CANTO II

 

 

 

rsz dionysus exekias o5bhyv

 

It is not surprising that art in the 20th century should have rediscovered metamorphosis, nor that the metamorphoses in the second Canto should include Aeschylus’ grim transformation of the name of Helen, as well as the eyes of Picasso, metamorphoser of vision, peering from beneath a seal’s fur hood that conceals a ‘lithe daughter of Ocean.’ And it was from under sealskins furnished by such a daughter that Menelaos and his men leaped forth on the beach to bind Proteus. Everything in the Canto is trickily unstable; what is named is not quite what is there. […]

And the style is Imagist. The brevity of Imagist notation seized phenomena just on the point of mutating, as in the most famous example an apparition of faces turns into petals. Misrepresented as a poetic of stasis, it had been a poetic of darting change; for a whole page, in the Canto, perception succeeds perception like frames of film.

Pound wrote this Canto about the time his countrymen were passing the 18th Amendment, outlawing the wine-god. Never having heard of Pentheus, they were courting his fate. Scott Fitzgerald has told the rest.

Hugh Kenner. The Pound Era, 367-68.