its essence, is that the perfect life, that is genuine and real, consists in intelligence” (Ennead I.4. Vol. IV: 1024).
Pound may have read Ennead I.8, “On Evil,” which delineated Plotinus’ argument that the soul may be evil to the extent it is committed to the contrary of good, namely formless matter (see also Liebregts 163):
“It is indeed the irrational part of the soul which harbors all that constitutes evil: indetermination, excess, and need, from which are derived intemperance, cowardliness, and all the vices of the soul, the involuntary passions, mothers of false opinions, which lead us to consider the things we seek or avoid as goods or evils. But what produces this evil? How shall we make a cause or a principle of it? To begin with, the soul is neither independent of matter, nor, by herself, perverse. By virtue of her union with the body, which is material, she is mingled with indetermination, and so, to a certain point, deprived of the form which embellishes and which supplies measure. Further, that reason should be hindered in its operations, and cannot see well, must be due to the soul's being hindered by passions, and obscured by the darkness with which matter surrounds her. The soul inclines towards matter. Thus the soul fixes her glance, not on what is essence, but on what is simple Now the principle of generation is matter, whose nature is so bad that matter communicates it to the beings which, even without being united thereto, merely look at it. Being the privation of good, matter contains none of it, and assimilates to itself all that touches it. Therefore, the perfect Soul, being turned towards ever pure Intelligence, repels matter, indeterminateness, the lack of measure, and in short, evil. The perfect Soul does not approach to it, does not lower her looks; she remains pure and determined by Intelligence.” Plotinus Ennead I.8.4 “On Evil.”
- eyes on the mirror – As related by Ovid, Perseus was able to kill the Gorgon Medusa by not looking at her directly but only at her reflection in the shield that Pallas Athene, the goddess of wisdom, had given him. Facing the monster would have robbed him of his humanity and his life. Pound applies this metaphor to his own situation, by keeping his eyes on the mirror, that is, committing himself to reason and intelligence as the truest and most authentic side of himself.
- Medusa – According to Ovid (Metamorphoses IV: 765-804) Medusa was a beautiful maid who took great pride in her hair. She was raped by Poseidon in the temple of Athene. The goddess was furious about this outrage and punished the girl by turning her hair into snakes. No one could look at her without being turned into stone.
When Perseus set out to look for Medusa, Athene gave him a shield like a mirror, which he could use to see the monster without looking at her directly; from Jupiter he got a curved sword, with which he cut off her head; and from Hermes, winged sandals.
- shield – After Medusa was killed, her head was stamped on Athene’s shield, which is mentioned by Homer (Iliad 5.733-742). Pound thus uses this shield to harden the mud beneath his feet – the power of intelligence against the stupidity and ignorance he saw around him in post-war England.
- whether in Naishapur or Babylon – Quotation of a line from stanza 8 of the Rubaiyat attributed to the Persian poet Omar Khayyam in the translation of Edward Fitzgerald. The lines sound like a warning heard in a dream:
“Whether at Naishapur or Babylon,
Whether the Cup with sweet or bitter run,
The Wine of Life keeps oozing drop by drop,
The Leaves of Life keep falling one by one.”
- 'Hέλιoν τ' 'Hέλιoν – H. “the sun, the sun.”