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Three Cantos (Ur-Cantos)

Catullus villa

A Draft of XXX Cantos I-XXX

rsz ship4 for c1

Eleven New Cantos XXXI-XLI

rsz guido cavalcanti

Fifth Decad of Cantos XLII-LI

monte dei paschi title page

Cantos LII to LXXI

confucius adams 2

Italian Cantos: LXXII-LXXIII

rsz marinetti


rsz pisa cage

Rock Drill: LXXXV-XCV

rock drill1


Thrones: Cantos XCVI-CIX


Drafts & Fragments






HANG it all, there can be but one Sordello!

But say I want to, say I take your whole bag of tricks,

Let in your quirks and tweeks, and say the thing’s an art-form,

Your Sordello , and that the modern world

Needs such a rag-bag to stuff all its thought in;  

Say that I dump my catch, shiny and silvery

As fresh sardines flapping and slipping on the marginal cobbles?

(I stand before the booth, the speech; but the truth

Is inside this discourse—this booth is full of the marrow of wisdom.)

Give up th’ intaglio method.

Tower by tower

Red-brown the rounded bases and the plan

Follows the builder’s whim. Beaucaire’s slim gray

Leaps from the stubby base of Altaforte

Mohammed’s windows, for the Alcazar

Has such a garden, split by a tame small stream.

The moat is ten yards wide, the inner courtyard

Half a-swim with mire.

Trunk hose?

      There are not. The rough men swarm out

In robes that are half Roman, half like the Knave of Hearts;

And I discern your story:

Peire Cardinal

Was half forerunner of Dante. Arnaut's that trick

Of the unfinished address,

And half your dates are out, you mix your eras;

For that great font Sordello sat beside—

’Tis an immortal passage, but the font?—

Is some two centuries outside the picture.

Does it matter?

    Not in the least. Ghosts move about me

Patched with histories. You had your business:

To set out so much thought, so much emotion;

To paint, more real than any dead Sordello, 

The half or third of your intensest life

And call that third Sordello;

And you’ll say, “No, not your life,

He never showed himself.”

Is’t worth the evasion, what were the use 

Of setting figures up and breathing life upon them,

Were ’t not our life, your life, my life, extended?

I walk Verona. (I am here in England.)

I see Can Grande
. (Can see whom you will.)

    You had one whole man? 

And I have many fragments, less worth? Less worth?

Ah, had you quite my age, quite such a beastly and cantankerous age?

You had some basis, had some set belief.

Am I let preach? Has it a place in music?


I walk the airy street, 

See the small cobbles flare with the poppy spoil.

’Tis your “great day,” the Corpus Domini,

And all my chosen and peninsular village

Has made one glorious blaze of all its lanes—

Oh, before I was up—with poppy flowers. 

Mid-June: some old god eats the smoke, ’tis not the saints;

And up and out to the half-ruined chapel

Not the old place at the height of the rocks,

But that splay, barn-like church the Renaissance

Had never quite got into trim again. 

As well begin here. Began our Catullus:

"Home to sweet rest, and to the waves’ deep laughter,”

The laugh they wake amid the border rushes.

This is our home, the trees are full of laughter,

And the storms laugh loud, breaking the riven waves

On “north-most rocks”; and here the sunlight

Glints on the shaken waters, and the rain

Comes forth with delicate tread, walking from Isola Garda—

Lo soleils plovil ,

As Arnaut had it in th’ inextricable song. 

The very sun rains and a spatter of fire

Darts from the “Lydian” ripples "locus undae"  as Catullus,


And the place is full of spirits.

Not lemures, not dark and shadowy ghosts,

But the ancient living, wood-white, 

Smooth as the inner bark, and firm of aspect,

And all agleam with colors—no, not agleam,

But colored like the lake and like the olive leaves,

Glaukopos, clothed like the poppies, wearing golden greaves,

Light on the air. 

Are they Etruscan gods?

The air is solid sunlight, apricus,

Sun-fed we dwell there (we in England now);

It’s your way of talk, we can be where we will be,

Sirmio serves my will better than your Asolo

Which I have never seen.

Your “palace step”?

My stone seat was the Dogana’s curb,

And there were not “those girls,” there was one flare, one face.

’Twas all I ever saw, but it was real….

And I can no more say what shape it was … 

But she was young, too young.

True, it was Venice,

And at Florian’s and under the north arcade

I have seen other faces, and had my rolls for breakfast, for that matter;

So, for what it’s worth, I have the background.

  And you had a background,

Watched “the soul,” Sordello’s soul,

And saw it lap up life, and swell and burst—

“Into the empyrean?”

So you worked out new form, the meditative,

Semi-dramatic, semi-epic story, 

And we will say: What’s left for me to do?

Whom shall I conjure up; who’s my Sordello,

My pre-Daun Chaucer, pre-Boccacio,

   As you have done pre-Dante?

Whom shall I hang my shimmering garment on; 

Who wear my feathery mantle, hagoromo;

Whom set to dazzle the serious future ages?

Not Arnaut, not De Born, not Uc St. Circ who has writ out the stories.

Or shall I do your trick, the showman’s booth, Bob Browning,

Turned at my will into the Agora

Or into the old theatre at Arles,

And set the lot, my visions, to confounding

The wits that have survived your damn’d Sordello?

(Or sulk and leave the word to novelists?)

What a hodge-podge you have made there!— 

Zanze and swanzig, of all opprobrious rhymes!

And you turn off whenever it suits your fancy,

Now at Verona, now with the early Christians,

Or now a-gabbling of the Tyrrhene whelk.”

The lyre“ should animate but not mislead the pen”— 

That’s Wordsworth, Mr. Browning. (What a phrase!—

That lyre, that pen, that bleating sheep, Will Wordsworth!)

That should have taught you avoid speech figurative

    And set out your matter

As I do, in straight simple phrases: 

   Gods float in the azure air,

Bright gods, and Tuscan, back before dew was shed,

It is a world like Puvis’?

Never so pale, my friend,

’Tis the first light—not half light—Panisks

And oak-girls and the Maenads

Have all the wood. Our olive Sirmio

Lies in its burnished mirror, and the Mounts Balde and Riva

Are alive with song, and all the leaves are full of voices.

Non è fuggito.

“It is not gone.” Metastasio

Is right—we have that world about us, 

And the clouds bow above the lake, and there are folk upon them

Going their windy ways, moving by Riva,

By the western shore, far as Lonato,

And the water is full of silvery almond-white swimmers,

The silvery water glazes the up-turned nipple. 

How shall we start hence, how begin the progress?

Pace naif Ficinus, say when Hotep-Hotep

Was a king in Egypt—

When Atlas sat down with his astrolabe,

         He, brother to Prometheus, physicist — 

  Say it was Moses’ birth-year?

Exult with Shang in squatness? The sea-monster

Bulges the squarish bronzes.

(Confucius later taught the world good manners,

Started with himself, built out perfection.) 

With Egypt!

Daub out in blue of scarabs, and with that greeny turquoise?

Or with China, O Virgilio mio, and gray gradual steps

Lead up beneath flat sprays of heavy cedars,

Temple of teak wood, and the gilt-brown arches

Triple in tier, banners woven by wall, 

Fine screens depicted, sea waves curled high,

Small boats with gods upon them,

Bright flame above the river! Kwannon

Footing a boat that’s but one lotus petal, 

With some proud four-spread genius

Leading along, one hand upraised for gladness,

Saying, “Tis she, his friend, the mighty goddess! Paean!

Sing hymns ye reeds,

and all ye roots and herons and swans be glad,

Ye gardens of the nymphs put forth your flowers.” 

What have I of this life,

Or even of Guido?

Sweet lie!—Was I there truly?

Did I know Or San Michele?

  Let’s believe it. 

Believe the tomb he leapt was Julia Laeta’s?

Friend, I do not even—when he led that street charge

I do not even know which sword he’d with him.

Sweet lie, “I lived!” Sweet lie, “I lived beside him.”

And now it’s all but truth and memory, 

Dimmed only by the attritions of long time.


But we forget not.”

No, take it all for lies.

I have but smelt this life, a whiff of it—

The box of scented wood

Recalls cathedrals. And shall I claim; 

Confuse my own phantastikon,

Or say the filmy shell that circumscribes me

Contains the actual sun;

confuse the thing I see

With actual gods behind me?

Are they gods behind me?

How many worlds we have! If Botticelli

Brings her ashore on that great cockle-shell—

His Venus (Simonetta?),

And Spring and Aufidus fill all the air

With their clear-outlined blossoms?

World enough. Behold, I say, she comes 

“Apparelled like the spring, Graces her subjects,”

(That’s from Pericles).

Oh, we have worlds enough, and brave décors,

And from these like we guess a soul for man

And build him full of aery populations.

Mantegna's sterner line, and the new world about us:

Barred lights, great flares, new form, Picasso or Lewis.

If for a year man write to paint, and not to music—

O Casella!


Source: The Shorter Poems of Ezra Pound. Ed. Lea Baechler and A. Walton Litz. New York: New Directions,  1990. 229-234.