THE SIENA CANTOS
Cicero, in the second book of his treatise De Officiis, relates the following conversation between an unnamed questioner and Cato [...] who, when inquiry about the best policy of property management was made, answered “Good grazing.” “What was next?” “Tolerable grazing.” “What third?” “Bad grazing.” “What fourth?” “Tilling.” And when he who had interrogated him inquired, “What do you think of lending at usury?”, Cato answered, “What do you think of murder?”
If Pound’s intention for his extensive use of source documents in the Siena Cantos was to illuminate the long and difficult process through which the Monte was achieved, then this was the undertaking of a historian. Should we therefore criticize Pound for abandoning poetry in favour of economic and administrative minutiae? Not at all – what some critics have called a lack of poetry, namely Pound’s immediate approach to his sources by quoting from them extensively and in detail, is exactly what makes the Siena Cantos so thoroughly modern. They are not merely reproductive, i.e. historical excerpts without artistic shape. Of course Pound to some extent reproduced the linguistic and bibliographic codes of the original documents. However, Pound is not an editor, but a poet. And in the context of a poem, authenticity itself becomes a fiction and the historian a persona. If Pound seems to assume the role of a historian, then this role is part of an epic poem. Even his palaeographical difficulties are transformed into fiction. The reproduction of authenticity is not a scholarly act, but a poetic device. What critics actually miss is a conventional form of lyricism, not ‘poetry’ itself, as the Siena Cantos are as poetic as any other part of Pounds epic. It may even be considered a merit of the Cantos to have established a really comprehensive poetics of history which includes an archaeology of economics. Pound not only writes about the traditional heroes of history, but seeks for yet undiscovered paths leading from the past to the present. The history of the Monte dei Paschi is one of these paths. To have included economics in poetry is what makes Pound a truly modern author.
Mike Malm. Editing Economic History. Ezra Pound’s The Fifth Decad of Cantos, 60-61.
CANTOS VIII-XI [Malatesta]
CANTO XLV [Monte dei Paschi - the anti-usury bank]
CANTO XLVI [the polar opposite of the Monte dei Paschi: the Bank of England]
CANTO LII [economics and natural abundance - the Chinese correlate]