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After submitting the text of A Draft of XVI Cantos to William Bird in January 1924, Pound went to Italy to rest. At the end of 1923, he had gone to hospital to have surgery for appendicitis, but in the end, it was decided that he might recuperate without an operation (EPP II: 58).

For the third year in a row, Pound was spending a good part of the winter and spring in Italy. In 1922, he had been to Rimini, Verona, Venice and Sirmione; in 1923, he visited all the significant places of Sigismondo Malatesta to get a feel of the lay of the land; and in 1924, he spent time in Rapallo and from tehre, went to Florence, Perugia and Assisi between 6 January and 1 June. In the letters to his parents, he mentioned that he projected a trip to Venice in April, but we have no further testimony that this visit took place (L/HP 526). He had with him a history of Ferrara and the d’Este family as holiday reading.

He spent April in Florence at the Hotel Berchielli and fiercely argued with William Bird over Henry Strater’s designs for A Draft of XVI Cantos in general and the capital for canto 4, specifically. By mid-May, in Assisi, he was feeling better, rested enough to miss his typewriter, which was a “sign of awakening energy” (L/HP 530). A “few more cantos” had already been drafted.

This is the context of the writing of canto 17: Pound was in Italy, not his usual active self, but resting in quiet small towns with no other agenda than writing letters and reading. He intended to go to Venice, but this may just have been an unfulfilled wish. The Beinecke Library has a folder where the canto text is written by hand (YCAL 43 71/3175), which means it had achieved near completion before Pound returned to his typewriter in Paris at the end of May 1924. J. J. Wilhelm cites a meeting with W.C. Williams on 1 June, which means Pound was already in town by that date (Ezra Pound in London and Paris 338). The references to the alley of cypresses and the dream of going to Venice may even suggest March-April in Florence as the likeliest period of initial composition. The changes and additions Pound made to the poem in typescript are relatively minor: he added six lines about Zagreus at the beginning (P 70); reworked the passage on the alley of Memnons; took out a Mithraic ritual scene around his reference to Zothar, and added four lines at the end.

The poem first appeared in This Quarter 1.2 (Autumn/Winter 1925). Cantos in periodicals.

It was then republished in W. B. Yeats’s Oxford Book of Modern Verse 1892-1935 in 1936.



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.


Moody, David. Ezra Pound: Poet. A Portrait of the Man and His Work. Volume II. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2014.


Pryor, Sean. W.B. Yeats, Ezra Pound, and the Poetry of Paradise. New York: Routledge, 2016.



To Homer Pound, 16 May 1924, Assisi

L/HP 530

Dear Dad:


Have read vast work on Ferrara - & blocked out course of a few more cantos.


Am beginning to want typewriter again = sign of awakening energy.


To Agnes Bedford, August 1924, Paris [Lilly Library]

EPP 61

[I have] ‘another large wad of mss. for cantos to go on with after Bill has got through printing the 16’.


To Homer Pound, 25 October 1924, Rapallo

L/HP 545

Dear Dad:


Must start on another LONG hunk of Canti, like the Sigismundo having used up the chop-chop in the five now drafted.



To Homer Pound, (c. May 1925), Rapallo

L/HP 565

Yeas mong vieux:


Canto XVII deals with a sort of paradiso terrestre.



To Olga Rudge, April 1926

EPP 68

“In April he wrote that he had nine cantos more or less finished–they would have been 17-to 25–‘but they don’t make a vollum’."



To Homer Pound, 3 April 1927, Rapallo

L/HP 623

Dear Dad:


Rodker is preparing to print Canti [sic] XVII-XXVI; and has the mss. for nine of them in hand. I suppose I get another one done by August, or sometime.


To Homer Pound, 10 April 1927

L/HP 624

As you don’t know what’s in Cantos XVII-XXV; I suppose you have no STRONG ideas re/what ought to go into the next ten; apart from Nero’s having remarked that he wished the Roman people had only one neck. even that simplification seems to present complications.



To Homer Pound, 19 August 1928

L/HP 666

Dear Dad:


Have signed title pages for XVII-XXVII, suppose they will get bound sometime. etc. [...]

Nancy Cunard has taken over Bill B’s printing press, also wants to continue printing. Expecting our illustratess or capitalistress in a week or so. [Gladys Hynes]."



To Luigi Berti, August 1941

P 71 

In August 1941 Pound wrote to Luigi Berti with suggestions for translating Canto XVII into Italian. In particular, he notes that the opening ‘So that’ does not mean ‘forse’ (‘perhaps’): ‘e CERTISSIMO / parte della verita eterna del poema’ (it is absolutely certain / part of the eternal truth of the poem’). Nevertheless, this eternal truth is conditioned by the line’s prospectivity. (See Ezra Pound, Lettere 1907-1958, ed. Aldo Tagliaferri, Milan: Feltrinelli Editore, 1980. 150).


The Fifth Decad

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Cantos LII - LXXI

confucius adams 2