Canto XVI was first drafted in the spring of 1922, as a part of an Ur-Hell Canto, numbered XII, which was written in longhand during Pound's Italian travels of that year (YCAL 178 2/87 see Beall 2-3). The number shows that at that time, Pound had already decided to write a Malatesta Canto (no. 9) and had drafts for cantos provisionally numbered 10 (which became canto XII) and 11 (The Kung Canto, no. XIII). This gives us the possibility of dating the manuscript of this Ur-Hell canto between 15 May 1922 (when Pound visited the Tempio Malatestiano for the first time and decided to write a canto on its builder) and 20 June (when he wrote to Quinn from Sirmione that he is at work on the hell canto, chiefly devoted to the English).

After he arrived in Paris and finished a translation of Paul Morand by 5 July, Pound continued to work on the Hell canto, which he typed in a further draft, also titled “XII.” But this typed-up version did not have the materials of XVI, which were moved to another draft, provisionally called “XIII,” as suggested by Pound’s letter to his father on 16 July 1922. This draft contained the beginning of XVI, continued with materials from XIV. Draft of XIII (YCAL 178 2/90).

Further work on the canto was interrupted by the poet’s study and writing of the Malatesta group, finished by May 1923 and the revision of the other cantos which he wanted to include in A Draft of XVI Cantos volume he planned with William Bird. The dates included in the Calendar show that XVI was taken up again in August 1923 and finished in the autumn. (By 24 October, Pound was telling Hemingway that he occupied himself with music, after having completed “16 chants.”) This break in composition, lasting for more than a year, suggests that the canto is made of two parts: an older one, drafted in 1922, which presents Pound’s exit from hell and is a natural conclusion to the Hell cantos; and a later one, written in the summer of 1923, and conceived as a medley of voices recounting war experiences. This split is also reproduced in the state of the drafts preserved at the Beinecke, where the newer part is placed in a separate folder (YCAL 178 5/176). This folder is restricted access, but copies of the pages were put by Beinecke curators in folder 90 referred to above. These copies can be consulted on location but are not included in the digital folder 90.

As the canto includes the voices of a number of people Pound knew, he chose to protect their names, either by not naming them at all (Léger, Steffens), or using a pronoun (“him” instead of Aldington) or even a non-committal “Brother Percy,” a name which can hardly lead to a definite reference. Other names he hid under a pseudonym, like Maxy Lahrmann for Wyndham Lewis, Cyril Hammerton for Ernest Hemingway, Captain Corcoran for Captain Baker, and Barham Vanderberg for Cyril Windeler. Only the names of those who died in the war are given (Gaudier and T. E. Hulme). This solution was respected in all editions until the New Directions of 1970, when all names were put in. See also “Epilogue,” at the end of this Calendar.

Pound did not change the English text when preparing the Italian translation of the first thirty cantos with his daughter in 1958-59, and continued to use the pseudonyms when reading his canto at the Spoleto Festival in 1967: this indicates that he did not authorize introducing the names in the text of the poem as we now have it (Beall 13-14). Comments to his father on canto XVIII, with which XVI has a great deal in common, may throw light on the reasons: “Simplest parallel I can give is radio where you tell who is talking by the noise they make. If your copies are properly punctuated they shd. show where each voice begins and ends. It is NOT a radio. / You hear various people letting cats out of bags at maximum speed. Armaments, finance, etc.” (L/HP 548). And: “You understand the NAMES dont matter; what I am trying to give is the STATE of rascality and wangle” (L/HP 591).

The detailed story of the canto composition was researched and written by John Beall, 2017. Go to article. See also powerpoint presentation.



Correspondence by Ezra Pound: (c) Mary de Rachewiltz and the Estate of Omar S. Pound. Reproduced by permission.




Pound, Ezra. Ezra Pound To His Parents: Letters 1895-1929. Eds. Mary de Rachewiltz, A David Moody and Joanna Moody. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2010.


“Yr Letters Are Life Preservers”: the Correspondence of Ezra Pound and Ernest Hemingway. Ed. with an introduction by Matthew J. Bruccoli. Paris Review 163 (2002): 96-124.

YCAL 178

Beinecke Library, Yale University. William Bird Papers, YCAL 178. Box no./Folder no.



BLAST I, June 1914


Come my cantilations,

Let us dump our hatreds

Into one bunch and be done with them,

Hot sun, clear water, fresh wind,

Let me be free of pavements,

Let me be free of the printers.

Let come beautiful people

Wearing raw silk of good colour,

Let come the graceful speakers,

Let come the ready of wit,

Let come the gay of manner, the insolent and the exulting.

We speak of burnished lakes,

And of dry air, as clear as metal.





These fought, in any case,

and some believing, pro domo, in any case ...

Some quick to arm,

some for adventure,

some from fear of weakness,

some from fear of censure,

some for love of slaughter, in imagination,

learning later ...

some in fear, learning love of slaughter;

Died some pro patria, non dulce non et decor” ...

walked eye-deep in hell

believing in old men’s lies, then unbelieving

came home, home to a lie,

home to many deceits,

home to old lies and new infamy;

usury age-old and age-thick

and liars in public places.

Daring as never before, wastage as never before.

Young blood and high blood,

Fair cheeks, and fine bodies;

fortitude as never before

frankness as never before,

disillusions as never told in the old days,

hysterias, trench confessions,

laughter out of dead bellies.



There died a myriad,

And of the best, among them,

For an old bitch gone in the teeth,

For a botched civilization.

Charm, smiling at the good mouth,

Quick eyes gone under earth’s lid,

For two gross of broken statues,

For a few thousand battered books.



From Cyril B. Windeler, 31 January [1921]

Lilly Library, Box I Pound mss. 1922

“My phallic monsters were ever a disturbing factor. The straining & spasms (resultant of gas heaves inside) – valvular openings & closings, bisexual, with faint sucking noise, enthralled onlookers: who stared… almost ashamed. The occasional female present would recoil slightly, shudder: - Lips framing – ‘ooh… it’s only a balloon.’ She would continue to stare however. Life holds so many disappointments.”



To John Quinn, 20 June 1922

BT 302

Have had busy spring [...] and have blocked in four cantos - (Including the “Honest Sailor”, which I hope I haven’t spoiled). At work on the “Hell” canto, chiefly devoted to the English.


To John Quinn, 5 July 1922

L/JQ 213

Mon Cher J.Q.


Still, having got Morand translations off my hands […] And having got five cantos blocked out, I am about ready for the vacation I did not take in Italy. Am feeling damn fit.


To Homer Pound, 16 July 1922, 70 bis, rue notre Dame des Champs Paris

L/HP 500

Dear dad,


Frank Bacon also turned up last week. Was damn glad to see him, after twelve years. Had just used part of his biography in my cantos (Canto X).

Have now a rough draft of 9, 10, 11, 12, 13. IX may swell out into two.


To Homer Pound, 2 September 1922

L/HP 501

Dear dad:


Am plugging along on my Malatesta Canto, may run into two cantos; the four to follow it, are blocked in.


To Homer Pound, 30 October 1922, Paris

L/HP 504

Dear Dad:


Am plugging on my next batch of Cantos. Dont know what else is to be expected of me during the oncoming years. (Any suggestions??)


Very interesting evening at S'oiseau last night. Lincoln Steffens talked for about an hour on the Russian revolution, most of which he had seen, and of Lenin whom he knows, apparently fairly well. Expect to see more of Steffens, damn good chap.


To IWP, 25 December, 1922, Paris

L/HP 505

Dear Mother:


Have got three of the Malatesta cantos in some sort of shape; attempt to avoid going away with huge mass of notes. Donth know how many more will be needed to deal with S.M.; sevral cantos blocked in, to follow the Malatesta section.



To Homer Pound, 24 August 1923

L/HP 517

Dear Dad:


Have knocked some more Canti into shape, now on fifth on after Malatesta, and have revised earlier part of the pome.


To Dorothy Pound, 14 October 1923

Lilly Library, Pound mss. III. Box 1



Oh yes, did I ask if there was a Dial containing FOURTH canto; must have appeared about March 1921;

funny I seem to have seen a copy, and table of contents saying Fourth Canto, quite recently, but cant remember where. Seems to me Agnes did write something about it, too. Not of terrific importance, but wd. save copy of Liveright volume from being messed up by printer.

Soiseau seems to think he is going on with the edition.

You knew F. Intends to use the Honest Sailor and Kung.

Have got up to Leger’s part of the XVIth.


To Dorothy Pound, 20 October 1923

Lilly Pound Mss. III, Box 1



Had dinner with Soiseau and Stef, other evening; measured out number of lines of cantos, for dummy. Also Leger has approved the section of XVI that deals with his account of Verdun.

Stef supplies troublesome details about Petrograd.

Golly has supplied Stef’s defective orthography.


Never mind about Dial containing Canto, IV; I have retyped it all.


To Ernest Hemingway, 24 October 1923, Paris

L/H/PR 118

Dear Hem


I have even seen one sample ornament for my Oeuvrage.

After hell, I have said a few chaste words on the war, making XVI chants, i.e. five since the Malatesta.

(earlier ones cut down to seven)

I am working with the refined art of music at present.


To Homer Pound, October 1923 - [Paris]

L/HP 519

Dear Dad,


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



Pound releases edited setting copy of Cantos I-V and XII-XVI to Bill Bird.

Source: curator’s note Beinecke YCAL MSS 43 Oversize Box 241, Folder 55.

At the end of the typescript in that setting copy, with the final lines of Canto XVI, Pound writes 6 Jan. 1924, and signs the page by hand “E.P.”

Also see Moody, Ezra Pound: The Epic Years 1921-1939, 58. (Beall 2017)


EPILOGUE, 1961-1970

In the textual history of The Cantos, number 16 played a significant role. Around 1963, Eva Hesse and Hugh Kenner embarked on an extensive work of correcting the text of the poem, with a view to providing a standard, authoritative edition. By that time, Guy Davenport had a list of the censored names, which he had got from Pound himself and which is now lost (Eastman 60). Mary de Rachewiltz, Pound’s daughter, had also introduced a number of names in her Italian translation of the first 30 cantos, a fact that would indicate Pound’s authorization (I Cantos di Ezra Pound: I primi trenta. [Bilingual edition]. Milan: Lerici, 1961). However, apart from correcting a marginal note: “Plarr’s narrations,” the English text of the Lerici edition was not changed.

The bulk of corrections, which included replacing the pseudonyms by the actual names, was inscribed by Eva Hesse in a Faber copy of the poem, which was submitted to James Laughlin for the new corrected edition he was planning in 1970 at New Directions (Eastman 32-34). The final decision to implement the changes in Pound’s text was Laughlin’s. However, there is no indication at present that replacing the pseudonyms was actually authorized by the poet.


Cantos in periodicals

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A Draft of XXX Cantos

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Eleven New Cantos

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The Fifth Decad

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