BK. Ezra Pound

  ‘My body / Is not my body, / But only a body grown old.’  

72. Drafts & Fragments of Cantos CX-CXVII. New York: New Directions, 1968.

If The Cantos has a Paradiso it is here, at the end, constituted of forgiveness, the redemptive power of love, and awareness of the numinous in the natural world, but also shaded by sorrow. Commentators have noted allusions to the nô, and Flory (186) argues that the spirit of Kakitsubata (see 23) is the ‘presiding supernatural presence’ of the sequence, but little has been written about the relation between Pound’s understanding of the nô and his tone and stance here. Much of the sequence reminds of the lyrical intermingling of beauty and sorrow that is called sabi in Japanese, and the related ‘dark beauty’ of yûgen (see also BJ22). To say that Pound held these principles consciously in mind, or that they determine the outcome of The Cantos, would be to claim too much, but the ‘unity of emotion’ (see 17f) in the lines combines loss with paradisal beauty, and one may point cautiously to the lyrical Japanese drama Pound had held in mind for half a century as an antecedent. As in The Pisan Cantos (56) allusions to the nô are understated but resonant, allied in a web of association with central themes and meanings. Here more even than Egyptian, Greek, and Dantean references they characterise the tone, Kakitsubata, who came ‘clad in memory’ to tell her tale of loss and redemption, Aoi, haunted by a spirit of rancour so strong it was manifest as a demon, (see 22), Ono no Komachi, symbol of the ephemerality of earthly beauty and the ravages of pride (see 17c-d), and Kannon, Buddhist goddess of the spirit of compassion (see 17i). In addition to Flory, see Stoicheff (202) for description of Pound’s use of the nô in the sequence.

a. CX. The spirit of Kakitsubata is manifest in the opening canto in a simple reference to ‘Yellow iris in [a] riverbed’ (57, p. 798; see 23), followed by romanisation of five Chinese characters. Commentators have noted that in the absence of the characters themselves several meanings are possible, but Flory argues that they may be read as Pound’s ‘acrostic’ lament for the diminution of his powers: ‘No moon . . . No luxuriant growth [spring] as in the past. No longer, as in the past, strong and handsome. No brightness [glory] as in former times’ (brackets Flory’s). If this reading is correct (and surely it is plausible) it allies the canto, as Flory notes, with the lament for lost love and lost youth of the compound spirit of iris/Narihira/Narihira’s beloved in Kakitsubata, as she dances the climax of the play and the chorus chants (in Pound’s version of half a century earlier) ‘No moon! / The spring / Is not the spring of the old days, / My body / Is not my body, / But only a body grown old. / Narihira, Narihira, / My glory comes not again’. This reading is underpinned by unannounced and understated references to the spirit of Kakitsubata and her elegiac lines elsewhere in the sequence (see d and e), and that Pound chose not to include the Sino-Japanese characters themselves—Drafts & Fragments like many of the later cantos makes frequent use of them—suggests strongly the intention of multiple meanings. Other presences from the nô inhabit the canto as well, and like the hint of the spirit of Kakitsubata call to mind strong associations that Pound condenses into a single image: ‘That love be the cause of hate, / something is twisted, // Awoi’ (p. 800). In three lines and one name the universe of Aoi no Ue (22) is introduced into the sequence, and the expiation of jealousy and rancour in that work resonates and conceptually rhymes with images, half lines, and understated meanings, drawn from disparate traditions and times, throughout the close of the poem. Likewise the closing lines of the canto, as Aoi returns, with Komachi (see 17c-d), conflated with the moon: ‘Lux enim [Light indeed]— / versus the tempest. / . . . / pray [kanji = ‘reverence’] pray / There is power / Awoi or Komachi, / the oval moon’ (p. 801). These might be said to be set in super-position with all that has come before (see 12), and to evoke the associations of loss, light, and salvation of Aoi no Ue, the Komachi plays, and indeed the earlier and following cantos. Toba Sôjô (Kakûyu, 1052-1140, p. 797) was a Buddhist priest and painter famous for exultant drawings of animals that resulted in a genre of caricature known as Toba-e. Pound’s reference to him is derived from Fenollosa’s Epochs (D10c, pp. 174-75). Stoicheff (202, p. 79) argues that he is invoked here because his ‘drawings, in their simplicity, are a transparent sign that Pound had always hoped his Cantos would achieve . . . escaping what he saw as . . . confusion for accurate and direct portrayal’. Kuanon (Kannon, p. 798): see 171.

b. CXIII. Relies in part on troubling images of turning and recurrence—‘The hells move in cycles, / No man can see his own end’ (p. 807), ‘Out of dark, thou, Father Helios, leadest, / but the mind as Ixion, unstill, ever turning’ (p. 810)—that Flory believes are related to lines spoken by the apparition of jealousy and hatred on her first appearance in Pound’s version of Aoi no Ue: ‘Man’s life is a wheel on the axle, there is no turn whereby to escape’.

c. CXIV. The theme of hatred that must be expiated, introduced in one word, ‘Awoi’, in CX, continues, and again Flory traces lines to Pound’s version of Aoi no Ue, finding the central question of the canto, ‘Fear, father of cruelty, / are we to write a genealogy of the demons?’ (p. 813), traceable to the play’s climactic ‘battle of invocation’ between the hannya and the priest who exorcises her spirit.

d. From CXV. The fragment calls to mind failure both personal and collective, but maintains a paradisal vision, and central lines may be traced to Kakitsubata: The Poundian persona is ‘A blown husk that is finished / but the light sings eternal / a pale flare over marshes’ (p. 814). Compare to the spirit of Kakitsubata, ‘the cracked husk of a locust, / The withering husk of the iris’, but ‘the flowers Kakitsuhata / . . . flare and flaunt in their marsh’, and though she is ‘ . . . an unsteady wraith, / A form impermanent’, she has ‘come to enlighten’ and represents ‘a light that does not lead on to darkness’ (60, p. 338). See Flory for further analysis of the echo.

e. CXVI. Flory calls attention to understated allusions to the spirit of Kakitsubata, the ‘light that does not lead on to darkness’, that continue in the last complete canto and represent the paradisal vision, the possibilities of the human mind, and The Cantos themselves, both in the ‘little light / in great darkness’ of the opening sequence (p. 815) and in closure: ‘And as to who will copy this palimpsest? / al poco giorno / ed al gran cerchio d’ombra [in the small hours, with the darkness describing a huge circle] / But to affirm the gold thread in the pattern / . . . / To confess wrong without losing rightness: / Charity I have had sometimes, / I cannot make it flow thru. / A little light, like a rushlight / to lead back to splendour’ (p. 817). Flory believes as well that the ‘nice quiet paradise / over the shambles’ (p. 816) echoes lines from Pound’s version of Kayoi Komachi (17d), as the ghost of Shôshô speaks to the ghost of Komachi as she is about to ascend to ‘heaven’: ‘I’ve a sad heart to see you looking up to Buddha, you who left me alone, diving in the black rivers of hell. Will soft prayers be a comfort to you in your quiet heaven, you who know that I’m alone in that wild, desolate place?’ (60, p. 227).





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