THREE CANTOS OF A POEM OF SOME LENGTH
ANOTHER one, half-cracked: John Heydon,
Worker of miracles, dealer in levitation,
“Servant of God and secretary of nature,”
The half transparent forms, in trance at Bulverton :
“Decked all in green,” with sleeves of yellow silk
Slit to the elbow, slashed with various purples,
(Thus in his vision.) Her eyes were green as glass,
Dangling a chain of emeralds, promised him
Her foot was leaf-like, and she promised him
The way of holiest wisdom.
Omnis intellectus est”: thus he begins
By spouting half of Psellus; no, not “Daemonibus,”
But Porphyry’s “Chances,” the 13th chapter,
That every intellect is omniform.
“A daemon is a substance in the locus of souls.”
Munching Ficino’s mumbling Platonists.
Valla, more earth and sounder rhetoric,
Prefacing praise to his Pope, Nicholas:
A man of parts skilled in the subtlest sciences;
A patron of the arts, of poetry; and of a fine discernment.
A catalogue, his jewels of conversation.
“Know then the Roman speech: a sacrament”
Spread for the nations, eucharist of wisdom,
Bread of the liberal arts.
Ha ! Sir Blancatz,
Sordello would have your heart up, give it to all the princes;
Valla, the heart of Rome,
Set out before the people. “Nec bonus
Christianus” (in the Elegantiae) “ac bonus Tullianus.”
Shook the church. Marius, Du Bellay, wept for the buildings ;
Baldassar Castiglione saw Raphael
“Lead back the soul into its dead, waste dwelling,”
Laniato corpore. Lorenzo Valla
“Broken in middle life? Bent to submission?
Took a fat living from the Papacy”
(That’s in Villari, but Burckhardt’s statement’s different).
“More than the Roman city the Roman speech”
Holds fast its part among the ever living.”
Not by the eagles only was Rome measured.”
“Wherever the Roman speech was, there was Rome.”
Wherever the speech crept, there was mastery,
Spoke with the law’s voice, while your greek logicians. . . .
More greeks than one! Doughty’s “Divine Homeros”
Came before sophistry. Justinopolitan, uncatalogued,
One Andreas Divus gave him in latin,
In Officina Wecheli, M.D. three “ XV eight,
Caught up his cadence, word and syllable :
“Down to the ships we went, set mast and sail,
Black keel and beasts for bloody sacrifice,
Weeping we went.”
I’ve strained my ear for -ensa, -ombra, and -ensa,
And cracked my wit on delicate canzoni,
Here’s but rough meaning :
“And then went down to the ship, set keel to breakers,
Forth on the godly sea,
We set up mast and sail on the swart ship,
Sheep bore we aboard her, and our bodies also,
Heavy with weeping; and winds from sternward
Bore us out onward with bellying canvas,
Circe’s this craft, the trim-coifed goddess.
Then sat we amidships wind jamming the tiller
Thus with stretched sail
we went over sea till day’s end.
Sun to his slumber, shadows o’er all the ocean,
Came we then to the bounds of deepest water,
To the Kimmerian lands and peopled cities
Covered with close-webbed mist, unpierced ever
With glitter of sun-rays,
Nor with stars stretched, nor looking back from heaven,
Swartest night stretched over wretched men there,
The ocean flowing backward, came we then to the place
Aforesaid by Circe.
Here did they rites, Perimedes and Eurylochus,
And drawing sword from my hip
I dug the ell-square pitkin,
Poured we libations unto each the dead,
First mead and then sweet wine, water mixed with white flour,
Then prayed I many a prayer to the sickly death’s-heads,
As set in Ithaca, sterile bulls of the best
Sheep, to Tiresias only; black and bell sheep.
Dark blood flowed in the fosse,
Souls out of Erebus, cadaverous dead,
Of brides, of youths, and of much-bearing old;
Virgins tender, souls stained with recent tears,
Many men mauled with bronze lance-heads,
Battle spoil, bearing yet dreary arms,
These many crowded about me,
With shouting, pallor upon me, cried to my men for more beasts.
Slaughtered the herds, sheep slain of bronze,
Poured ointment, cried to the gods,
To Pluto the strong, and praised Proserpine,
Unsheathed the narrow sword,
I sat to keep off the impetuous, impotent dead
Till I should hear Tiresias.
But first Elpenor came, our friend Elpenor,
Unburied, cast on the wide earth,
Limbs that we left in the house of Circe,
Unwept, unwrapped in sepulchre, since toils urged other.
Pitiful spirit, and I cried in hurried speech:
“Elpenor, how art thou come to this dark coast ?
Com’st thou a-foot, outstripping seamen?”
And he in heavy speech:
“Ill fate and abundant wine! I slept in Circe’s ingle,
Going down the long ladder unguarded, I fell against the buttress,
Shattered the nerve-nape, the soul sought Avernus.
But thou, O King, I bid remember me, unwept, unburied,
Heap up mine arms, be tomb by sea-board, and inscribed:
‘A man of no fortune and with a name to come.’
And set my oar up, that I swung mid fellows.”
Came then another ghost, whom I beat off, Anticlea,
And then Tiresias, Theban,
Holding his golden wand, knew me and spoke first:
“Man of ill hour, why come a second time,
Leaving the sunlight, facing the sunless dead, and this joyless region ?
Stand from the fosse, move back, leave me my bloody bever,
And I will speak you true speeches.”
And I stepped back,
Sheathing the yellow sword. Dark blood he drank then,
And spoke:” Lustrous Odysseus
Shalt return through spiteful Neptune, over dark seas,
Lose all companions.” Foretold me the ways and the signs.
Came then Anticlea, to whom I answered:
“Fate drives me on through these deeps. I sought Tiresias.
Told her the news of Troy. And thrice her shadow
Faded in my embrace.”
Lie quiet Divus. Then had he news of many faded women,
Tyro, Alcmena. Chloris,
Heard out their tales by that dark fosse, and sailed
By sirens and thence outward and away,
And unto Circe. Buried Elpenor’s corpse.
Lie quiet Divus, plucked from a Paris stall
With a certain Cretan’s “Hymni Deorum”;
The thin clear Tuscan stuff
Gives way before the florid mellow phrase,
Take we the goddess, Venerandam
Auream coronam habentem, pulchram. . . .
Cypri munimenta sortita est, maritime,
Light on the foam, breathed on by Zephyrs
And air-tending Hours, mirthful, orichalci, with golden
Girdles and breast bands, thou with dark eyelids,
Bearing the golden bough of Argicida.
END OF THIRD CANTO
Pound, Ezra. Three Cantos of a poem of Some Length: III. New York: Knopf, 1917.
Pound, Ezra. Three Cantos I. In Quia Pauper Amavi. London: Egoist Press, 1919. 28-31. Quia Pauper Amavi.
Pound, Ezra. Poems and Translations. Ed. Richard Sieburth. New York: The Library of America, 2003. 327-330.