Workshop The Cantos of Ezra Pound

The Cantos of Ezra Pound

“All times are contemporaneous in the mind.” Ezra Pound’s CANTOS is a tough book. “It can’t all be done in one language,” Pound wrote, and the pages bristle with Greek, Latin, French, Russian, Spanish, & Occitain phrases, stanzas, fragments or bits. For North American poetry the book may be a beacon of “clarity” (as Allen Ginsberg put it), “it helps us to see.” But having a guide to help you through, to see the architecture of the whole, to point out landmarks and sources, helps a great deal. I had my own guides, and enjoy leading people through the territory, having  taught it at the Jack Kerouac School many times.

The class will immerse ourselves in “the Pound era,” Imagism, Vorticism, Ideogram composition via the Zoom online platform. We’ll touch on contemporaries, those who Pound knew: HD, WC Williams, WB Yeats, Marianne Moore, Mina Loy &c. Then to ancestral presences: Troubadors of Provence, lyricists of classical Greek, poets of Tang Dynasty China, dancers of Japanese Noh. Homer, Ovid, and Dante will be guides, the course will move through time and space, visiting the planet’s politics & economics, arts & wars. “An epic is a poem that includes history”: the CANTOS.

This will be a collaborative reading session. I (Andrew Schelling) am not an academic expert on the Cantos, but offer presence and insight. I’ve been a reader of Ezra Pound and his poetry for years. Coming at it as an active poet, I will point out structural aspects of the book that can baffle first-time readers. I will point to literary and political themes to help grasp why Pound’s Cantos have been such a tough but indispensable poem since he began it from the “smouldering boundary stones” of Troy and the wreckage of WW I until today. No one can read the book alone; we need to read it together. $200 for 8 sessions.

Sundays, 3-4:30 PM Pacific Time
Nov 19 & 26,
December 3, 10 & 17
Jan 7, 14 & 21
Some scholarships available.

Andrew Schelling, poet & translator, lives in the mountains of Colorado’s Front Range at 8000 feet, on a ridge between Four Mile and Black Diamond creeks (drain east into the Platte River). Eight books of poetry translated—Sanskrit & related tongues—old time poets. Contention over land use at Bears Ears prompted regular excursions into arid canyons that cradle rock art, ruins, & pre-history. Twenty-odd books include The Facts at Dog Tank Spring, Love and the Turning Seasons: India’s Poetry of Spiritual & Erotic Longing, and Tracks Along the Left Coast: Jaime de Angulo & Pacific Coast Culture.

Week ONE ZOOM SESSION, N.19.2023:



Please read Cantos 15-17 for Dec 10.


Please read Cantos 18-20 for Dec 17.

Structure and Theme in the CANTOS of Ezra Pound – I – XXX

Suggested viewing:


Hi Paul,

My dates [during the week five session] were slightly off, and a few details.

Ezra Pound was released in 1958 from St. Elizabeth’s Hospital, after thirteen years
incarceration. Robert Frost seems to have done the final lobbying of people in
the Eisenhower administration, and April 18th the Attorney dismisses Pound’s case on grounds
that he would never be fit for trial.

On June 30th he and Dorothy sailed for Naples.

Could you send this to people in the class, with my apologies for being off on the dates.





Andrew Schelling
The CANTOS of Ezra Pound 

Structure & Theme in the CANTOS of Ezra Pound I-XXX (as word doc)

N.B. This list is not meant to indicate that a particular Canto is “about” the theme. I have tried to highlight the significant focus of a Canto, or note new material when introduced by a Canto. Most Cantos are composed according to “the ideogram method.” This means they layer various time periods, actors, events, myths, and voices, with the intention that the “why” will eventually become clear by letting image, sound, and sense interplay with your psyche.

Ezra Pound: “It is dawn in Jerusalem and midnight at the Pillars of Hercules. All times are contemporaneous in the mind.”

Canto                                                   Theme

A draft of XXX Cantos                                                                             (1930)

I                       Odysseus & the shamanic journey to the dead: “Nekyia” chapter of Homer’s Odyssey

II                     Metamorphosis & the cult of Dionysus (Lyaeus). Ovid.

III                    El Cid (old Spanish epic: a glimpse of the heroes)

IV                    Disasters of Eros & the Ideogram (Ovid, Troubadors, Noh plays)

V-VI                 Poetry & Tradition Sappho, Arnaut Daniel, Troubadors; Eleanor of Aquitaine, herself a patron & singer, 12th c. (Helen)

VII                   London The present, in the manner of TS Eliot

VIII-XI             Sigismundo Malatesta & the Tempio

(Heroic Personality & architecture for the CANTOS)

XII                   Economics Baldy Bacon, Dos Santos, & Tale of the Sailor

(Productive investment vs. nonproductive Usury)

XIII                  Kung (Kung-fu-tzeu, or Confucius)

XIV-XV            Hell

XVI                  Hell’s Mouth Purgatory of Earthly Wars

End of A draft of XVI Cantos, first publication of Cantos in book form.

XVII                 Eleusis: The Mysteries & Light of the Intellect

XVIII-XIX        Purgatory of Money Currency, armaments, banks

20                     Mysteries of Light Odysseus, the troubador Arnaut Daniel

the roads of S. France from the 1912 walking tour

21                     Thomas Jefferson A heroic founder (rhyme with Malatesta)

22                     Economics an Ideogram, & glimpse of the paradiso terrestre

23                     Eleusis Visions of Light & Intellect

24-26                Italian Custom, Law, Architecture Stories of Pound’s early travels

27-28                Xarites & black darkness

29                     Pearl, great sphere, and hollow

Mysteries of intellectual light

30                     Compleynt agaynst Pity

Song contrasting the radiance of the Medieval World vs. the sloppiness of the modern

End of A Draft of XXX Cantos

Eleven New Cantos                                                                                (1934)

31-33                Jefferson / Adams Letters

Founders and a dispute over banking systems

34                     Hell or Purgatory: Money & Warfare

Chinese Ideogram: “Sincerity,” a person standing by one’s word

35                     Mitteleuropa

36                     Donna mi Prega: Cavalcanti

The Medieval world’s radiance in one love song

37-38                Banks

& the Falsification of Money

39                     Odysseus in Circe’s Bower

40                     “If a nation will master its money”

J.P. Morgan and the selling of arms at inflated prices

Exploits of Hanno the Cartheginian

41                     Mussolini

The Fascist Era in Italy

The Fifth Decad of Cantos XLII_LI         (The “Heart” of the Cantos)           (1937)

42-44               Banks: “The Rock”

History of Florentine & Sienese Banking 1622-23

45                   Usura: Contra naturam, “against increase”

46                   The Ages of Usury

                       “You who think you will get through hell in a hurry”

19 years on the case: “the bank creates out of nothing

Hic hyperusura

47                   Eleusis: The Mysteries of Love & Natural Increase

48                   Economics, continued…\

49                   Seven Lakes Canto (Chinese Poetry, how society is regulated: Kung-fu-tzeou)

50                   Economics 

51                   Light of Intellect, vs. Usury

                       Precision of the Medieval World

Ideogram: “Right Name” (Kung) “call things by their…” 

Cantos LII – CXVII and fragments

N.B. Up through the Fifth Decad, most Cantos can be singled out for theme, or grouped into material introduced. Cantos written after 51 are better thought of as BOOKS. The rhythms and themes begin to operate in larger dimensions, and much of the earlier material and insights begins to reappear in new configurations as history moves forward.

Cantos LII-LXXI                                                                                   (1940)

52-61               Chinese Dynasties

Between Kung and Eleusis 

62-71               John Adams

The Salo Cantos  (the suppressed Cantos)                                                (1944)

                                                                       (first published in the CANTOS 1986)

72-73               Mussolini’s Salo Republic, 1944

Written in Italian at the close of WW II,

unpublished until Pound’s death

Canto LXXII in Pound’s own translation is in current editions

The Pisan Cantos 74-84                                                                         (1948)

Written in the DTC at Pisa, Italy, while Pound awaited his fate

“The Pisan Cantos” receive the Bolingen Prize for Poetry

Rock Drill 85-95 de los Cantares                                                              (1955)

Written at St. Elizabeth’s Hospital, Washington DC

Named for Epstein sculpture

Largely based on etymologies of Chinese ideograms

Thrones 96-109 de los Cantares                                                               (1959)

Written at St. Elizabeth’s

Published the year after Pound’s release

Trying to write “Paradise,” Thrones being Dante’s name for the circuit of

Paradise just below the summit

Drafts & Fragments                                                                              (1969)

numbered CX to CXVII, with fragments

The Na-Khi, rituals to ward off suicide

The order of Cantos and placement of a final Canto has changed several times, eventual insertion of “The Salo Cantos” into the single volume edition.



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The Cantos of Ezra Pound with Andrew Schelling. An 8 week workshop sponsored by the Cascadia Poetics Lab in Seattle, WA