Article Index

 

CANTO XLIX

 

 

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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. Letter to Pound, 7 December 1937. P/Z 193.

 

Canto XLIX functions effectively as an expression of Pound’s endorsement of the Confucian worldview in the immediate historical context of 1930s politics. Balance within the self, on one hand, and balance with the family, social relations, and the entire political and metaphysical order up to the Emperor and the cosmos, on the other, comprise twinned virtues just as usury and Geryon are twinned vices.

Mark Byron. “Ezra Pound’s ‘Seven Lakes’ Canto” 138.

 

One is reminded of the idea in the first half of Canto 49 that there is something beyond the natural world which gives the scenes in nature mysterious calmness and profundity. Now in the second half of the Canto is the idea that there is the imperial power working behind the scenes of social life, invisible, omnipresent in, and influencing the world of daily life. In both, Pound is suggesting that some pivotal power in the non-physical world keeps our world in harmony and order.

The meaning of the last two enigmatic lines of the Canto seems now to be clearer. “The fourth; the dimension of stillness” is the pivotal center in the world beyond this world, where a power for order and love comes from, without which the three-dimensional world is in chaos like that of the “wild beasts.” Canto 49 is not a mere nature poem. It is not only a social and political poem, but it is in a sense a religious poem, for it points to a vision of Paradise as well as of Hell. And it is the theme Pound is to develop in his later Cantos.

Sanehide Kodama. “The Eight Scenes of Sho-Sho” 144-5.

 

In the canto as a whole, it seems clear, Pound is ideogrammatically constructing what he names at its conclusion, “the dimension of stillness.” This concept, that is to say, is evoked or generated by the mingling of the several serene landscapes that make up the poem. And “stillness” is not simply an antiquated style of civilization — in contrast with the Western action that has displaced it — but an alternative and an antidote to Western disorder, which the poem up to this point has been documenting. Pound, in other words, is using oriental stillness as part of The Cantos’ anti-usury ideology — using stillness, that is, in an active way, incorporating it into his argument against certain aspects of Western culture.

Stephen Kern. Orientalism, Modernism and the American Poem 208-9.

 

RELATED CANTOS

CANTO I [the mask of Odysseus: no-man; a voyage; foundational languages of the West (Greek and Latin) vs Chinese/Japanese as mediators and embodiment of culture in the East]

CANTO II [the opposite of stillness: nature in flux and metamorphosis]

CANTO IV [Wang Wei, Song of the Peach Blossom Fountain: the aesthetic of a human paradise hidden from the historical world]

CANTO XIII [Confucius and the Ta Hio: the idea of order]

CANTO XLVII [the fourth dimension in the classical pastoral of the West]

CANTO LII [Confucian vision of government: natural, imperceptible]

 

A Draft of XXX Cantos

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