Rock-Drill (1955) is as self-consciously symmetrical as The Fifth Decad, but simply contrasts the matter of the first five poems with those of the second. There is, however, neither a definitive center-piece nor a poetic “otherness” as counterpoint. The shift in subject from Chinese history and thought (as contrasted with that of Federalist America in the first block) to love and philosophy in the second, establishes a sense of contrasted realities. It is noteworthy that yet another shift in Pound’s thinking occurs in Rock-Drill. A new method of translating sinographs is introduced, one which Achilles Fang called ‘etymo-sinological’ – an over-riding decision much like re-titling all the of all cantos in Roman numerals.

The opening canto, LXXXV, distills selected features from Chinese history and the principles of good governance, as well as education and the key concepts on which a Confucian system of hierarchical order and ethical probity are founded. Figures and incidents from European history also appear, thus demonstrating the multilayered nature of human achievement. The references, however, are opaque and require explication in order to realize the associative links that bind them. The second poem of that block examines the negative side of such material, while the next pair refocus on the leading figures and politics of early nineteenth century America – especially the founding of the National Bank. The final poem, LXXXIX, completes the involved, thematic structure by comparing the heroes of the early Chinese dynasties with those of post-colonial America not to mention the achievement of Classical Athens with Federalist Washington.

Pound was always conscious of evolving form as well as technique. During the gestation of Rock-Drill he boasted to his daughter, who collaborated closely in preparations for publication, “The idea that poem has no shape or design aught to get a fairly good kick in the panTZ” (unpublished letter of 23 November [1954] in Beinecke archive). On 1 January 1956 he added:

The first two cantos of the second section are love lyrics, celebrations of nature, which center on the metaphor of light and the eternal woman who mediates between the poet and a spiritualized universe. The scene is obviously that of the original arboretum which became the gardens of St Elizabeths Asylum for the Criminally Insane, and the compositional strategy is very different from the kaleidoscopic images of The Pisan Cantos. As a unit, however, those poems fulfill the earlier mythic quest. Now, Odysseus/Pound joyfully enters on a long anticipated and ritualistic Paradiso. The sequence ends, logically enough, with the Christian mysticism of Richard St Victor as derived from Neo-Platonic diviations, including references to Ocellus, Erigena, and John Heydon. The philosophy of Love, first mooted in ‘Donna mi prega’, now comes into its own.

Taking its form and style into account, Thrones (1959) is, arguably, the most elusive of all canto collections. Pound’s thrones are obviously intended for the transmitters (or transmission) of wisdom in times of uncertainty and disintegration – historians, statesmen, economists, etc.. As James Wilhelm pointed out more than thirty years ago, the underlying principal of structure within that volume is the creation of viabled and equitable polities in various parts of Europe, and then Asia – as well as the means by which they were stablized/preserved. | 24 |

First comes the Frankish empire of Charlemagne, then Rothar’s Lombardy, and finally, culmintion in Constantine’s Byzantium, the ultimate City of Light. It makes sense that law and administration should feature (Paul the Deacon, Leo the Wise, K’ang Hsi, etc.). Toward the collection’s end England comes in – Saxon Kings, Magna Charta, and Coke’s Institutes. Abberations (failures?) also feature, as in Canto C, for example, where Bonaparte, Talleyrand, and Thiers, are seen through Rémusat’s eyes as negative counterparts to Washington, Adams, and Jefferson. Intertwined, one finds a significant spiritual dimension (Erigina, Anselm, etc.). As Wilhelm puts it:

Religion is the instrument for binding all things together, including those of ostensibly lower orders. To invert the idea, a social paradise is a necessary prelude for a lasting psychic one. If one is thinking in terms of perfection, he must bind nature, society, and the individual psyche into an individual ideogrammic relationship where whatever is said of the one must relate to the other. (49)
Better still, and with reference to both obscurity and fragmentation of detail: Pound is a poet, a craftsman of words, who ultimately doesn’t care about exact dates […] or niceties of truth, except in so far as they lead to IDEAS, which he can then free into dramatic or lyric activity. (119)

The poet obviously thought a good deal about sequencing ideas, and the present order is not that of their original composition – as Ronald Bush has fairly recently shown. | 25 |

The extensive use of other texts and authors, echoes that of Cantos LII-LXXI, but now includes a much wider range and number. The norm of ten or eleven cantos in each collection is also over-reached. The poet’s treatment of Coke’s Institutes is obviously overlong and eviscerates the effectiveness of the volume. Pound would probably have argued that it all needed to be said, and preserved. In style the earlier telegraphese of the ‘China’ and ‘Adams’ cantos, which mirrored a significant shift in his own persona, is now exacerbated – opaque, gnomic phrases almost obviate a readership and suggest a disjunction approaching silence. “A consciousness disjunct”, as Pound had written mockingly of his alter ego in Hugh Selwyn Mauberley (1920). There is, of course, heavy irony in the celebration of good governance and civic order imposed by outside authority (or authoritarians) in those cantos written at St Elizabeths – amid mental disorders of varying degrees and strict house rules. The objective reality of the Asylum, however, did not impinge thematically on either Rock-Drill or Thrones, but that may have been a defensive stratagem, a renewed denial harking back to Cantos LII-LXXI. More happily, the ideal of personal redemption through love as celebrated in XC-XCV, is revived in CVI and also recurs in Drafts & Fragments. Structure and style may have faltered, but the aspiration to an existing, ideal order carried through.


















23 | With consent to publish from the original in the Beineke archive
by Mary de Rachewiltz.






24 | The Later Cantos of Ezra Pound (New York, Walker & Co., 1977).



25 | ‘Late Cantos LXXII-CXVII’, The Cambridge Companion to Ezra Pound, ed. Ira B. Nadel (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1999), p. 125.

Drafts & Fragments (1968) revives the avantgardist break with conventions as encountered in “The Pisans”, and again merges life with art, but no longer mediated by memory as they were then – the poet’s concerns are now immediate. Indeed the volume might be seen as a parallel recovery of creativity after a time of extreme stress. A new note is sounded in reflections on personal jealousies, possessiveness, private feelings, and self-doubt. In his letters to his daughter from that period there are recurring self-reflections on the fragmentation of thought patterns, obsessive repetitions, and an overpowering lethargy. On 16 August [1959] he wrote to Mary de Rachewiltz: “ To bless people for their good moments/ for their awareness. Olga’s heroism not to be forgotten. To expect people to behave like disembodied spirits in paradise, Dante’s or any other is beyond reason.” Redemptive love is also present in a reprise of CVI: “God’s eye art ‘ou” [CXIII: 121], addressed to a young companion, and there is also a reworking of the Na Khi material. The order in which those poems were written has been carefully preserved, and their style is a consistent extension of that used in Thrones.

Whether or not one considers these poems unfinished depends on a definition of ‘finished’ and depends on the reader’s expectation of closure. Seen as a poem of experience – the articulation of an actual life – The Cantos naturally end with that of their author. The great river obviously changed course from time to time before ultimately merging with the sea. Instead of closure there were bouts of irascibility, bristling and unyielding challenge, but in each case followed by the return to a humane vision and executed in an increasingly cryptic style which privileged silences over sense.

The trajectory of Pound’s later experience is co-incident with the creative progress of The Cantos and can, perhaps, best be understood in terms of  Edward Said’s meditation On Late Style.| 26 |

Throughout that work, Said’s main concern is with composers, even film and opera directors, but not Pound. What he has to say owes much to the thought of Theodor Adorno and the following is a freewheeling and possibly skewed paraphrase.

26 | (London; Bloomsbury, 2006).

Near the end of some artists’ lives, their work and thought acquires an altogether new idiom (6), not one of harmony and resolution, but rather intransigence, difficulty, and unresolved contradiction (7). Beethoven’s later style, for example, became wayward and eccentric. As an old man facing death, he realized that no synthesis was conceivable, but only the remains of a synthesis – the vestige of an individual subject sorely aware of wholeness – which betokens only the survival of all that had eluded it (10-11). Where one might look for serene maturity, a bristling, difficult, and unyielding – perhaps even inhuman – challenge presents itself (12). The idea of surviving beyond what is normal (13) is a kind of self-imposed exile from what is generally acceptable – coming after it and surviving beyond it. The work of art becomes episodic, fragmentary –  riven with absences and silences (16) which insist on the increasing sense of apartness that late style expresses, and more importantly, self-consciously uses to sustain itself (17). Late style means ‘to be late for’, and refuse, many of the rewards offered up by being comfortable within society; not the least of which was to be read and understood easily by a large group of people (22). Said sees Adorno as a special twentieth-century type – out-of-his time – a disappointed or disillusioned romantic who exists almost ecstatically detached from, yet in a kind of complicity with, new and monstrous forms such as fascism, anti-Semitism, and totalitarian bureaucracy (23). Late works of art are constitutively alienated and alienating – difficult and forbidding – repellent because of their technical challenges as well as a disjointed, even distracted, sense of internal continuity which offers no very easy line to follow. They comprehend an irreconcilable, permanently internal opposition. Above all they are works of exclusion – of ultimate  renunciation ([91]-92).

One might argue that Pound had two phases of ‘late style’. The first was precocious (Cantos LII-LXXI), but the real thing set in with Rock-Drill.


In a recent memoir, Samuel Hynes recalled a chance meeting with the poet at Rome in 1960.

He wanted to talk about The Cantos, his vast unfinished epic poem. He had no planned ending for it, he said. He went on writing at it, “five or six fragments in case I give out,” because “there are a few things that have to be said.” But he couldn’t complete it. He didn’t seem to feel that this unfinished state was a failure, not a personal one; it was history that had failed, not the poet. “An epic must be in tune with the times,” he said; and the times change. The plan of The Cantos which had seemed adequate when Pound began the poem […] couldn’t give order to what had subsequently happened in history. | 27 |

The temptation to extend (expand on) that aperçu is irresistible. “History” needs be qualified – not only public events but moreover his perception of them.

In 1959 Pound had written: “The male tends to look for something stable in a universe where everything moves.” | 28 |

If Pound really had a plan when he began The Cantos, it was to discover an ideal social order and define it for the modern age. Early on he had been certain that such a concept existed,but ultimately doubted his ability to express it:

I cannot make it cohere.          [CXVI: 29]

                                    . . .

                        I cannot make it flow thru.      [CXVI: 72]


[…] it coheres all right

                                    even if my notes do not cohere.          [CXVI: 55]


The last line of the final, authorized publication reaffirms belief in social justice and creativity, confirming the validity of a work that maps his engagement with those ideals. Perhaps the wording owes something to a half remembered, but characteristic, recollection – Aglauros’es disembodied voice (he had been turned to stone); which cried out like thunder on the Cornice of the Envious (Purgatorio,  XIV: 136): “All men are my destroyers!”Pound, however, reverses that perverse and paranoid assertion:

To be men not destroyers.       [Notes for CXVII et seg., Frag. III: 13]

27 | ‘Personal History – Meeting E.P. – A Marine Pilot’s Literary Mission’, The New Yorker (12 June 2006), pp. 74-100.

28 | Drafts & Fragments, Facsimile notebooks , 1958-1959. New York; Glen Horowitz, 2010. Notebook 5 (undated).