Pound’s Cantos: The Art of Poetry

   Posted by: rring   in Classes

[Posted by Kate DeLuca ’14, for Prof. David Rosen’s course, “Modern Poetry”]

IMG_3271I went to the Watkinson Library early one Friday afternoon to see what I could find of Pound’s Cantos.  The first item I picked off the list on the computer screen was of Pound’s Cantos 17-27.  My jaw dropped when I saw the large wooden object the librarian brought up the stairs and onto the table in front of me.

The cover of the book was painted a deep emerald green. It looked about sixteen inches tall, and had the initials “EP” engraved in very large gold letters on the center of the page.  The words “CANTOS” were written in a smaller sized font above Pound’s initials.  The book was wrapped in three green ribbons, which the librarian carefully unraveled as he opened the extravagant book for me and placed it onto a bookstand so I could get a closer look.

IMG_3274As I turned to the first page, written in large black and red letters were the words “A Draft of the Cantos 17-27 of Ezra Pound: Initials by Gladys Hynes,” underneath it was the publication information which informed me that this book was published by John Rodker in London in 1928.  This meant that the book was published during Pound’s lifetime, so he likely approved of all the copies of this book.  The next page indicated that these Cantos were for a very selective group of people, probably those who had the money to buy such an extraordinary item.  It said that this edition of the Cantos contained 101 copies, 94 of which were sold, and the others sent to various Libraries under the Copyright Act.  This particular version was copy number four, which was one of fifteen copies printed on special Whatman Paper.  All 101 copies of this edition of the Cantos were specifically printed on certain types of papers and marked individually either by roman numerals, letters, or regular numbers.

IMG_3275I was even more surprised when I opened to the actual pages of poetry with all the extensive work that went into decorating each page.  The first page of each of the Cantos contained exquisite and detailed drawings centered around the first letter of each Canto.  Each letter was colored in a bright red, and took up about half of the page that it was on.  There were images of men, women, unicorns, reptiles, even castles all placed around the first single letter of each poem.  If a poem ended with a significant amount of space beneath it, the illustrator drew large unique figures in black and white – like a man with a snake body and wings.  The last Canto, number 27, contained Ezra Pound’s initials and the date September, 1927.

Just the size of the book alone suggests that poetry in the days of Ezra Pound was a highly regarded form of art.  Poets made enough money to support themselves and their families without having any other jobs, something we don’t see much of today.  The fact that Pound’s initials were front and centered, and written in gold on the cover of his book, indicate that he was a highly regarded poet, and that people who read his works during that time would immediately know what “E.P.” stood for.  Today, I’m not sure who would recognize any poet for just his or her initials.  Pound’s initials seemed more important than the Cantos themselves.  Because there were only 101 copies of this book made, Pound’s poetry was most likely targeted at a very exclusive audience – probably for friends and those that could afford buying a book with such a high status attached to it.  These days, anyone can walk into a bookstore and buy a simple poetry book in paperback for barely any money.  But the lavishness of this book indicates that Pound’s poetry was a highly regarded form of art.  The amount of detail that went into all of the illustrations and decorative lettering must have taken a very long time for the illustrator.  But why doesn’t poetry get this kind of recognition today?  Has our generation forgotten that poetry, like paintings or even films, is an incredible form of art?  Or perhaps technology is the reason books are no longer presented as rich as Pound’s Cantos were.  As the world grows, it seems people would rather stare at a screen than hold an old book, rich in words and carefully published.  Looking at this book has made me realize that our generation takes a lot of things for granted.  We should be more appreciative of the fine art of poetry, and realize the turn it’s taken over the past few decades.  I’ve never seen such an exquisite book of poetry than the Draft of Pound’s Cantos 17-27 that I found in the Watkinson Library, and I am grateful that I was able to see this rare, wonderful item.

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