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.




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

L/HP 528

Dear Dad


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

L/HP 531

Dear Dad

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

AC 17

have compulsed one vol. Adams letters


To Olga Rudge, 1 November 1930

YCAL 54 9/235

Ziao, amure


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

before 1917.


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 [1931]

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

M-ao =

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

AC 26

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

SL  319

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

AC 26

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

EPP 270

Chewing thru Adams


To Olga Rudge, 3 February 1939

EPP 270

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

EPP  396

[John Adams] much more the father of Jackson and van Buren than Jefferson ever was.


To Katue Kitasono, 3 March 1939

EPJ  72

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

EPJ 79

Dear K/K/


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.

PCH 151

[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

YCAL 28/1207

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 Fifth Decad

rsz toscana siena3 tango7174


confucius adams 2


A Draft of XXX Cantos

ship4 for c1

Eleven New Cantos

rsz guido cavalcanti