A DRAFT OF XVI CANTOS. Illustrations by Henry Strater. Paris: Three Mountains Press, 1925. 

 

A Draft of XVI Cantos is the first installment of the poem, published as an illuminated folio edition in 1925.

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CALENDAR OF PUBLICATION

 

LIST of ABBREVIATIONS

 L/HP   Ezra Pound to His Parents. Letters 1895-1929. Eds. Mary de Rachewiltz, A David Moody and Joanna Moody. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2010.
 L The Letters of Ezra Pound 1907-1941. Ed. D.D. Paige. London: Faber, 1951.
 SL The Selected Letters of Ezra Pound 1907-1941. Ed. D.D. Paige. New York: New Directions, 1971.
YCAL Beinecke Library. YCAL numbers indicate series, box and folder.

 

To Kate Buss, 12 May 1923

L 256; SL 187

[...]

The three Mts. is following this prose series by a dee looks edtn of my Cantos (about 16 of ‘em, I think) of UNRIVALLED magnificence. Price 25 dollars per copy, and 50 and 100 bones for Vellum and illuminateds.

It is to be one of the real bits of printing; modern book to be jacked up to somewhere near level of mediaeval mss. No Kelmscott mess of illegibility. Large clear type, but also large pages, and specially made capitals. Marse Henry [Strater] doing these; and the sketches already done are A-1.

Not for the Vulgus. There’ll only be about 60 copies for sale; and about 15 more for the producers.

 

To Homer Pound, 19 May - 70 bis, N.D. de C. [Paris]

L/HP 511

Dear Dad

[...]

Edtn. de luxe of Cantos, planned. Marse Henry designing opulent capitals. Don't try to buy one, its too xpensive. Will send you one in the autumn IF it gets done. 

 

To Isabel Pound, 1 August 1923

L/HP 517

[…]

Cantos IX to XII are in July Criterion. Am revising the earlier ones for S Oiseau's edition.

 

To Homer Pound, October 1923

L/HP 519

[…]

Have finished canto XVI, that is fifth after the Malatesta, having rewritten beginning of poem, and condensed three cantos into two.

 

From Henry Strater, 13 January 1924 - 1 Lexington Avenue, New York

YCAL Mss 43 Box 50/2241

Dear Ezra

[…]

            Please give Mizzz’ Pound my many thanks for her advice, assistance, & material help in producin’ them capitals.

            How were they received? By how many wus the details appreciated?

            How many more years before Col. Bird aims to bring all this here travail to a close?

            You axes me if the climate is yet rife for the sister aht. Ah says, yesm, if his health is very strong, he may survive the first wave… .

 

To Homer Pound, 24 January 1924

L/HP 522

[…]

Bird is still preparing the de luxe CANTOS.

 

To Homer Pound, 10 April 1924

L/HP 527

[…]

Proof of Prospectus of Bird's edtn - of Cantos – has arrived & been returned with suggestions re modification -

 

To William Bird, 10 April 1924

L 257

Dear Bill: Yrs. to D. to hand. There seems nothing to do but print 6o copies with Strater designs (or 70 copies) and the rest with plain red letters.

Or better, let me have proofs of all designs to see how they have come out. 2 were O.K. (once).

I never sanctioned any loveknots in the lower right hand corner. I tried to get Mike to do something decent by confining him to the caps. Restricted space to intensify output.

The 'A' and the 'H' were O.K. in one stage, but the quality of the line wd. depend on final form. You understand I'm not worrying so long as I am ahsolootly helpless.

I do want at least ten copies either with plain red caps (all) or with plain red caps (some) and the Mike ornaments on the caps that have come out well.

My other letter was too brief, but I was trying to hold down to essentials. I appreciate the quality of the printing, paper, presswork-everything that you have done. But with some standing as art critic, I can't sanction all them damn curleycues and Mike's relapse into the same state of idiocy he was in when I first found him. All you can now do is, I take it, to print some copies with Strater ornaments and some either wholly without 'em or with those that I can approve. For which purpose of approval, for XTs his sake send me proofs of all the ornaments now (proofs needn't be made on press). - /-/

At any rate my minimum demand is 20 copies that I can approve, i.e., with plain red caps in place of designs that to my mind offend. The' A' and the 'H' were O.K. in the last form I saw them in. The small ·'T' was excellent.

Have probably been god damn fool to trust design to man not working straight in medium. Only the lead blocks of black and white do occasionally come out extremely well. (And the small 'T' was O.K.)---

About the 'P'. Can't have the tail to it in my copies. Print yr. 70 and a 2s7 then mutilate the block by removal of tail at line marked and omission of design. Or else use the old device of ordinary small cap in square.

Only do for gawd's sake bear in mind that I want nothing that will hit you financially and that I do appreciate your activity in the whole matter and that I am not indulging and will not indulge in any soul tantrums, romantic qualms, hysterias, etc. Merely that I must have a few copies of the book that won't tum my stomach. As far as the collectors go, the value of the book will be only higher. There will be fewer ornamented copies and only those in the know will get the plain letter copies, author's approval and autograph. If the plain ones aren't snapped up at once, they will be sold at the tail end when the price has been raised ANNY HOWE. You said each sheet wd. be-what was it?-individual hawl, so that removal of ornament after 70 copies have been printed oughtn't to complicate yr. life very much.

Henry's last pathetic note was to the effect that he hoped to please me and that he didn't care a cuss about the subscribers.

Lacrymae rerum.

And don't let's be dahn hearted.

 

To William Bird, 17 April 1924

L 258; SL 188

Deer Bull: I had no intention of giving away 20 copies. I wanted 'em to be sold to people who won't stand Mike's illustrations and who will sit on my chest and bellyache about 'em tomorrow an' tomorrow an' tomorrow.

I enclose Mike's letter which might be taken as licence to eliminate superfluous muck--such as the love knot in lower right hand comer. Also if we can't-for technical reasons have a few clean copies, it seems to me ALL the more reason for cutting away offending parts: i.e. 1) the love knot; 2.) the tail of 'P '; and 3) the extra scene across top of page: P ----.

It will be perfectly easy to do this, though I see (and saw) that it wd. probably be too difficult to effect composition of lines inside the loop of the'P.'-/-/

Oh yes. Point was to restrict Strater to design. Instead of staying in the design, he has wandered all over the page. I know that he started in correct ambition to mike the page good as a whole. But it has in this case bitched the original idea. He said in his letter that the stuff had got “sophisticated” i.e., apparently lost all quality.

Re yr. last: the only course now open is to cut away superfluous rubbish. Ci inc/us: the tail of ‘P’ and the scene across the top of the page. And other such delenda in other caps. Such operations as can be performed by simple scission and omission. Considering the amt. of work you have put into the matter, I don't see why you want the edtn. damaged by retention of same. As to the quality ofline in the 'P', it is equal to any 1890, Walter Crane hammered brass. -/-/

As to work: I have had to scrap a full year's work more than once. That is what art is and why it is so damn rare. Mike may think he has spent a year on this job, but most of the year he spent on his private life.

Certainly the edtn is to stay within the 100. The 20 copies I mentioned were intended to come out of the 100 (careful reading of my last effusion shd. (?corroborate) this), and to be for sale.

However, as you point out so Konclusively that the block has to be the same in all copies, that is washed off. And we concentrate on elimination - economical, but severe. And you leave Mike to me.

Do you want me to write him? I can't until I see the whole set of letters anyhow. And had come to conclusion that it wd. be waste effort and there wasn't enough likelihood of his ever learning anything to make it worth the postage and expenditure of time.

As to how much time you are putting into the job, I think I can guess. As anybody who has ever made a good job of anything knows the last 2% of excellence takes more time than the other 80%. That's why art and commerce never savvy one another. - - - -

 

To William Bird, 7 May 1924

L 25; SL 189

D.B.: Do recall that the title of that book is' A DRAFTof 16Cantos for a poem of some length.' If you will stick to that you will produce something of gtr. val. to collectors. Also it ain't an epic. It's part of a long poem. Yr. best ad is the quiet statement that at auction recently a copy of Mr. P's A Lume Spento published in 1908 at $1.00 (one dollar) was sold for $52.50.

No use selling people things on false pretences. The collector will prefer this half-time report on the poem to a pretended complete edition.

 

To Homer Pound, 15 October 1924

L/HP, 543

[…]

The title page of the Cantos has been set up; but the book wont be done for two or three months, yet.

 

To R. P. Blackmur, 30 November 1924

L 260-61; SL 189-190

Dear Mr. Blackmur:

[…]

Why the 100readers? There were only five men hanged with Villon, or rather without him. Nobody can pay 25 dollars for a book. I know that. I didn't make the present economic system. The book, of course, can't be made for 25 bucks. Not if Strater and Bird and I were to be paid. That is not the point.

Neither is it my fault if America is so mentally and spiritually rotten as to permit filth like S-- and Article 211 of the U.S. Penal Code to lie around empesting the atmosphere.

My American publishers do not exist. It becomes more and more evident that the American publisher must be left out of one's calculations. Likewise English and henglish publishers. There may some day be a cheaper continental edition. One hopes that the Three Mts. and McAlmon's press in Paris will lead to some more general system of printing over here. At least I have suggested the matter. I do not, personally, intend to devote much energy to it; and as I see things at present, I shall never again take any steps whatever to arrange publication of any of my work in either England or America. Tant pis pour les indigenes. They will have to cure their own sores and spew out their idols.

There will be a public copy of the XVI in the Malatestiana at Cesena, if Dazzi consents to house it for me. Dad has typescript of XVIII and XIX, but I do not want them commented on, yet. ETC.

 

To Wyndham Lewis, 3 December 1924

L 262-63; SL 190-91

[…]

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.

Question being (now that we have emerged, or if you like, now that I have emerged) from v ARIA, that you found alien: Can we kick up any more or any new devilment??

I am going down to Etna, d.v. in a fortnight. Have you any suggestions?? I don't know what the - - - -you are doing. It strikes me that ten or a dozen BLACK designs about the size of this type sheet wd. be serviceable.

(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 omator.)

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 NOTbe 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.

The de luxe had more than paid for itself some time ago. 2 of 100buck copies had gone when I last heard, and requisite number of the 25, also some of the 50.

Anyhow, wait till you see the text, and if you approve, or if it starts you, I shd. be glad to try either to make Bird print' em, or to get some other sort of ballyhoo in action on the matter.

Have also iron in fire for some more general sort of publishing that the 3 Mts. offers and more satisfac. than afforded in Eng. or Am. pub. circles.

(In parenthesis, I aimed a kick at that - - - - D.B. this morning. This purely en passant. Of no importance. Really a country that will tolerate that pyper for any purpose, even that of wiping pigs' arses, is beneath the jo level.)

It rained yesterday, the feast of St. Bibiana. That is said to mean rain for forty days. So that I shd. have leisure to attend to your correspondence if there were any ••••• Benedictions.

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

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.

 

To William Bird, 25 January 1925

L 267-68; SL 195

Dear Bill: Bozze recd. COMPLIMENTI. Much finer than I had expected. Also various things of Henry's look O.K. in double page [drawing] that I had disliked in single [drawing].

He has the larffff on us for p. 16 [drawing] because it wd. have goed better the way he meant, only we fergotttt abaht the “C” on the next page.

Vurry noble work. And up to date no misprint of any importance-only an i for an oat the end of Piccinini, where it don't matter a cuss. Mos' remarkable. Even the subject matter don't seem so objectionable.

Il. Have you a spare page 31 (Canto IX)? Preferably with red. It don't matter about the type. I shd. like to send that sheet to the ole archivista at Ravenna who made me the sketch of the ox-carts. Don't think he reads English. Want enough of page to show him it is part of a book, not a detached picture. Can be sent folded once from top to bottom, but not up the perpendicular middle of page. Not matter oflife and death. But if there is a spare slip of that page, on the top arf, can you send it?

III. -/-/ Am much more pleased than I Xpected to be. And satisfied with Strater where I had before been worried abaht his effex ..

Engkore mes compleemengs.

Also size of bok. is pleasant. Can be held on lap, not too heavy, and type read at that distance. A bhloody ghood job. After awl yr. night sweats.

Placuit occulis.

 

To Homer Pound, 28 January 1925

L/HP, 553

[…]

I have typed to end on Canto XX & recd. copy of Bill’s edtn. I-XVI – special proofs. Too late to correct anything – 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 tehm 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.

[…]

Eliot writes that he wants to print some more cantos in his mausoleum. Don’t know tat he will when he sees ‘em

[…]

Hope you will be getting your Cantos .  about now.

That will give you something to go on with. & ask questions about.

Strater's work & Bill's printing come up better than I had expected.

  

From Henry Strater, 21 February [1925] - 1 Lexington Avenue, New York

YCAL Mss 43 Box 50/2241

Dear Ezra,

            Not that I give a damn for the critics, but I’d be interested to know what they have to say (if anything) about the designs. I know a good deal about the average intelligence on the subject of painting. But I have a strong feeling that the general level is lower, in regard to design. So I’d appreciate clippings, if you or Oiseau have any.

             […]

            Tell Bill that ahm getting’ mighty lonely ova hya without mah deezigns, eff he caint sen’ me np proofs, when can ah have mah deezigns? Ah doan ax to have ‘em boun’, all ah axes is to have ‘em sent in a small bu’ safe manneh.

            Ah diden’ leave Parus because ah wusen intrusted in de buk, ah lef because ah wanted to keep mah estate in th’ same state uv salubrity, exten’, en general pro-ductiveness as is wus fahve years ago. […]

            As for ys’ potry, it be the onliest huntemporary potry wat interests me at all. An’ moreover, ah thinks that the bestes’ faht of uor potry has nothin’ wasseveh to do with subject matteh. Ah mean dat ah lakks yor pulsations en’ yo’ rythmms. En if pulsations en’ rythmms ain’ got the essentials of poetry, then ah doan know no moah about potry than you fren’ Misteh Fohd does ‘bout paintin’. Ah showed a reprodukshun of a Holbein, an’ real mean lake, ah sed ah deiden’ know who it was by. En he sed he wused suah, but he thot it wus probably Tishun (that Venice paintuh). So ah hopes he write ‘nother book, about Tizians. (But doan’ tell Misteh Fohd ‘bout that Holbien, ‘cause its one of the neoo’ faums of key wuks.)

            I am specially interested to know what Mizz Poun’ thinks of the Hell canto designs, also the I with the lake and the swans (#3?) also the tailpiece, also the last, more designed ones best, or the first, more worked over ones? Some of the first ones were the 16th canto, the P, the two T’s and the G.

            Now about Liveright, for my own protection in conversation. What is his position on the cantos? I haven’t heard from him since I called. […]

            Give my love to Miz’ Poun’, also the same to you from Maggie.

            As for more designs; I am painting now six days a week average, & from nine to six thirty daily. Moreover, it is good stuff. Carried much further. A couple of big figure designs, that I’ve worked on now at various times since last June. Just design; then drawing; then colour; then form; then character. But av you say, there is plenty of time.

            Bill is a swell fellow and a real artist in his printing. It is big. But he’s wrong about wood-blocks. That’s archaicism. Just like asking you to write in hieroglyphics. Of course, hieroglyphics nare nicer to look at than printing.

            Pen + ink drawings are more plastic so watercolours + true freezes are nicer than oils, but they are less plastic.

To Carlo Linati,  6 June 1926

Pound E. 1980, Lettere 1907-1958. Ed. A. Tagliaferri. Feltrinelli, Milan. 96.

 

Come nel XVI Canto, di Pound, forse il primo libro americano dove l’autore, l’ornatore e lo stampatore hanno collaborato per fare un’unità. Non potendo fare un altro battistero di Parma, non avendo denaro per una unità delle arti in una struttura architetturale, hanno voluto reintegrare tre arti in una cosa piccola, disegni, capitali come nei manoscritti del Medioevo [...]. 

[...] perhaps the first American book in which author, designer and printer have collaborated to create a unity. Since they could not erect another Parma Baptistery, and didn’t have the money for a unity of the arts in a single architectural structure, they have chosen to integrate three arts in a small thing: drawings, capitals, as in the manuscripts of the Middle Ages. (Tr. Massimo Bacigalupo, 2015. 133). 

 

To William Bird, 24 August 1925

L 273; SL 200

Deer Bull: If you will go thru the archives of the late Mme Rosen, o.b.e., I think you will find a Xtrak from the fascist organ of Rimini stating that the opus is a CAPOLAVORO magnifico.

It wascarried thru the village, not on a triumphal ox-cart draped with scarlet, but at any rate with due order by ii Commandante. (I declined to see the sindaco, but expressed no unwillingness that he shd. gaze on the edition.)

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.

Thanks for the Malatesta Roma and Japan sheets recd. Am sending the Roma to il Commandante; and ascertaining whether the museum is ready to frame and hang the vellum. If it ain't, they will do very nicely here. Amglad to see the vellum, with space enough to see the proportion; couldn't get full effect in print shop. I see some reason for the vellum edtn. I also see that the Whatman takes a better imprint than the Roma, but the stink!!!!!!! andthe transparency of the paper seem to me to make it mostondesirable sort of paper to print anything but obstetric woiks on.

 

From Henry Strater, 15 November 1926 - 1 Lexington Avenue, New York

YCAL Mss 43 Box 50/2241

Dear Ezra,

            Re Yriarte, howthell could the book be preserved, without rebinding? If I had known that you valued the cover more than the contents, I would have kept the latter. But I admit it was a loss to the world. The cover was in a class with the Opera.

[…]

I ast you once already, where are those cantos XVII et sec. published?

We are glad to see Ford.

If Bill is in jail, perhaps that’s why I never got my original drawing for the cantos. I wrote him a year ago. Haven’t one. If he doesn’t value them, I do.

 

From William Bird, 25 July 1932

YCAL Mss 43 Box/??

And speaking of Maecenases, I have just received from the binder after 5 years waiting a Japan copy of Cantos handsomely bound in red morocco. If you happen to hear of anybody with 100 smackers who wants a safe investment, it looks like the opportunity of a lifetime. Many people who bought N.Y. Central five years ago are wishing to-day that they had bought Cantos instead.

 

From William Bird, 13 January 1933

YCAL Mss 43 Box/??

Cherished Ezra

            I have the welcome news that the 2 vols. of CANTOS will be shipped to you on Monday. They have been completed in professional style by my daughter, who has spent most of the Xmas holidays at the bindery.

            If, as I assume, these vols. are sold, you may if convenient send me 25 bucks as my share of the booty.

 

From William Bird, 17 January 1933

YCAL Mss 43 Box/??

Dear Ezra: Okay – don’t pay for books until sold. They were posted yesterday in 2 packages, registered.