CALENDAR OF COMPOSITION
Pound had been experimenting with satire for a number of years. Milestones on the way to the Hell Cantos are his mordant Vorticist poems in Blast I and II (1914, 1915), his article series "Studies in Contemporary Mentality" (August 1917-January 1918) and "The Revolt of Intelligence" (Nov 1919-Mar 1920), which ran in The New Age, as well as his longer poem Hugh Selwyn Mauberley (1920).
The actual drafting of the Hell Cantos began in spring 1922, after Pound had finished editing The Waste Land (January 1922) and published The Eighth Canto, which would later become canto II (May 1922). Joyce’s Ulysses, which for Pound was the supreme satirical diagnosis of British society, had been published in book form in February. Spending his time on an Italian trip, after he had seen the Tempio Malatestiano for the first time around 15 May and met Eliot in Verona around 1 June, he wrote to John Quinn on the 20th, probably from Sirmione: “Have had busy spring [...] and have blocked in four cantos - (Including the "Honest Sailor", which I hope I haven't spoiled). At work on the ‘Hell’ canto, chiefly devoted to the English.”
The original source of the hell cantos can be said to consist in a paginated autograph draft called "XII" which contained parts of what we now know as cantos XIV-XVI (YCAL 178 Box 2/Folder 87). As it is written by hand, we can safely assume that Pound wrote it while he was in Italy, away from his typewriter at home and this must have been the rough draft he was referring to in his letter to Quinn mentioned above. Beinecke Library also possesses a further shorter autograph fragment from the same period in folder 88.
In a further typewritten, undated draft kept in the Beinecke Library, (YCAL 178 Box 2/Folder 86), also called XII, we see that the Hell Cantos continued to be conceived as a unit, but without the material that would go on to form canto XVI, Pound's Purgatory, which Pound referred to as "13" in a letter to his father on 16 July. The number XII shows that it was begun after Pound had decided to write a Malatesta canto (IX), followed by Honest Sailor (X) and Kung (XI). We may infer from this numbering that the order of the cantos in the latter part of the volume was settled at this early stage (spring-summer 1922). The hell canto, together with number 13, (which would become canto XVI), were conceived to conclude a series and be placed after Malatesta, the "honest sailor" and the Kung canto.
Beinecke also owns a later draft of canto XV (YCAL 178 Box 2/Folder 89). Though it contains a few lines hat Pound would later move in canto XVI, it is a paginated draft, which indicates that it was composed late in the process, probably July-August 1923. Draft of canto XV.
After his return to Paris in July 1922, Pound immersed himself in the research for the Malatesta and interrupted his work on the Hell Canto. In June 1923, it was still unfinished, but by 24 August Pound was working on canto XVI, as he told his father: "Have knocked some more Canti into shape, now on fifth on after Malatesta." By 25 October, Pound reported to Hemingway: "After hell, I have said a few chaste words on the war, making XVI chants, i.e. five since the Malatesta./(earlier ones cut down to seven)/ I am working with the refined art of music at present." Pound does not say in his letter that he had sent Bird the whole manuscript of A Draft of XVI Cantos, but it is to be inferred that his work on the volume was done. By December 23, he was in hospital with an attack of appendicitis (L/HP 522) and by the beginning of January 1924, he was on his way to Rapallo and on to other cantos.
LIST OF ABBREVIATIONS
|BT||Daniel Pearlman. The Barb of Time. On the Unity of Ezra Pound's CANTOS. New York: Oxford UP, 1969.|
Ezra Pound and the Visual Arts. Ed. Harried Zinnes. New York: new directions, 1980.
The Letters of Ezra Pound 1907-1941. Ed. D.D. Paige. London: Faber, 1951.
Pound/Ford: The Story of a Literary Friendship. Ed. Brita Lindberg-Seyersted. New York: New Directions, 1982.
Ezra Pound to His Parents – Letters 1895-1929. Eds. Mary de Rachewiltz, A. David Moody and Joanna Moody. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2011.
The Letters of T. S. Eliot. Vol. 6: 1932-33. Ed. Valerie Eliot and John Haffenden. London: Faber & Faber, 2016.
Pound/Lewis. The Letters of Ezra Pound and Wyndham Lewis. Ed. Timothy Materer. London: Faber & Faber, 1985.
Ezra Pound’s Poetry and Prose. Contributions to Periodicals. Vol. I. Eds. Lea Baechler, A. Walton Litz and J. Longenbach. New York: Garland, 1991.
The Selected Letters of Ezra Pound 1907-1941. Ed. D. D. Paige. New York: New Directions, 1971.
From “Wyndham Lewis” Egoist 15 June 1914, 233-34.
EPVA 186-190; P&P I: 251-520
I daresay one's own art seems always the hardest. One feels that Mr. Lewis has expressed this struggle. One feels that in literature it is almost impossible to express it for our generation. One has such trivial symbols arrayed against one, there is only "The Times" and all that it implies, and the "Century Magazine'' and its likes and all that they imply, and the host of other periodicals and the states of mind represented in them. It is so hard to arrange one's  mass and opposition. Labour and anarchy can find their opponents in "capital" and "government." But the mind aching for something that it can honour under the name of "civilisation," the mind, seeing that state afar off but clearly, can only flap about pettishly striking at the host of trivial substitutes presented to it. One's very contentions are all in the nature of hurricanes in the traditional teapot.
The really vigorous mind might erect "The Times,'' which is of no importance, into a symbol of the state of mind which "The Times" represents, which is a loathsome state of mind, a malebolge of obtuseness.
And having done so, some aesthete left over from the nineties would rebuke one for one's lack of aloofness.
From Blast I, 20 June 1914, 45
P&P I: 254
SALUTATION THE THIRD
Let us deride the smugness of “The Times”:
So much the gagged reviewers,
It will pay them when the worms are wriggling in their vitals;
These were they who objected to newness,
HERE are their TOMB-STONES.
They supported the gag and the ring:
A little black BOX contains them.
SO shall you be also,
You slut· bellied obstructionist,
You sworn foe to free speech and good letters,
You fungus, you continuous gangrene.
Come, let us on with the new deal,
Let us be done with Jews and Jobbery,
Let us SPIT upon those who fawn on the JEWS for their money,
Let us out to the pastures.
PERHAPS I will die at thirty,
Perhaps you will have the pleasure of defiling my pauper’s grave,
I wish you JOY, I proffer you ALL my assistance.
It has been your HABIT for long to do away with true poets,
You either drive them mad, or else you blink at their suicides,
Or else you condone their drugs, and talk of insanity and genius,
BUT I will not go mad to please you.
I will not FLATTER you with an early death.
OH, NO! I will stick it out,
I will feel your hates wriggling about my feet,
And I will laugh at you and mock you,
And I will offer you consolations in irony,
O fools, detesters of Beauty.
I have seen many who go about with supplications,
Afraid to say how they hate you.
HERE is the taste of my BOOT,
CARESS it, lick off the BLACKING.
From Blast 2, July 1915, 22.
P&P II, 97
ET FAIM SALLIR LE LOUP DES BOYS
I cling to the spar,
Washed with the cold salt ice
I cling to the spar–
Insidious modern waves, civilization, civilized hidden snares.
Cowardly editors threaten: ‘‘If I dare”
Say this or that, or speak my open mind,
Say that I hate may hates,
Say that I love my friends,
Say I believe in Lewis, spit out the later Rodin,
Say that Epstein can carve in stone,
That Brzeska can use the chisel,
Or Wadsworth paint;
Then they will have my guts;
They will cut down my wage, force me to sing their cant,
Uphold the press, and be before all a model of literary decorum.
Cowardly editors threaten,
Friends fall off at the pinch, the loveliest die.
That is the path of life, this is my forest.
From Hugh Selvyn Mauberley, 1920
Died some pro patria, non dulce non et decor” ...
walked eye-deep in hell
believing in old men’s lies, then unbelieving
came home, home to a lie,
home to many deceits,
home to old lies and new infamy;
usury age-old and age-thick
and liars in public places.
To John Quinn, 20 June 1922
Have had busy spring [...] and have blocked in four cantos - (Including the "Honest Sailor", which I hope I haven't spoiled). At work on the "Hell" canto, chiefly devoted to the English.
To John Quinn, 5 July 1922
Mon Cher J.Q.
Still, having got Morand translations off my hands […] And having got five cantos blocked out, I am about ready for the vacation I did not take in Italy. Am feeling damn fit.
To Felix Schelling, 8 July 1922, Paris
SL 180, 181-82; L 247-48, 249
Dear Dr. Schelling:
Next point: This being buoyed by wit. No. Punch and the rest of them have too long gone on treating the foetor of England as if it were something to be joked about. There is an evil without dignity and without tragedy, and it is dishonest art to treat it as if it were funny. It is perhaps difficult to treat it at all; the Brit. Empire is rotting because no one in England tries to treat it. Juvenal isn’t witty. Joyce’s isn’t harsh enough. One hasn’t any theology to fall back on.
My main objection is to your phrase about being buoyed by wit. If the poets don’t make certain horrors appear horrible, who will? All values ultimately come from our judicial sentences. (This arrogance is not mine but Shelley’s, and it is absolutely true. Humanity is malleable mud, and the arts set the moulds it is later cast into. Until the cells of humanity recognize certain things as excrement, they will stay in [the] human colon and poison it. Victoria was an excrement, Curtis, Lorrimer, all British journalism are excrement. Bottomley has been jailed and Northcliffe gone off his head to prove this.)
It isn’t enough to give the Rabelaisian guffaw.
To Homer Pound, 16 July 1922, 70 bis, rue notre Dame des Champs Paris
Frank Bacon also turned up last week. Was damn glad to see him, after twelve years. Had just used part of his biography in my cantos (Canto X).*
Have now a rough draft of 9, 10, 11, 12, 13. IX may swell out into two.
* Note: At the time, Pound had written just one Malatesta Canto (number 9) and was considering expanding it to two cantos. So his draft canto 10 became 12. Pound had also drafted the Kung canto (no. 11 which became 13), the hell canto (12, which became two, 14 and 15) as well as 13 (which became the emergence into Purgatory, number XVI).
To Homer Pound, 21 June 1923, Paris 70 bis, N.D. de C.
Other cantos lying here on desk unfinished. Including Hell and the Honest Sailor.
To Homer Pound, 29 January 1924, Hotel Mignon Rapallo
Baldy Bacon is F.S. Bacon. he visited us in Wyncote once or twice. also turned up in Paris last year 2 days after I had typed out that canto. There is a hell (2 cantos) & war (one canto.) & the honest sailor 1/2 of that canto - that you haven't yet seen - reserved - for the book.
To Wyndham Lewis, 3 December 1924
L 261-62; SL 190, 191; L/WL 139
Wall, ole Koksum Buggle
Am also letting out another reef in my long job. Installment of which should soon be inspectable. XVI have gone on, I think with more kick, since arrival here. [...]
(Can't remember whether I have ever discussed Strater's initials with you. Need something for press, etc. etc. etc. proportion of design lines to type. Lot of boring detail—had to be ... between printer and orantor.)
Neither here nor there, but perhaps ten or a dozen designs for the two cantos dealing with Hell might be circulatable. As that section of the poem can NOT be circulated freely.
You did years ago in Kens. Gds. discuss a book of verse and designs. In this case it wd. be designs only but with cantos as reference.
You will readily see that the “hell” is a portrait of contemporary England, or at least Eng. as she wuz when I left her.
I don't know that the designs need have much to do with the text, or anything. Merely that I have failed on various occasions in attempts to RAM unrelated designs of yours into the continental maw; and shd. like a try at ramming designs related, or supposed to be related to something that had already gone in. [...]
P.S. You understand this suggestion of designs for the hell is merely an idea that came to me as I was writing this note. If you can think of something better, blaze away. Only I think the idea of ten or twelve BLACKS of size that cd. go by post, and that cd. be done in line block, might be useful. No use trying to drag J.J.A. or W. Robs. or anything or anyone else into it. The rest of our companions presumably HA VE belonged to the decade just past. Apart from Robert and young George I think the rest of the buds have disappeared in unblossomed fragrance.
Whether we can produce further and larger detonation by a new combination I leave to yr. wisdom to konsider.
To William Bird, 26 December 1924, Taormina
L 263; SL 192
On further consideration, better NOT send copy Cantos to Hardy. He may drop off at any moment. Don't want the hell to fall into the wrong hands until there are enough later chants to bring it into proportion with the hole.
From Wyndham Lewis, undated 
Dear Pound. Many apologies for my long delay in answering you, but I was uncertain as to where to aim my letter, indeed I am now. I could not have done what you wanted [the initials for the "Hell" Cantos], as such an important task would have taken some time, and I have had none to spare from my present work. But I should very much enjoy reading the Cantos you mention. I hope I shall be able to get them somewhere here.
To Homer Pound, 28 January 1925
I have typed to end on Canto XX & recd. copy of Bill’s edtn. I-XVI – special proofs. Too late to correct any thing – only one error that matters / head should be heads on p. 58 line 10.
heads rose. = snake heads not the single head of Medusa herself.
you will probably find 2 of them there cantos a bit strong. (pungent)
but I think they are what is needed. I wd. have gone further if I had seen any way of doing it.
To Homer Pound, May 1925, Rapallo
Yeas mong vieux;
I intended cantos XIV and XV to give an accurate picture of the spiritual state of England in the years 1919 and following. Including Mr. Wilson. They were written before the Harding–Coolidge period, or I shd. have devoted a line or two to the mushiness of the former and the cant of the latter.
Coolidge writes better than Woodie, but the common-sense bluff or pose can be as bad almost as the mealymouthed blah. It is more efficient, a better implement. The silliness and triviality of the murkn mind. Woodie so conceited he didn’t feel it necessary to know anything about Europe. Cal, ditto re economics.
The ang-sax race as a whole or hole, very insensitive to mental rot and decomposition. Eng. much worse than U.S.
England insensitive to mental decay. U.S. silly, incomparable shallowness and triviality.
To William Bird, 24 August 1925, Rapallo
L 273; SL 200
Marchetti stated that he had shown my poem “anche a Domini Deo.”
The copy was placed in the Malatestiana at Cesena by my own honourable hands with fitting inscription, and various of the studiosi were later assembled (in my absence) and those who cdn't stumble thru English 'ad it hexplained. Dazzi very much surprised when I said Hell cantos wd. not travel thru American post. (That shows what a proper Dantescan education will do for a man. He said no modem Eyetalian wd. have the guts to do' em. That they were of a vigore propriamente Americano.)
They really need the GERYON to elucidate 'em. I read Dazzi the Sidg., the Hell and the new typescript (Geryon) XVIII and XIX (which you may sho'tly see).
The copy was not sent from yr. office to Cesena; that is prob. why you have no official record. Copy sent here, and I toted it over.
To John Drummond, 18 February 1932, Rapallo
L 320; SL 239
Dear Mr. Drummond:
It might almost be worth while to correct (publicly) the error of yr. opening sentence. It is NOT expensive editions that discourage circulation. The sacks of pus which got control of Brit. pubctn. in or about 1912 or '14 and increased strangle hold on it till at least 1932 have done their utmost to keep anything worth reading out of print and out of ordinary distribution via commerce (booksellers).
You have only to note that the best work of Joyce, Eliot, Wyndham Lewis (not Beachcomber) have only got into print via specially started publishing ventures, outside the control of the Fleet St. ring.
There is no reason why young England shd. pardon the ineffable polluters and saboteurs. What they have done to stifle literature in Eng., tho not so important as the press-bosses' stifling of economic discussion, is all of piece.
The hell cantos are specifically LONDON, the state of English mind in 1919 and 1920.
From T. S. Eliot, 21 September 1933
Dear Rabbett Well Ive got to do something about somethink sooner or later and well to-day its Raining. so Here goes […] The Cantoes is all right but here & there a little humanitarian pus might aye been squeesed out you need a canto or two with a REAL hell in it somebody feeling something but I know I know 300 years of Calvinism from Calvin to Cooledge makes it come hard.
To T. S. Eliot, 24 September 1933
L/TSE 645, n.1
Mebbe 38 which Mr O’Rage izza kindly printin this week, will sa’zisfy yr/ craving for a really theological HELL. I’ve got a few more details for the preliminary round of that distrist, cantos whatever XIV and XV but judging by Morely’s prudence re/ names, purrhaps I am doing well to reserve ‘em for later editions.
so long as the pus is humanitarian and not Babbity humanism, praps that also can pass/ it is extractable, it don’t so infect all the circumjacence…
That Calvinical work … etc.
yr/ sentence lacks definition/// are my protagonists or protozoists to have just emotions in general or some partikkeler BRAND of ditto??
Morely – Frank Vigor Morley (1899-1985), director at Faber and Faber.
Babbitty humanism - Irving Babbitt (1865-1933), Professor at Harvard and literary critic, founder of a cultural movement called New Humanism. T.S. Eliot had great respect for Babbitt and discussed his works in his own prose.
To T. S. Eliot, n.d.
L/TSE 645 n.1
I’m dealing with mental rot… besides my hell is what I see – I am not postulatin post mortem vengeance.
From T. S. Eliot, 29 September 1933
Dear BRabet […] Well well thats just it there aint anythink real about blokes like Rothermere Beaverbrook Mellon and Henri Deterding I dont know who Lawrence is No matter and you cant make them real Its beyond Shakesp. etc. to give them individuality there are just types politicians profiteers financiers newspapersprops. & pressgangs, Calvin, the English, Vicecrusaders, liars, stupids pedants preachers bishops lady golfers fabian conservatives inperialists & people who dont  believe Major Douglas, etc. I dont see what you can do with Hell without Sin and sinners This is not a theological argument its just the way it seems to me thing hang together or dont It may be allright just as an interlude in Limbo but it wants to be supported by a real Hell underneath with real people in it Put in in if you Like Anyway without that it just Oh well no more for the present from yours etc.
Rothermere - Harold Sidney Harmsworth, 1st Viscount Rothermere (26 April 1868 – 26 November 1940) was a leading British owner of Associated Newspapers Ltd. He is known in particular, with his brother Alfred Harmsworth, the later Viscount Northcliffe, for the development of the Daily Mail and Daily Mirror. He was a pioneer of popular journalism.
Beaverbrook - Max Aitken, 1st baron of Beaverbrook (1879-1964), Canadian-English business magnate, owner of the Daily Express, London Evening Standard and Sunday Express. During WWI, he was Minister of Information.
Mellon - Andrew Mellon (1855-1937) - American industrialist, business-man, philanthropist and politician. He was Secretary of the Treasury 1921-1932.
Deterding - Henri Deterding (1866-1939), one of the first executives of the Royal Dutch Petroleum Company, and was nicknamed "The Napoleon of Oil." During WWI, his company supplied the Allies with petroleum.
Lawrence - Herbert Alexander Lawrence (1861-1943), banker and executive of the munitions company Vickers-Amstrong.
To T. S. Eliot, 2 October 1933
L/TSE 658 n.1
Homer got on O/K/ without very much hell. There is an wuz shades (Ah dont mean buck niggush) but indefinite an wafty dark shadows etc.
There is SHIT, and what the god damn prots/ have lost is the good ole cawflik [catholic] concept of mind-shit rottenness and STINK of the mind or soul or pussYYchee or wotever…
As fer makin the bustuds rea/ you git the current New Eng/ Weekly sept. 28 an read my 38 epistle to the gophesians…
I dunno wot I’d do with you in hell/ purgatory you have wafted abaht in/ I daresay…
If I had anything to do about you or any other dam possum I shd/ christlikely try to pull you out.
What the hell/ aint there no yap about atonement in any of yr halfmasted, but orderly=sentence=producing bloody theologians?
To return to my poem/ the idea that they suffer might be one thing, but their STINK is a fact. I smell’zum.
As for the theology of the CANTOS / I don't spect a dod damn low down Christianly perverted animal or in fact anyone to git ANY idea of it furr years and yearrrs.
T. S. Eliot. AFTER STRANGE GODS. A PRIMER OF MODERN HERESY. THE PAGE-BARBOUR LECTURES AT THE UNIVERSITY OF VIRGINIA, 1933. 42-43.
Mr. Pound's theological twist appears both in his poetry and his prose; but as there are other vigorous prose writers, and as Mr. Pound is probably the most important living poet in our language, a reference to his poetry will carry more weight. At this point I shall venture to generalise, and suggest that with the disappearance of the idea of Original Sin, with the disappearance of the idea of intense moral struggle, the human beings presented to us both in poetry and in prose fiction to-day, and more patently among the serious writers than in the underworld ofletters, tend to become less and less real. It is in fact in moments of moral and spiritual struggle depending upon spiritual sanctions, rather than in those 'bewildering minutes' in which we are all very much alike, that men and women come nearest to being real. If you do away with this struggle, and maintain that by tolerance, benevolence, inoffensiveness and a redistribution or increase of purchasing power, combined with a devotion, on the part of an elite, to Art, the world will be as good as anyone could require, then you must expect human beings to become more and more vaporous. This is exactly what we find of the society which Mr. Pound puts in Hell, in his Draft of XXX Cantos. It consists (I may have overlooked one or two species) of politicians, profiteers, financiers, newspaper proprietors and their hired men, agents provocateurs, Calvin, St. Clement of Alexandria, the English, vice-crusaders, liars, the stupid, pedants, preachers, those who do not believe in Social Credit, bishops, lady golfers, Fabians, conservatives and imperialists; and all 'those who have set money-lust before the pleasures of the senses'. It is, in its way, an admirable Hell, 'without dignity, without tragedy'. At first sight the variety of types for these are types, and not individuals may be a little confusing; but I think it becomes a little more intelligible if we see at work three principles, (i) the aesthetic, (2) the humanitarian, (3) the Protestant. And I find one considerable objection to a Hell of this sort: that a Hell altogether without dignity implies a Heaven without dignity also. If you do not distinguish between individual responsibility and circumstances in Hell, between essential Evil and social accidents, then the Heaven (if any) implied will be equally trivial and accidental. Mr. Pound's Hell, for all its horrors, is a perfectly comfortable one for the modern mind to contemplate, and disturbing to no one's complacency: it is a Hell for the other people, the people we read about in the newspapers, not for oneself and one's friends.
Ford Madox Ford. From “Mediterranean Reverie.” Weekend Review, November 1933
Here and there half a page or half a canto will be given up to humorousness that might well have delighted us when we were in the fourth form—and to devote a whole canto of his inferno to human excrement and natural processes is to be prodigal of the inessential. That is no doubt a relic of Americanism. You must have some unpleasantness in a hell for financiers, and, for a son of Philadelphia, defective plumbing may well have a hypnotising dreadfulness. I mention these characteristics so that, should, say, the keeperess of the public lavatories in Charing Cross Station be induced by these lines to purchase a copy of ‘XXX Cantos’ she may not upbraid me. Other adults may well support with equanimity Mr. Pound’s boisterousness.
To Ford Madox Ford, 16 Nov. 1933, Rapallo
Now as to HELL, you god damn ignorant pseudo catholic, have you ever read what authorities have said on the subject, and is there anything (in my hell) save the signs of modern progress in contraceptives, that aint found in the most catholic of mediaeval sermons.
The reason this age is such mass of snot IS purrcisely because the idea of mental ROT has been mislaid. (Protestant shallows.)
All they can smell is sewer. The idea that Jum Douglas of the Sunday Morning Stool and 99 percent of Brit pubcation STINKS... has been eliminated from ang/shaxon imagination.
DECOMPOSITION ... god damn it. Them cantos ARE London after the war... the nearest thing to the exact word attainable....
lyric I admit, and greater force is in Canto XXXVIII, where is FACTS[,] where facts is what there aint nothing else BUT.
THAT IS THE STATE of ENGLISH MIND in 1919. MIND in England of the post war epoch.
Get a photo of Beaverbrook moog ef yew doant beeleev it.
To Marianne Moore 18 May 1934,
YCAL MSS 43, Box 35, Folder 1472; Hofer 465
My hell cantos were so much MORE true than I knew when I wrote ‘em. And I was so very very mild.
To John Lackay Brown April 1937
L 385; SL 293
Dear Mr. Brown:
Re your p. 2: that section of hell precisely has not any dignity. Neither had Dante's fahrting devils. Hell is not amusing. Not a joke. And when you get further along you find individuals, not abstracts. Even the XIV-XV has individuals in it, but not worth recording as such. In fact, Bill Bird rather entertained that I had forgotten which rotters were there. In his edtn. he tried to get the number of ....... correct in each case. My “point” being that not even the first but only last letters of their names had resisted corruption.