Pound's Warning in Canto XLV
Pound was an American-born writer, but most of his life was spent abroad. In his youth, he wrote with W. B. Yeats in England and Ireland, becoming cemented as an icon of Modernist poetry. As an established poet, Pound helped start the careers of a number of other writers, including Ernest Hemingway, Robert Frost and T. S. Eliot. In the 1920s, Pound had begun to find himself in bad health and moved to Italy, where he began publishing literary magazines and beginning work on his Magnum Opus, The Cantos, an unfinished work of 120 poems written between 1915 and 1922.
In Italy, Pound came to embrace the Fascist ideals. Meeting Benito Mussolini in 1933, which Pound referred to as “The Boss,” he claimed to have “never met anyone who seemed to get my ideas so quickly as the boss.” Pound followed this encounter with visits to the United States, where he encouraged economic and social reform amongst lawmakers, and writing articles for Sir Oswald Mosley’s Action newspaper, as well as various Italian publications. After failing to convince the United States from joining the Second World War, Pound began broadcasting Fascist radio shows from Rome. Following the war he had a mental breakdown in the prison camp where he was held while waiting to face charges of treason. unable to stand trial, he was hospitalized for twelve years.
It was in 1936, during arguably happier times, that Pound published Canto XLV. This canto is known colloquially as With Usura, which was taken from the refrain. The repeated word Usura is a Latinized version of the word Usury. Usury is a money-lending practice at the root of Capitalism, where large sums of money will be lent with excessive interest rates. The term here, however, serves a dual purpose of expressing its traditional meaning, while taking on a level of personification. At the tip of Pound’s pen, Usura becomes an entity that destroys the beauty in life in the name of profit.
The poem calls images of beauties destroyed by this monolith of greed and extortion to the reader’s mind. It reminds that no art “is made to endure nor to live with / but is made to sell and sell quickly.” With Usura artisans are kept from their art, work brings no gain and food is made to sustain rather than enjoy. Pound lists works of art and artists that are impossible to produce in the modern era, due to the cost and the time that must now be allotted for paying to live.
Life itself, according to Pound, is priced with Usura. “Usura slayeth the child in the womb… CONTRA NATURAM” speaks to the fact that the former joy of child rearing is now a debt so large that it defies nature, to the point of aborting the child. Marriage is destroyed by the binding by Usura, where “it hath brought palsey to bed, lyeth / between the young bride and her bridegroom.” Pound speaks of a society dominated by greed and Capitalist decadence, where man has abandoned tradition and nature in the name of temporary gain.
The reader must keep in mind that this poem was published in 1936, and society has seen a fulfilling of Pound’s prophecy. Society has watched the death of art in the name of producing the next superhero movie or liberal performance piece. Canto XLV (With Usura) Ezra Pound (1936) With usura hath no man a house of good stone each block cut smooth and well fitting that design might cover their face, with usura hath no man a painted paradise on his church wall harpes et luz or where virgin receiveth message and halo projects from incision, with usura seeth no man Gonzaga his heirs and his concubines no picture is made to endure nor to live with but it is made to sell and sell quickly with usura, sin against nature, is thy bread ever more of stale rags is thy bread dry as paper, with no mountain wheat, no strong flour with usura the line grows thick with usura is no clear demarcation and no man can find site for his dwelling. Stonecutter is kept from his tone weaver is kept from his loom WITH USURA wool comes not to market sheep bringeth no gain with usura Usura is a murrain, usura blunteth the needle in the maid’s hand and stoppeth the spinner’s cunning. Pietro Lombardo came not by usura Duccio came not by usura nor Pier della Francesca; Zuan Bellin’ not by usura nor was ‘La Calunnia’ painted. Came not by usura Angelico; came not Ambrogio Praedis, Came no church of cut stone signed: Adamo me fecit. Not by usura St. Trophime Not by usura Saint Hilaire, Usura rusteth the chisel It rusteth the craft and the craftsman It gnaweth the thread in the loom None learneth to weave gold in her pattern; Azure hath a canker by usura; cramoisi is unbroidered Emerald findeth no Memling Usura slayeth the child in the womb It stayeth the young man’s courting It hath brought palsey to bed, lyeth between the young bride and her bridegroom CONTRA NATURAM They have brought whores for Eleusis Corpses are set to banquet at behest of usura.
Instead of Cathleen ni Houlihan, critics praise Mattress Performance (Carry That Weight). Instead of The Sound and the Fury, readers will delve into recycled detective, romance or supernatural Pop Lit. The furnishings in a home are no longer family relics of craftsmanship and beauty; it’s cheaper to buy Ikea.
Marriages are doomed to fail, as they are burdened from the wedding night. On average, 40-50% of American married couples will divorce. The frivolity of Capitalism leads to the reckless and immoral behaviors that lead to pregnancies that cannot be afforded. We’ve reached an era that three out of 10 women by age 45 will abort an unintended child.
It has become the ‘in’ thing to wash away tradition. Tradition has been labeled oppressive and outdated, and society is willing to march forward into this white-washed, debt-infested future that it seeks to create. Turning on the television or picking up a newspaper, the modern American reads of sex scandals and moral failings. He reads of the courage and progressiveness of these sick individuals, and he loves it. In the absence of art, in the absence of the beauty of satisfaction in labor, he looks to fill that hole with foulness.
This is the Fascist Struggle, this is what we are fighting for. Fascists fight for beauty in life, for the traditions of their kith and kin, for the future of their children and for the joy of accomplishment. In the final lines of Canto XLV, Pound describes the result of all that we fight against, “Corpses are set to banquet / at behest of usura.” The death of the spirit is the death of the man. Let our spirits remain unbroken, let us find the beauty in life and let us fight with every breath and word for the future of our culture!