THE ADAMS CANTOS
The tragedy of the U.S.A. over 160 years is the decline of Adamses. More and more we cd., if we examined events, see that John Adams had the corrective for Jefferson.
Ezra Pound. Guide to Kulchur 254
Comes now 1938 and I point out to one of our most brilliant American publishers that you can get Marx, Lenin, Trotsky, and Stalin, all of them exotics, for 10 cents or a quarter a volume, and that no American can buy the best of J. Adams, Jefferson, and Van Buren at any price; or maybe he can dig up an uncirculated publication of the Historical Association at three dollars. All of these guys were 100% U.S.A.-ers.
“But,” says the publisher, “Nobody would be interested in what they said. Now if you were to write out exactly the same words as your own, I think we could sell it.”
In Europe you couldn’t. Some bloke like Francis Picabia, or some librarian like Manlio Dazzi would call it. The former would say something bright and snappy about: Who discovered the moon. And the latter would with chapter and verse observe that Marco Polo, or Bacon, or as the case were, Mr. Adams, had on the 3rd of January, 1803, written to Mr. Whoosis a letter containing on page three, lines 9 to 14, the remarks used by .....
Ezra Pound “Responsibility? Shucks!” Globe, Feb-March 1938, in P&P VII: 304.
There is a five-part overall structure deriving from the arrangement of the Works of John Adams.
- an overview of Adams’s life – canto 62 with the first page of 63, drawn from the biography in volume I by his son John Quincy Adams and his grandson Charles Francis Adams;
- Adams’s own view of his life and public service (up to 1796, when he became president) – canto 63 through to the second page of 66, drawn from his diaries and autobiographical writings in volumes 2 and 3;
- his pivotal ideas of government as he wrote them out in his political essays – canto 66 through to the beginning of 68, from volumes 3, 4, and 6;
- the official record of his public service (from 1771 to the close of his presidency in 1801) – canto 68 through to the second page of 70, drawn from his official correspondence and papers in volumes 7-9;
- Adams’s retrospective view of his career, as in ‘the mirror of memory’ – cantos 70 and 71, drawn from his private correspondence (up to 1818) in volumes 9 and 10.
A. David Moody. Ezra Pound: Poet II: 286.
Note on colours in the table above: green - link to the poem; orange: inactive link.
THE ADAMS CANTOS
CALENDAR OF COMPOSITION
The composition of the Adams Cantos can be considered a process in two stages: The first took place in 1930-31, when Pound shifted his area of interest to American presidents, particularly Thomas Jefferson. He owned the 20-volume edition of his Writings which included the letter exchange Jefferson had with Adams in the later part of their life, from 1812 to 1826. Pound also discovered Adams’s Works at this time, and read them at the Bibliothèque nationale in Paris. He decided to leave the material he had discovered for later. Nevertheless, this first phase of research resulted in a strong John Adams presence in cantos 31-33, particularly canto 33.
The second phase started in the autumn of 1938. Pound bought a set of Adams’s Works (10 vols) and after finishing the Chinese History Cantos, he started reading and taking notes for cantos on the American president. This process started in mid-October 1938 and ended in February 1939.
Correspondence by Ezra Pound: (c) Mary de Rachewiltz and the Estate of Omar S. Pound. Reproduced by permission.
LIST OF ABBREVIATIONS
Ten Eyck, David. Ezra Pound’s Adams Cantos. London: Bloomsbury, 2012.
Pound, Ezra. Ezra Pound and Japan. Letters and Essays. Ed. Sanehide Kodama. Redding Ridge CT: Black Swan Books, 1987.
Moody, A. David. Ezra Pound: Poet. Vol. II: The Epic Years, 1921-1939. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2014.
Pound, Ezra. Ezra Pound to His Parents – Letters 1895-1929. Eds. Mary de Rachewiltz, A. David Moody and Joanna Moody. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2011.
Nadel, Ira. “Visualizing History: Pound and the Chinese Cantos.” A Poem Containing History. Textual Studies in The Cantos. Ed. Lawrence S. Rainey. Ann Arbor: Michigan UP, 1997. 151-166.
Pound, Ezra. The Selected Letters of Ezra Pound 1907-1941. Ed. D. D. Paige. New York: New Directions, 1971.
Beinecke Library, Yale University. Olga Rudge Papers YCAL 54, General Correspondence. Box no/Folder no.
To Homer Pound, c. 1 May 1924, Perugia
This note mainly to ask if you know any thing about American Presidents - I have what I need on Wash. & Jefferson but that’s about all. - I don’t care a damn about their public eye wash. I want facts indicative of personality.
Is there anything in yr. old vols. of Grant’s Life. - or Blaine’s ‘20 years of congress.’ - or did you pick up anything when you were in Washington or from T.C.P. that threw any light on Garfield - Arthur - G.C. - or whomever happened before Garfield. Lincoln?? (forget dates. Johnson, Grant,?? Hayes. - Garfield - forget if there were any others. -
Can you look over books in Phila library. -
Jefferson’s letters I have read. He was probably the only civilized man who ever held down the job.
(of course it is now accepted that Lincoln was J.Xt & not human. - so I’m not counting him.)
Tyler - Harrison lst possible Monroe. might be the brighter spots in the annals of national bad taste.
I can’t remember the names of a lot of ‘em. There was a Johnny named Polk & two bums called Adams// anny how it wd. be more interesting for you to read such of their correspondence as is printed - than to read the pollyanay de nos jours -
I believe Grover has written his own life - but suppose the book’s bunk & designed to tell the young to be industrious.
Any how the earlier occupants are more likely to be interesting.
To Homer Pound, 28 May 1924
Re yrs. 14thinst. THAT (i.E. uninterestingness of U.S. presdts.) is PREcisely the point. – I hope, with a few well chosen phrases, to rub it in.
only I want an almost infinite number of facts to select from.
Re executives, I have one or two plums. Geo. W’s death – Jefferson trying to get a gardener who cd. play the french horn in quartette after dinner. (wanted to import one along with a clavicord) Shd. like something of the Lincoln family that hadn’t been worn to death & that didn’t feature J. Christ too heavily – also Grant.
The row of duds begins early with Mr. Adams.
To Olga Rudge, 9 August 1930
have compulsed one vol. Adams letters
To Olga Rudge, 1 November 1930
YCAL 54 9/235
In fact he has chawed thru a nuther large hunk of Ad’s Jeff and the effek on his forms of xpression is such as warrants it onlikely that he will for the oncoming 86 hours be capable of terminating any sentence until it have run its leisurely course to at least one hunderd or over an hundred words. an thass thett.
Note: “From its first appearance in August 1930 until the spring of 1931, John Adams’s name appears almost as regularly as that of Thomas Jefferson in Pound’s correspondence. In these months, his reading was divided between the volume of Adams’s letters mentioned above, the Adams-Jefferson correspondence and portions of the twenty volume Lipscomb-Bergh edition of the Writings of Thomas Jefferson. Pound read the latter only very partially, focusing particularly on Jefferson’s correspondence.” AC 17-8.
To Olga Rudge, 20 December 1930
YCAL 54, 10/240
Some of ole Granpap [John Adams] letters to Jeff. in vol XIII very hefty. Kept him up till 11.30
Note. Volume XIII of The Writings of Thomas Jefferson contains the correspondence Jefferson had with Adams in 1812-13. Adams’s letters are included.
To Olga Rudge, 22 December 1930
YCAL 54, 10/240; AC 21
Old Adams vurry fine. Takin the paint off the lot of ‘em; T. Jeff and Lafayette included.
and redder than anything
To Olga Rudge, 24 December 1930
YCAL 54, 10/241; AC 18
About to end of his volume of OLD Adams. but eight more in London to be sent out. […]
The fruits of the Adams will be gathered in time. He not going to anticipate them.
To Olga Rudge, 22 March 
YCAL 54, 10/256; AC 18
He has ordered his sleepink kar. As she has s’much to do, she do somfink more an’ send him back her carbon of Canto 32. “The revolution” said Mr Adams.
He encs/ the remplacant. and they all better git aht ter woik. as acc Mr Johns’ encd.
Not that 33 is prob. in order. How the HELL can he be sposed to condencentrate ALL Mssrs Marx/Adams/T/J/etc. i[f] he is expected to fix his VOLITION etc/etc.etc/
Yeow, yeow yeow. Wuzz.
To Dorothy Pound, 28 April 1931
Lilly Library, Pound Mss. III; AC 19
Had swat at J. Adams in Bib. nat. but the “woiks” wd take 50 days at 100 pages per. diem.
must invent some skimmier method.
To Dorothy Pound, 3 May 1931
Lilly Library, Pound Mss. III; AC 19
Have done a good deal of Adams - short of tryin’ to read it word for word.
30 September 1938 – The Munich Agreement.
To Olga Rudge, 13 October 1938, London
he gotta start on Canto 61 or thaaarabahts/ i; e; wot is to foller ChinKantos when he gits enough Chinkese to finish ’em and FollowEM
To John Crowe Ransom, 15 October 1938
My dear Ransom
As final inquiry: are you ready for a revival of American culture considering it as something specifically grown from the nucleus of the American Founders, present in the Adams, Jefferson correspondence; not limited to belles lettres and American or colonial imitation of European literary models but active in all departments of thought, and tackling the problems which give life to epos and Elizabethan plays, without rendering either Homer or Bard of Avon dry doctrinaires?
The style of Justinian is not necessarily of less interest than that of the Pervigilium Veneris or of Augustine’s purple.
To T. S. Eliot, 9 January 1939
I am sailin along into the seventh decad. The sixth isn’t polished yet
Note. The seventh decad is The Adams Cantos. The letter to Eliot marks the beginning of intensive work on the Adams, whereas the China cantos are still in draft. See also the date closing canto 62 (11 Jan 1938), a misprint for 1939 (AC 26; 62/350)
To Olga Rudge 1 February 1939
Chewing thru Adams
To Olga Rudge, 3 February 1939
he on vol. Ten and ult. of J. Adams
To Olga Rudge, 7 February 1939
EPP 270; AC 26; YCAL 54 19/512
he got to the end of vol. XI and last of J Adams
J. Adams, wottaman
To Olga Rudge, 12 February 1939
AC 26; YCAL 54 19/513
rereading his 20 canters / and finished or at any rate got to end of 10 folios Adams/
To Hubert Creekmore, February 1939
SL 322; AC 26
Am I American? Yes, and buggar the present state of the country, the utter betrayal of the American Constitution, the filth of the Universities, and the –––– system of publication whereby you can buy Lenin, Trotsky (the messiest mutt of the lot), Stalin for 10 cents and 25 cents and it takes seven years to get a set of John Adams at about 30 dollars. Van Buren’s autobiog not printed till 1920.
An Ars Poetica might in time evolve from the Ta Hio. Note esp. my “Mencius” in last summer’s Criterion. And as to “am I American”: wait for Cantos 61/71 now here in rough typescript.
T0 Willis Overholser, January-March 1939
[John Adams] much more the father of Jackson and van Buren than Jefferson ever was.
To Katue Kitasono, 3 March 1939
Dear K 2
There is a mention of Japan at the edge of my chinese Cantos/ now on desk, hope to publish in Autumn
52/61 China 62/71 John Adams pater patriae U.S.A. more than Washington or Jefferson/ though all three essential and (all) betrayed by the first congress.
I must go on making clean typescript of them. Now on Canto 67
To Henry Swabey, 6 March 1939
AC 27; Nicholls 112
[…] retyping 52/71.
To F. V. Morley, 20 March 1939
Surette 146-7; PCH 151; AC 27
you are gittin something NEW in the Cantos; not merely more of the same. trust at least two advances in mode will be perceptible by you and the PSM
bar snags I shall be sendink you the ms/ of CANTERS tomorrow
13 April 1939 – 25 June 1939 – Pound makes a trip to the United States
To Katue Kitasono, 28 October 1939
My Cantos 52/71 are in the press/ Chinese dynasties and John Adams. Creator of the United States and of something not unlike a dynasty in America. The fall of which meant the END of decent civilisation in the U.S. or at any rate a great and pestilent sickness in American government.
I wd prefer to write about history for the moment, including current history.
CANTOS LII TO LXXI published by Faber & Faber on 25 January 1940
To Lulu Cunningham, n.d.
[the volume was] easier to understand than the earlier ones … 52/71 ought to establish the fact that I am an AMERICAN writer, not a collector of bric a brac.
From James Laughlin, 29 February 1940
Rev & superb Sir:
I wish I knew whether you had gotten my letter I sent by the clipper or whether the fishes got it, or the censors got it. Or what. Anyway, you haven’t replied and so I am making my plans to go west rather than to Rapallo.
Natheless after reading the Adams CANTOS I am convinced that an explanation is essential and I hope you can be brought to that view and also to supply the facts for the same. Please tell your admirer your views in this matten.
Ann [Watkins, Pound’s literary agent in the US] didn’t give me any Chinese cantyers. Just Adams. Now did she have the ideograms. She did give me the China map, which I don’t think I would want to use for fear of throwing people off. Tho, I dunno. Why don’t yer behaptitude just correct thoroughly a copy of the Faber edition and ship me that.
THE ADAMS CANTOS – BIBLIOGRAPHY
BOOKS AND DISSERTATIONS
- Sanders, Frederick K. John Adams Speaking: Pound’s Sources for the Adams Cantos. University of Maine Press, 1975.
- Ten Eyck, David. Ezra Pound’s Adams Cantos. London: Bloomsbury, 2012.
- Wilson, Stephen. “Writing and Reading History: A Study of Ezra Pound’s Malatesta, Jefferson and Adams Cantos.” Diss. U of Dublin, Trinity College, 2003. Free online.
ARTICLES IN JOURNALS AND COLLECTIONS
- Cantrell, Carol H. and Ward Swinson. “Cantos LII-LXXI: Pound’s Textbook for Princes.” Paideuma: A Journal Devoted to Ezra Pound Scholarship 18.1 (1989): 67-128.
- Cody, Thomas. “Adams, Mussolini, and the Personality of Genius.” Paideuma: A Journal Devoted to Ezra Pound Scholarship 18.3 (1989): 77-103.
- De Rachewiltz, Mary. “Translating the Cantos.” Michigan Quarterly Review 26.3 (Summer 1987): 524-534.
- McDonald, James R. “The ‘Adams Cantos’: Fact or Fiction?” The Antigonish Review 21 (1975): 97-107.
- Moody, David A. “Composition in The Adams Cantos.” Ezra Pound and America. Ed. Jacqueline Kaye. London: Macmillan, 1992. 79-92.
- Read, Forrest. ’76: One World and the Cantos of Ezra Pound. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1981. 266-85.
Selby, Nick. “Fascist Language in The Adams Cantos of Ezra Pound.” Journal of American Studies of Turkey 2 (1995): 61-72.
- Surette, Leon. “Ezra Pound’s John Adams: An American Odyssey.” Prospects: An Annual of American Cultural Studies 2 (1976): 483-495.
- Ten Eyck, D. “Representing the American Republic: Ezra Pound’s Adams and Coke Cantos.” Paideuma: Studies in American and British Modernist Poetry 34.2-3 (2005): 293-314.
- Ten Eyck, David. “History and Anonymity in Ezra Pound’s Documentary Method.” Ezra Pound and Referentiality. Ed. Hélène Aji. Paris: Presses de l’Université de Paris-Sorbonne, 2003. 279-88.
BOOK CHAPTERS AND SECTIONS
- Carpenter, Humphrey. A Serious Character. The Life of Ezra Pound. New York: Delta, 1988. [Section: 573-575.]
- Davie, Donald. Ezra Pound. The Poet as Sculptor. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1964. 161-67.
- Davis, Earle. Vision Fugitive: Ezra Pound and Economics. Lawrence KS.: The UP of Kansas, 1968. 136-45.
- Fang, Achilles. “Materials for the Study of Pound’s Cantos.” 4 vols. Diss., Harvard U, 1958. Vol I: 174-90.
- Flory, Wendy. Ezra Pound and The Cantos: A Record of Struggle. New Haven: Yale UP, 1980. [Section: 169-177.]
- Liebregts, Peter. Ezra Pound and Neoplatonism. Madison: Fairleigh Dickinson UP, 2004. [Section: 243-248.]
- Moody, David A. ”Two books for governors: (2) cantos 62-71.” Ezra Pound: Poet. A Portrait of the Man and His Work. II: The Epic Years 1921-1939. Oxford & New York: Oxford University Press, 2014. 284-96.
- Moody, David A. “The Cantos: Cantos LXII-LXXI.” The Ezra Pound Encyclopedia. Eds. D. Tryphonopoulos and S. Adams. Westport CT: Greenwood Press, 2005. 38-39.
- Nicholls, Peter. Ezra Pound: Politics, Economics and Writing. A Study of The Cantos. London: Macmillan, 1984. [Section: 125-137.]
- Pearlman, Daniel. The Barb of Time. On the Unity of Ezra Pound’s Cantos. New York: Oxford UP, 1969. 231-4.
- Rabaté, J. M. Language, Sexuality and Ideology in Ezra Pound’s Cantos. London: Macmillan, 1986. [Section: 106-40.]
- Selby, Nick. “‘Arriba Adams’: The Limited Circulation of Law and History in the Adams Cantos.” Poetics of Loss in The Cantos of Ezra Pound. From Modernism to Fascism. Lewiston: Edwin Meller Press, 2006. 141-86.
- Surette, L. “Adams.” A Light from Eleusis. A Study of Ezra Pound’s Cantos. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1979. 160-172.
- Whittier-Ferguson, John. “Ezra Pound: Final Primers.” In Framing Pieces. Designs of the Gloss in Joyce, Woolf, and Pound. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1996. 115-150.