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Tuesday, 6 November 2012

Ezra Pound: And before hell mouth (from Canto XVI)


Hydrothermal terrace, Lake Rotomahana, Waimangu Volcanic Rift Valley, New Zealand
: photo by Kristina D.C. Hoeppner, 26 February 2011

And before hell mouth; dry plain
              and two mountains;
On the one mountain, a running form,
              and another
In the turn of the hill; in hard steel
The road like a slow screw’s thread,
The angle almost imperceptible,
               so that the circuit seemed hardly to rise;
And the running form, naked, Blake,
Shouting, whirling his arms, the swift limbs,
Howling against the evil,
               his eyes rolling,
Whirling like flaming cart-wheels,
               and his head held backward to gaze on the evil
As he ran from it,
                to be hid by the steel mountain,
And when he showed again from the north side;
                his eyes blazing toward hell mouth,
His neck forward,
                and like him Peire Cardinal.
And in the west mountain, Il Fiorentino,
Seeing hell in his mirror,
                 and lo Sordels
Looking on it in his shield;
And Augustine, gazing toward the invisible.
And past them, the criminal
                lying in the blue lakes of acid,
The road between the two hills, upward
The flames patterned in lacquer, crimen est actio,
The limbo of chopped ice and saw-dust,
And I bathed myself with acid to free myself
               of the hell ticks,
Scales, fallen louse eggs.
               Palux Laerna,
the lake of bodies, aqua morta,
of limbs fluid, and mingled, like fish heaped in a bin,
and here an arm upward, clutching a fragment of marble,
And the embryos, in flux,
              new inflow, submerging,
Here an arm upward, trout, submerged by the eels;
              and from the bank, the stiff herbage
the dry nobbled path, saw many known, and unknown,
for an instant;
The face gone, generation.

Ezra Pound: from Canto XVI, 1923, in A Draft of XVI Cantos (1925)

 Waimangu Volcanic Rift Valley, Rotorua, New Zealand: photo by world-wide-gifts, 11 January 2009

Champagne Pool, Rotorua, New Zealand: photo by Alan Smith, 29 December 2008

Devil's Pool, Rotorua, New Zealand: photo by Alan Smith, 29 December 2008

Erupting Mud Pool, Rotorua, New Zealand: photo by Alan Smith, 29 December 2008

Rotorua Mud Pools, New Zealand: photo by Keith Thome, 5 March 2011

Hell's Gate, Rotorua, New Zealand: photo by Keith Thome, 4 March 2011


William A. Sigler said...

How miraculous to see Ezra Pound on William Blake like some transmutative Hades of the Dantean plain. And those photos are off the hook!

TC said...


Pound seems to have been thinking of Blake's Illustrations to the Divine Comedy, especially his images of Charon and the Condemned Souls and The Angel Crossing the Styx.

The lake of bodies surely derives from anecdotal reports of scenes from the trenches of the 1914-1918 war.

"...submerging/ the face gone, generation" would then refer to that lost generation of young men.

The arm emerging from the swamp, clutching at marble, would probably be the arm of the sculptor Henri Gaudier, whose letters from the trenches had affected Pound deeply, and whose loss came to symbolize for him the entire evil of that war.

Of course EP's highly intelligible conclusion was that the whole affair had been instigated by and conducted for the benefit of the profiteers.

And here we stand, or cower, at the mouth of whatever hells can be brought down upon the earth for the further benefit and satisfaction of a later and far more dangerous "generation" of profiteers.

(Though perhaps it's hard to imagine those high rolling billionaire brothers who are so busy buying off Ohio having been generated by anything, but we must keep in mind the history of that corporate lineage, all that excavation, all that plunder, all those chemical wastelands, one long Infernal Western Front when you come to think of it from the POV of anything living.)

Nin Andrews said...

Such vivid images of hell in both the photos and Pound. And yes, the profiteers are the conductors. It is so sad. Poisonous. If we could only get them out of the elections--

And the phone is still ringing here with automated Mitt and Ann . . .

Wooden Boy said...

With those whirling arms, what first came to my mind was Blake's altercation with a soldier in Felpham, and all that true and seditious spiel.

"The face gone, generation".

Ypres. Buchenwald. Hiroshima. Bhopal. Fukushima Daiichi. Just a few names from a long, long list. Many generations. Not so many to come, perhaps. A real full stop is coming.

TC said...

Sounds like you are right at the brink of hell mouth there, Nin. The images from Ohio are giving the term "media blitz" a whole new meaning, today.

America Needs Romney Blimp Flies Over Obama Rally in Columbus

WB's list puts one in mind of the epic dimensions of this battle. As if the Disneyoid cartoon proportions of the horror were ever going to be alowed to escape what is left of our minds.

There may be a whole fleet of these big brainbombers out there. Not forgetting those lost on the heroic airfields of the great struggle.

The heart would go out (for example) to the survivors of the MittBlimp that crashed in Florida on 22 October... But how can the heart go out to a robopilot?

It's so very confusing.

tpw said...

Dear T: The Pound poem has amazing forward thrust, don't you think? And your learned explication is another poem.

Hazen said...

Excellent. Both Pound and pictures capture the moment, as do all the comments here today. They bring us right to the horrific point: we’re peering into the gaping maw of a neo-feudal system of corporate overlords, old money plutocrats, new-monied Cagliostros of the financial and rentier classes, and their mercenary armies and state security forces; with just a pinch of evangelical fervor to lend an air of legitimacy. This is the world of grifter capitalism and other actionable crimes. It’s all stuck together with money; therefore it's highly unstable and comes apart easily.

Wooden Boy said...

It seems almost a pile-up of monstrous images toward the close of the passage: fish heaped in a bin; embryos, in flux; the upward arm twice (at least; the eels.

The face covered over is almost a relief.

Hazen said...

‘The road like a slow screw’s thread, the angle almost imperceptible, so that the circuit seemed hardly to rise;’

The gradualism of this struck me. The interminable fleeing, the constant going round and round, the effort to rise above the evil that’s always there, just over one’s shoulder. There's a nightmare quality to this.