Canto II

More Pound, and at this point you need to know your way around the poets of his time, and it helps if you have some of the clues. Sordello was Browning’s long poem,, that took seven years. The cantos, however, took most of Pound’s life, and in my view were never finished.

Extract Book the First, Sordello

Who will, may hear Sordello’s story told:
His story? Who believes me shall behold
The man, pursue his fortunes to the end,
Like me: for as the friendless-people’s friend
Spied from his hill-top once, despite the din
And dust of multitudes, Pentapolin
Named o’ the Naked Arm, I single out
Sordello, compassed murkily about
With ravage of six long sad hundred years.
Only believe me. Ye believe?

Robert Browning

I do not believe Browning. I do know that Pound did not make footnotes, but there are now cribs. We are at sea, Schoeney’s daughter is Altantala, and Naxos is an Island.

Port of Naxos, Wikipedia

Canto II

HANG it all, Robert Browning,
there can be but the one “Sordello.”
But Sordello, and my Sordello?
Lo Sordels si fo di Mantovana.
So-shu churned in the sea.
Seal sports in the spray-whited circles of cliff-wash,
Sleek head, daughter of Lir,
           eyes of Picasso
Under black fur-hood, lithe daughter of Ocean;
And the wave runs in the beach-groove:
“Eleanor, ἑλέναυς and ἑλέπτολις!”
           And poor old Homer blind, blind, as a bat,
Ear, ear for the sea-surge, murmur of old men’s voices:
“Let her go back to the ships,
Back among Grecian faces, lest evil come on our own,
Evil and further evil, and a curse cursed on our children,
Moves, yes she moves like a goddess
And has the face of a god
           and the voice of Schoeney’s daughters,
And doom goes with her in walking,
Let her go back to the ships,
           back among Grecian voices.”
And by the beach-run, Tyro,
           Twisted arms of the sea-god,
Lithe sinews of water, gripping her, cross-hold,
And the blue-gray glass of the wave tents them,
Glare azure of water, cold-welter, close cover.
Quiet sun-tawny sand-stretch,
The gulls broad out their wings,
           nipping between the splay feathers;
Snipe come for their bath,
           bend out their wing-joints,
Spread wet wings to the sun-film,
And by Scios,
           to left of the Naxos passage,
Naviform rock overgrown,
           algæ cling to its edge,
There is a wine-red glow in the shallows,
           a tin flash in the sun-dazzle.
The ship landed in Scios,
           men wanting spring-water,
And by the rock-pool a young boy loggy with vine-must,
           “To Naxos? Yes, we’ll take you to Naxos,
Cum’ along lad.” “Not that way!”
“Aye, that way is Naxos.”
           And I said: “It’s a straight ship.”
And an ex-convict out of Italy
           knocked me into the fore-stays,
(He was wanted for manslaughter in Tuscany)
           And the whole twenty against me,
Mad for a little slave money.
           And they took her out of Scios
And off her course…
           And the boy came to, again, with the racket,
And looked out over the bows,
           and to eastward, and to the Naxos passage.
God-sleight then, god-sleight:
           Ship stock fast in sea-swirl,
Ivy upon the oars, King Pentheus,
           grapes with no seed but sea-foam,
Ivy in scupper-hole.
Aye, I, Acœtes, stood there,
           and the god stood by me,
Water cutting under the keel,
Sea-break from stern forrards,
           wake running off from the bow,
And where was gunwale, there now was vine-trunk,
And tenthril where cordage had been,
           grape-leaves on the rowlocks,
Heavy vine on the oarshafts,
And, out of nothing, a breathing,
           hot breath on my ankles,
Beasts like shadows in glass,
           a furred tail upon nothingness.
Lynx-purr, and heathery smell of beasts,
           where tar smell had been,
Sniff and pad-foot of beasts,
           eye-glitter out of black air.
The sky overshot, dry, with no tempest,
Sniff and pad-foot of beasts,
           fur brushing my knee-skin,
Rustle of airy sheaths,
           dry forms in the æther.
And the ship like a keel in ship-yard,
           slung like an ox in smith’s sling,
Ribs stuck fast in the ways,
           grape-cluster over pin-rack,
           void air taking pelt.
Lifeless air become sinewed,
           feline leisure of panthers,
Leopards sniffing the grape shoots by scupper-hole,
Crouched panthers by fore-hatch,
And the sea blue-deep about us,
           green-ruddy in shadows,
And Lyæus: “From now, Acœtes, my altars,
Fearing no bondage,
           fearing no cat of the wood,
Safe with my lynxes,
           feeding grapes to my leopards,
Olibanum is my incense,
           the vines grow in my homage.”
The back-swell now smooth in the rudder-chains,
Black snout of a porpoise
           where Lycabs had been,
Fish-scales on the oarsmen.
           And I worship.
I have seen what I have seen.
           When they brought the boy I said:
“He has a god in him,
           though I do not know which god.”
And they kicked me into the fore-stays.
I have seen what I have seen:
           Medon’s face like the face of a dory,
Arms shrunk into fins. And you, Pentheus,
Had as well listen to Tiresias, and to Cadmus,
or your luck will go out of you.
Fish-scales over groin muscles,
lynx-purr amid sea…
And of a later year,
           pale in the wine-red algæ,
If you will lean over the rock,
           the coral face under wave-tinge,
Rose-paleness under water-shift,
           Ileuthyeria, fair Dafne of sea-bords,
The swimmer’s arms turned to branches,
Who will say in what year,
           fleeing what band of tritons,
The smooth brows, seen, and half seen,
           now ivory stillness.
And So-shu churned in the sea, So-shu also,
           using the long moon for a churn-stick…
Lithe turning of water,
           sinews of Poseidon,
Black azure and hyaline,
           glass wave over Tyro,
Close cover, unstillness,
           bright welter of wave-cords,
Then quiet water,
           quiet in the buff sands,
Sea-fowl stretching wing-joints,
           splashing in rock-hollows and sand-hollows
In the wave-runs by the half-dune;
Glass-glint of wave in the tide-rips against sunlight,
           pallor of Hesperus,
Grey peak of the wave,
           wave, colour of grape’s pulp,
Olive grey in the near,
           far, smoke grey of the rock-slide,
Salmon-pink wings of the fish-hawk
           cast grey shadows in water,
The tower like a one-eyed great goose
           cranes up out of the olive-grove,
And we have heard the fauns chiding Proteus
           in the smell of hay under the olive-trees,
And the frogs singing against the fauns
           in the half-light.

Ezra Pound

When I read So-shu I don’t think of a Taoist scholar/sorcerer. I think of something feminine, more dangerous. The parallels with the Greek mythos are there, and the greed, the desire to enslave the drunk lad — instead of seeing him as a guide. Fang is over reading the Chinese Pound used in a manner akin to Shakespeare using the English history of his time.

You don’t need to critique this. Read it, and let the rhythm of the words work. Pound was not blind as a bat, but he knew the tricks of Homer.