Article Index

 

CANTO XLIX

 

 

rsz 18 views yale

 

What interests me about XLIX is not the ivory fishpond, but the fact that you have used words and sounds, cadence & beat (& pause) like strokes of the chinese characters, that it is a development of technique 20 years after Cathay, the outgrowth but not at all like Cathay (whatever its beauties).

Louis Zukofsky, 7 December 1937. P/Z 193.

 

Pound’s Canto 49, generally designated as “The Seven Lakes,” is a rare instance of modernist ekphrasis that represents a group of privately owned, actual paintings from the Orient. The story of what Pound’s Canto 49 owes to the screen book he received from his parents in early 1928 has been told and retold many times. A relic from Japan, the fourteen-fold screen book consists of two endpapers, two covers, eight ink paintings, eight poems in Chinese, and eight poems in Japanese, mutually representing eight classic views about the shores of the Xiao and Xiang Rivers in central South China.

Zhaoming Qian, The Modernist Response to Chinese Art: Pound, Moore, Stevens, 123.

 

“Stillness” is certainly associated with the Confucian doctrine of the unmoving pivot (Chung Yung), the just process of the universe which occupies the still point of the turning world, but only in the light of later cantos. In the same way, “the power over wild beasts” brings both Dionysus (the metamorphosis of Canto II, for example) and Orpheus (the magical power of music/song) to mind, but the relevance of such allusions is rather limited in the present context. The key phrase, in fact, is ‘the fourth dimension’ which, according to Piotr Demianovich Ouspensky [Petr Dem’yanovich Uspensky] and other mathematical philosophers of the period, represented a transcendence of physical reality and its representation in art to a higher consciousness or intuition, a higher reality, which exists beyond conventional time and space.

Richard Taylor, “Canto XLIX, Futurism, and the Fourth Dimension,” 347.

 

The scenes are taken from points ranging from the confluence of the two rivers near Changsha, north to Lake Dongting and then to the point at which they feed into the Yangtze further north. The topicality of place is noted for its fogs, mists and rains, where mountainous scenery, forests and rivers seem to merge together in an indistinct scene. This haunting topography has inspired mournful, even melancholic poetry and painting, and has often been associated with states of actual or metaphorical exile. 

Mark Byron, “In a Station of the Cantos: Ezra Pound’s ‘Seven Lakes’ Canto and the Shō-Shō Hakkei Tekagami,” 146.

 

RELATED CANTOS

CANTO IV [Wang Wei: Song of the Peach Blossom Fountain]

CANTO XIII [Confucius]

CANTO XLVII [the fourth dimension]

CANTO LVIII-LXI [Emperor Kang Xi]

CANTO XCVIII - XCIX [Sacred Edicts]

CANTOS CXII – CXIII [Na-Khi]