Looking Back Poems: 9 / 500

Canto I

Rating: 3.0

And then went down to the ship,
Set keel to breakers, forth on the godly sea, and
We set up mast and sail on that swart ship,
Bore sheep aboard her, and our bodies also
Heavy with weeping, and winds from sternward
Bore us onward with bellying canvas,
Crice's this craft, the trim-coifed goddess.
Then sat we amidships, wind jamming the tiller,
Thus with stretched sail, we went over sea till day's end.
Sun to his slumber, shadows o'er all the ocean,
Came we then to the bounds of deepest water,
To the Kimmerian lands, and peopled cities
Covered with close-webbed mist, unpierced ever
With glitter of sun-rays
Nor with stars stretched, nor looking back from heaven
Swartest night stretched over wreteched men there.
The ocean flowing backward, came we then to the place
Aforesaid by Circe.
Here did they rites, Perimedes and Eurylochus,
And drawing sword from my hip
I dug the ell-square pitkin;
Poured we libations unto each the dead,
First mead and then sweet wine, water mixed with white flour
Then prayed I many a prayer to the sickly death's-heads;
As set in Ithaca, sterile bulls of the best
For sacrifice, heaping the pyre with goods,
A sheep to Tiresias only, black and a bell-sheep.
Dark blood flowed in the fosse,
Souls out of Erebus, cadaverous dead, of brides
Of youths and of the old who had borne much;
Souls stained with recent tears, girls tender,
Men many, mauled with bronze lance heads,
Battle spoil, bearing yet dreory arms,
These many crowded about me; with shouting,
Pallor upon me, cried to my men for more beasts;
Slaughtered the herds, sheep slain of bronze;
Poured ointment, cried to the gods,
To Pluto the strong, and praised Proserpine;
Unsheathed the narrow sword,
I sat to keep off the impetuous impotent dead,
Till I should hear Tiresias.
But first Elpenor came, our friend Elpenor,
Unburied, cast on the wide earth,
Limbs that we left in the house of Circe,
Unwept, unwrapped in the sepulchre, since toils urged other.
Pitiful spirit. And I cried in hurried speech:
'Elpenor, how art thou come to this dark coast?
'Cam'st thou afoot, outstripping seamen? '
And he in heavy speech:
'Ill fate and abundant wine. I slept in Crice's ingle.
'Going down the long ladder unguarded,
'I fell against the buttress,
'Shattered the nape-nerve, the soul sought Avernus.
'But thou, O King, I bid remember me, unwept, unburied,
'Heap up mine arms, be tomb by sea-bord, and inscribed:
'A man of no fortune, and with a name to come.
'And set my oar up, that I swung mid fellows.'

And Anticlea came, whom I beat off, and then Tiresias Theban,
Holding his golden wand, knew me, and spoke first:
'A second time? why? man of ill star,
'Facing the sunless dead and this joyless region?
'Stand from the fosse, leave me my bloody bever
'For soothsay.'
And I stepped back,
And he strong with the blood, said then: 'Odysseus
'Shalt return through spiteful Neptune, over dark seas,
'Lose all companions.' Then Anticlea came.
Lie quiet Divus. I mean, that is Andreas Divus,
In officina Wecheli, 1538, out of Homer.
And he sailed, by Sirens and thence outwards and away
And unto Crice.
Venerandam,
In the Cretan's phrase, with the golden crown, Aphrodite,
Cypri munimenta sortita est, mirthful, oricalchi, with golden
Girdle and breat bands, thou with dark eyelids
Bearing the golden bough of Argicidia. So that:

Monday, January 13, 2003
Looking Back Poems: 9 / 500
Topic(s) of this poem: epic
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COMMENTS OF THE POEM
Michael Walker 17 August 2019

I think that this is one of the best of Pound's Cantos, from its opening line, 'Then went down to the ship, '. What an image 'Souls out of Erebus' is now, after the DC10 crash there in 1979.

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Fabrizio Frosini 29 January 2016

The Cantos was initially published in the form of separate sections, each containing several cantos that were numbered sequentially using Roman numerals (except cantos 85–109, first published with Arabic numerals) Pound had been considering writing a long poem since around 1905, but work did not begin until sometime between 1912 and 1917, when the initial versions of the first three cantos of the proposed poem of some length were published in the journal Poetry. In this version, the poem began as an address by the poet to the ghost of Robert Browning. Pound came to believe that this narrative voice compromised the revolutionary intent of his poetic vision, and these first three ur-cantos were soon abandoned and a new starting point sought. The answer was a Latin version of Homer's Odyssey by the Renaissance scholar Andreas Divus that Pound had bought in Paris sometime between 1906 and 1910.

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Clare Mcwilliams 04 February 2008

Whoever punctuated this poem should be shot, please learn how to use the possesive apostrophe- Pounds' poetry really does deserve it.

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Stanton Hager 21 September 2006

The first Canto is among Pound's greatest Cantos, but as in all the Cantos the reader gets frustrated tripping over literary and other allusions, Latin & other foreign language phrases, etc. If you read (aloud) the first 30 lines of Canto I and find them WONDERFUL-even without knowing the Homeric context or recognizing the Homeric characters' names; if you find these wonderful but are put off by the poem's erudition, then you are a Cantos lover who only needs the help of footnotes. For that help, I strongly suggest you buy Carroll Terrell, A Companion to The Cantos of Exra Pound (pbk,1993) . Terrel makes CLEAR everything in every Canto that is puzzling.

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