Pound and Cavalcanti
Stephen W. Gilbert
Universidad de Guadalajara
sympathetic Pound may have been to the social and political aspects of the
Pounds journey to Emil Levy is a step on this search, and examination of Canto XX indicates the multiplicity of the context within which the search takes place.
The cluster which opens the canto is one of the most amazing in the whole poem. Catullus, Homer, the Troubadour lyric (in this case Bernart de Ventadorns) and Guido Cavalcanti are gathered at the opening of the canto. Catullus and Homer give the lyric sound its nature ringing, clear and sweet Bernart and Guido give it focus and content the lady.
Sound slender, quasi tinnula,
Ligur aoide: So nous vei, Domna don plus mi cal,
Negus vezer mon bel pensar no val.
Between the two almond trees flowering,
The viel held close to his side;
And another: sadora.
Hugo Rennert, Professor of Romance
Languages at the
And I went to old Levy, and it was
The evening, and he trailed half
was y across
Before dinner, to see the two strips of copy,
Arnauts, setantuno R. Superiore (Ambrosiana)
Not that I could sing him the music.
And he said: Now is there anything I can tell you?
And I said: I dunno, sir, or
Yes, Doctor, what do they mean by noigandres?
And he said: Noigandres! NOIgandres!
The word is from a poem of Arnauts which is crowded in its first lines with garden imagery. This may well account for the abundance of spring and garden imagery in the first sections of this particular canto:
The boughs are not more fresh
where the almond shoots take their March green.
. . .
Wind over the olive trees, ranunculae ordered,
By the clear edge of the rocks
The water runs, and the wind scented with pine
And with hay-fields under the sun-swath.
. . .
Air moving under the boughs,
The cedars there in the sun,
Hay new cut on hill slope,
And the water there in the cut
Between the two lower meadows.
And the ever-present bird-song of the Troubadour lyric is part of Pounds Sound: as of the nightingale too far off to be heard. Here is the stanza from Arnaut: followed by Pounds translation:
Er vei vermeils, vertz, blaus, blancs, gruocs
Vergiers, plans, plais, tertres e vaus;
Som met en cor quieu colore mon chan
Dun aital flor don lo fruitz sia amors,
E jois lo grans, e lolors denoi gandres.
Vermeil, green, blue, peirs, white, cobalt,
Close orchards, hewis, holts, hows, vales,
And the bird-song that whirls and turns
Morning and late with sweet accord,
Bestir my heart to put my song in sheen
Tequal that flower which hath such properties,
It seeds in joy, bears love, and pain ameises.
The concern of Arnaut is with perfection of language (quieu colore mon chan), while Pounds journey to Levy (undertaken shortly after Levy had completed his Provenzalisches Supplement-Worterbuch, in which the solution had just appeared) resulted in clarification of language. The result is satisfactory. The letters of the word noigandres are divided, two words are formed which have meaning, whereas the Ambrosiana texts had left the young poet and old scholar equally in confusion. One needs only to examine the last two lines of Arnauts stanza to recognize the lucidity of Levys decision.
Pound is not amiss in moving the naked kiss of Doutz brais e critz into this setting, although at first glance one might think he were. The problem is nevertheless a complicated one.
In Doutz brais e critz, Arnaut again opens his poem with a comparison of his language to the bird-song. Again, the bird-song impels him to perfect his language:
E doncas ieu quen la genssor entendi
Dei far chansson sobre totz de bell obra
Que noi aia mot fals ni rima estrampa
[the bird-song] is but more cause that I, whose
Search is toward the Noblest, set in cluster
Lines where no word pulls awry, no rhyme breaks
The poet goes on to praise his good fortune (and good sense) in choosing a woman to love who is worthy and capable of adequate response as well as discretion. He begs that God, who is capable of forgiving great sins, grant them privacy and consummation.
Voilla, sil platz, quieu e midonz jassam
En la chambra on amdui nos mandem
Uns rics convens don tan gran joi atendi,
Quel sen bel cors baisan rizen descobra
E quel remir contral lum de la lampa.
. . . grant that we two shall lie
Within one room, and seal therein our pact,
Yes, that she kiss me in the half-light, leaning
To me, and laugh and strip and stand forth in the lustre
Where lamp-light with light limb but half engages. 
The problem we are faced with in Pounds conjoining of reference to these two Arnaut poems in the opening sections of his Canto XX is the contrast between open space and closed room. Arnaut makes a great deal out of the concealment involved in his contacts with his lady in Doutz brais e critz. That this contrast is employed by Arnaut intentionally may be further evidenced by his repeated antagonistic barbs against those who would discover his secrets, or steal a look behind his ladys mantle (which she throws over him after granting him a kiss, shielding him from culvertz eyes). The knowledge of the possibility of betrayal or discovery is a constant of the Provençal love-lyric. It seems that for Pound, that which the Troubadour poets guarded so jealously is worthy of taking its place in the ranks he assembles in Canto XX of the noble and beautiful, brought down by betrayal and treachery: Roland, the noble house of the Malatesti, Odysseus betrayed by the Lotophagoi.
The reference to the Arnaut poem Doutz brais e critz deserves more attention. The quel remir is a fragment of one of the most beautifully crafted light images of all Troubadour poetry. I would suggest that this image, as a light image, represents a major part of what Pound is trying to extract from the Provençal literary tradition.
And if we turn again to the opening lines of Canto XX, we may find further material with which to begin a comprehension of Pounds large and detailed concept of the tradition of which the Troubadour lyric forms a pivotal part. It is the tradition of love-poetry. (The possibilities of reading The Cantos as essentially a love-epic have not been overlooked, I assume; however, detailed statements to this effect have escaped my notice.)
Sound, slender, quasi tinnula,
Ligur aoide; Si nous vei, Domna don plus mi cal,
Negus vezer mon bel pensar no val.
Between the two almond trees flowering,
The veil held close to his side;
And another: sadora.
Three possible relations with women are brought together. Marriage, in the word tinnula (voce carmina tinnula) from Catullus? Marriage hymn, (LXI), a sexual deception in the liguraoide from the episode of the sirens in Homers Odyssey, and the medieval love-theory of delight as a direct result of sight from the Provençal of Bernart de Ventadorn. The Topos: Love enters the soul through the eyes. This fragment is the most lengthy of the three, and the description of the poet, Between two almond trees flowering, is undoubtedly a description of Bernart de Ventadorn. The other, who speaks sadora, is Guido Cavalcanti. And the lady adored is the Virgin of San Michele in Orto. She is admired, he says because here face is Una figura de la donna mia.
Since Pounds sense of connection between the love-poetry of the dolce stil nuovo and the earlier Troubadour lyric guides so much of his critical writing on medieval literature, we might indeed expect to find it functional in his ordering of tradition in The Cantos. (He conveniently outlines what he considers to be the high points of the tradition for the student as an appendix to his essay, Psychology and the Troubadours in The Spirit of Romance.) The larger context of this tradition is indicated in the opening of Pounds essay, The Tradition, from Literary Essays:
The tradition is a beauty which we preserve and not a set of fetters to bind us. This tradition did not begin in A.D. 1870, nor in 1776, nor in 1632, nor in 1564. It did not begin even with Chaucer.
great lyric traditions which most concern us are that of the Melic Poets and that of
At this point, it becomes possible (perhaps even necessary) to broaden the perspective somewhat and to deal with the manner in which the Provençal material in The Cantos affects or takes part in larger patterns. If we accept Georg Gugleburgers argument that Cavalcanti (and more particularly the Donna mi Prega canzone) is central to The Cantos, then perhaps the Provençal material is best understood as it indicates the growth of the tradition which leads to Cavalcanti. This context is defined by Pound at the opening of his essay Lingua Toscana, in the Spirit of Romance.
Loris and Clopinel were compiling their encyclopedia of what passed for wisdom, the
Albigensian Crusade, a sordid robbery cloaking itself in religious pretence, had ended the
gai savoir in southern
may be argued reasonably that Pound incorporates some sense of connection between
Cavalcanti and Dante into the fundamental structure of The Cantos, in which case,
the terms of Pounds interpretation of the line of poetic development from
The remainder of this article will be devoted to a discussion of Pounds sense of the poetics of Provence as they affected (in Pounds view) the later flowering of Tuscan verse, exemplified by Guido Cavalcantis canzone, Donna mi Prega, and to a discovery of the manner in which that sense informs his notion of medieval poetics as it in turn informs the structure and purpose of The Cantos.
Pounds selection of fragments may be considered from two perspectives, both necessary and relevant to a reading of the poem. The individuality of the fragment, its sense as it stands alone or in relation to its immediate context in The Cantos is probably its final and most important reality. However, as one discovers almost immediately in a first reading of The Cantos, an acquaintance with the original context of every fragment, the poem or setting from which Pound has lifted it is almost invariably necessary to discovery of how the fragment adds any valuable reality to its new setting in Pounds poem.
For instance, the Arnaut segment remir in Canto XX makes a certain sense without reference to the complete poem, Doutz brais e critz. It makes more sense as we recall its original context, and discover that Pound is recreating (something more than translating) a medieval garden scene while creating, through use of Arnauts rather angry poem about the necessity for concealment, a statement about the tenuous hold one has on such an ideal place. This at least makes more sense of the strange conjunction between the description in the canto of the ideal garden and the betrayal scenes which follow.
But if we expand our vision of the context, concentrating on the fragments of Provençal as they relate to each other, we may notice similarities among the fragments which Pound selects. And if we wish to decide on one term or one coherent set of terms with which to approach these fragments, we must formulate those terms in relation to medieval theories of love. But since this would suffice no matter what fragments of the troubadour lyric Pound was selecting, we should perhaps be more particular and recognize Pounds grasp of the conjunction between sight and love as it profoundly affected the poetics of medieval literature.
Whether Pounds appreciation of Provençal poetry was retrospective (a search for Dantes sources) or complete unto itself (the connection between the Provençals and Dante being made later), makes little difference. The biographies of Pound are probably clear on this. What we want to clarify now is the relations Pound sees between the Provençal lyric and Cavalcantis Donna mi Prega. Pound has made quite available his decisions concerning the probable sources for Cavalcantis canzone (Grosseteste, Anselm.) But quite clearly he perceives a relationship between the emotional poetry of the Troubadours and the more intellectual, scholastic, argumentative canzone. And the connection it seems is based on more than a handing over of the craft.
In the essay, Psychology and
the Troubadours, he makes this more clear. In
the Trecento the Tuscans are busy with their phantastikon. In
The preparation Pound speaks of here is the focus of many of the Provençal passages in The Cantos. Let us return to the Provençal lines which join the cluster at the opening of Canto XX, from Bernart de Ventadours Can par la flors josta l vert folh. I offer here the entire poem in the interest of understanding exactly how precise and perceptive Pound has been in establishing his vision of the tradition through the process of selection.
Can par la flors josta.l vert folh
E vei lo tems clar e sere
e.l doutz chans dels auzels pel brolh
madousa lo cor e.m reve,
pos lauzel chanton a lor for,
eu, cai mais de joi en mo cor,
dei be chantar, pois tuih li mei jornal
son joi e chan, queu no pes de ren al.
Cela del mon quel eu plus volh,
e mais lam de cor e de fe,
au de joi mos dihz e.ls acolh
e mos precs ascout e rete.
E som ja per ben amar mor,
eu en morrai, quins en mo cor
li port amor tan fin e natural
que tuih son faus vas me li plus leyal.
Be sai la noih, can me despolh,
el leih queu no dormirai re.
lo dormir pert, car eu lo.m tolh
per vos, domna, don se sove;
que lai on om a so tezor,
vol om ades tener so cor.
Seu no vos vei, domna, con plus me cal,
negus vezers mo bel pesar no val.
Can me membra com amar solh
la fausa de mala merce,
sapchatz que tal ira me colh,
per pauc vius de joi no.m recre.
Domna, percui chan e domor,
per la bocha.m feretz al cor
dun doutz baizar de fin amor coral,
que.m torn en joi e.m get dira mortal.
Tals ni a qued an mais dorgolh,
can grans jois ni grans bed lor ve;
mas eu sui de melhor escolh
e plus francs, can Deus me fai be.
Cora queu fos damor a lor,
eu sui de lor vengutz al cor.
Merce, domna! Non ai par ni engal.
Res no.m sofranh, so que Deus vos me sol!
Domna, si no.us vezon mei olh,
be sapchatz que mos cors vos ve;
e no.us dolhatz plus quéu me dolh.
Mas, si.l gelos vos bat al cor.
Si.us fai enoi, e vos lui atretal,
e ja ab vos no gazanh be per mal!
Mo Bel-Vezer, gart Deus dir e de mal.
seu sui de lonh, e de pres atretal!
Sol Deus midons e mo Bel-Vezer sal,
tot ai can volh, queu no deman ren al.9
The lines chosen by Pound, Seu no vos vei, domna don plus me cal,/ Negus vezer mo bel pesar no val, give indication of the topos of the Tuscan lyric the theoretical relation between love, eyes, heart (amor, occhi, cor). The necessary connection implied by Bernart between his good thought and the sight of the lady, although described in negative terms of reversal, is essentially the same relation amplified and expanded in the Vita Nuova.
The topos, as it was used by the Provençals served mainly to indicate the pain of love at being denied sight of the beloved, the joys afforded by the priveledge of looking upon her. In the development of this topos by the Tuscan lyricists, especially in Guido Cavalcanti, the metaphysical realities of the relationships between light and seeing are incorporated into the context, complicating it, substantiating it beyond the simple emotions portrayed by the Provençals. (In Canto XXIX, Pound again selects a fragment from the Provençal. This time the opening couplet of a Sordello poem. Ailas que-m fau miey huelh/ Quar no vezar so quieu vuelh. The choice repeats the same pattern.)
If the study of the Provençal material in The Cantos is undertaken with the intention of clarifying its place and affect upon some tradition of poetry (or love, or light) which includes and culminates with Dante, then the relationship between the Provençals and the Tuscan lyric should be examined. This can be accomplished best through an examination of Pounds treatment of Guido Cavalcanti.
In one of the early analyses of the Cavalcanti canzone in The Cantos, Georg M. Gugleburger10 argues that Pound is attracted for the Donna mi Prega for its metaphorical nature. And indeed, Pound has clarified (albeit in rather guarded language) his conception of the metaphorical implications of the canzone: It seems to me quite possible that the whole of it is a sort of metaphor on the generation of light...11 Gugleburger, for whatever reason, chooses to ignore this rather clear direction of Pounds and decides that what Pound really admired about the poem is that it functions more as a metaphor for the generation of poetry itself.
Since it is my contention that Pounds poem depends largely on systems of light imagery, I cannot accept the substitution of an easier, more available context within which to discuss Pounds use of the the Cavalcanti canzone.
That Cavalcanti is proposing some similarity between love and light is undeniable. In those lines of the poem to which Pound returns most often, Cavalcanti discusses the origin of love:
In quella parte
Dove sta memoria
Prende suo stato
Diafan dal lume
Dun schuritade . . . .12
Pounds early translation in the Literary Essays:
In memorys locus taketh he his state
Formed there in manner as a mist of light
Upon a dusk . . . .13
Transforms into the later translation of The Cantos:
Where memory liveth
It takes its state
Formed like a diafan from light on shade. . . .
Gugleburger passes easily over the implied identification of love with light and makes facile equivalence between love and poetry for the purpose of giving a particular sense to Pounds inclusion of the Cavalcanti canzone in his Cantos. The Cavalcanti poem becomes, in these terms, a metaphor for the production of poetry. If we accept that it was for this reason that Pound incorporated the Donna mi Prega into The Cantos, and further accept Gugleburgers assertion that the entirety of The Cantos is somehow encompassed by the Cavalcanti canzone, then The Cantos becomes identified with other self-conscious literature of the Twentieth Century, and can be read as nothing more than circular, self-contained, self-referential, poetry about poetry.
That The Cantos is a poem informed by what Mr. Gugleburger calls pre-textual light sources is an intriguing notion, one which could easily illumine certain aspects of Pounds use of Dante, as well as his use of earlier medieval material. But to replace that discussion with a claim that the poetry is a definition of love which is a metaphor for light which equals poetry seems not only circular, but ultimately self-defeating.
Rather, let us turn again for clarification to Pounds own statements and see if they dont illuminate the poetry and perhaps some of its purpose. IN the Cavalcanti essay, Pound defines a good portion of his medievalism.
We appear to have lost the radiant world where one thought cuts through another with clean edge, a world of moving energies mezzo oscuro rade, risplende in se perpetuale effecto magnetisms that take form, that are seen, or that border the visible, the matter of Dantes paradiso, the glass under water, the form that seems a form seen in a mirror, these realities perceptible to sense. . . .14
To regain that world may have been Pounds intention as a poet. That he believed Cavalcanti to have lived fully in that world is clear. He says in his commentary on the poem, ...if ever poem seemed to me a struggle for clear definition, that poem is the Donna mi Prega.15 The struggle for clear definition is probably the most important idea which would guide a study of The Cantos relation to the Divina Commedia. Dantes journey (as that of Odysseus/Pound) is one inn search of true, clear knowledge. The manner in which that knowledge occurs in Dante is medieval, scholastic. The love that has been defined in Cavalcanti is very like the kind of love that leads Dante to its source. But, to stress again my earlier contention, the amplifications by Cavalcanti on the topos of the love-sight relationship seem to mark a metamorphic moment in Pounds conception of the relationship between Provençal lyric and Dantean epic.
It seems now that the canzone takes its place as an aspect of several central themes in The Cantos. It is a definition of love; it is a kind of metaphor on the generation of light; and, finally, it is a piece of the tradition more than a fragment shored against ruin, it is perhaps a captured knowledge, an artifact,
A little light, like a rushlight
to lead back to the splendour.
Pounds introductory remarks to his translation of the Donna mi Prega include the following as part of his conception of the relations between the Troubadour lyric and the Tuscan:
What is the difference between
The whole break of
And that Canto XXXVI ends with a bitter elegy for Sordello is no accident. Cavalcanti, Eriugenal, Sordello, all are grouped together, a radiant cluster of names, lost, forgotten, damned, Sordello forgotten immediately, his estate sold by his heirs six weeks after his death. Sacrum, Sacrum, inluminatio coitu (36/180) seems to establish the quality of the art of poetry which had been reached by the time of Cavalcanti. No longer merely plastic plus immediate satisfaction, but through the process of considering well in ones courtly thought (see Sordello, Atretan deu ben chantar finamen) the plastic becomes illuminated, coition cognitive.
Cavalcantis canzone is the culmination (in the lyric tradition) of the dogma that there is some proportion between the fine thing held in the mind and the inferior thing ready for instant consumption. In the Provençal lyric, this dogma may have best been imaged (for Pound at least) by Arnauts e quel remir and the rest of it. And all of it of course coheres in Dante.
Finally, I would suggest that The Cantos of Ezra Pound must be read (if read to be understood) as a conception of tradition. Perhaps separable, identifiably distinct traditions, perhaps as a conception of one unified tradition. It is polemic in that Pound conceives the modern world as having lost the thread, having cut itself away from the tradition; it is a poetry of high ethical determination in that it attempts to point the way to a re-alignment with the best of the worlds history, of which the Provençal lyric was an original and outstanding part.
 Hugh Kenner (1971, 115-116), explicates the problem and its biographical context admirably:
Such a word is the lexicographers despair. If it exists at all it exists here only, as for Greek lexicographers do many of the words in Sappho, so all we can do is guess at its meaning here. And it may not exist at all; the manuscripts chatter a dissident babel: nuo gaindres, nul grandes, notz grandes ...; and comparing a later display of variants, Tojas of 1960, we find even these transcriptions disputed, the scribes very letters shifting about under inspection. Signor Canello in 1883 speculated for half a page of fine print: leaning on Raynouards Lexique, he fancied some kind of nut, nutmeg or walnut, and conjured up cognate forms of which a French correspondent in turn doubted the existence. And Levys job was emending and extending Raynouard. One sympathizes with his bedtime ritual.
And some years before the young Americans visit, Levy had solved the problem, divining (after six months, the Canto bids us realize) that the second part of noigandres must be a form of gandir (protect, ward off); then enoi is cognate with modern French ennui; and the word comes apart neatly into denoi gandres, ward off ennui, and the line reads,
E jois lo grans, e lolors denoi gandres
And joy is its seed, and its smell banishes sadness. He entered this triumphant emendation, complete with Arnauts reconstructed line, under gandir in his great Provenzalishes Supplement-Worterbuch, page 25, !V, (G-L), 1904, where it would have eluded Pennsylvania inquirers await for the volume that should treat of N. But one member of Prof. Rennets seminar was rewarded with the solution he went to Freeburg for (we are not to suppose that Levy spoke that day only of his six months bafflement); and Pounds text and final translation, first published in Instigations, concur with Leads 1910 edition (which he cites) in following Levys reading:
... Bestir my heart to put my song in sheen
Tequila that flower which hath such properties,
It seeds in joy, bears love, and pain amiss.
 Literary Essays, p. 139.
 Literary Essays, p. 135-137.
 Literary Essays, p. 136-138.
 Literary Essays, p. 91
 George M. Gugleburger, The
Secularization of Love to a Poetic Metaphor: Cavalcanti,
 The Spirit of Romance, p. 101.
8 The Spirit of Romance, p. 93.
9 Here is M. Lazars translation of the Provençal:
I. Lorsque parait la fleur parmi le vert feulliage, e que je vois le temps clair et serein, e quand le doux chant des oiseaux dans le bois mapaise le coeur e me ranime, je dois puisque les oiseaux chantent a leur maniere chanter encore mieux, car moir jai plus de joie au coeur et puisque toutes mes journees ne sont que joie et chant; et je ne pense a rien dautre.
II. Celle que je désire le plus au monde, et aime le plus de doux curs et de bonne foi, écoute avec joie mes paroles et les accueils --, prête oreille a mes prières et les retient. Et si jamais quelquun meurt damour fidele, moi je mourrai, car au fond de mon cur je lui porte un amour si sincère et naturel que, comparés a moi, les plus sincères sont tous faux.
III. Je sais bien, la nuit quand je me déshabille, quau lit je ne dormirai pas. Je perds le sommeil, car je me prive pour vous, dame, dont il me souvient; car la ou a son trésor, on veut toujours y avoir son cur. Si je ne vous vois pas, dame, vous dont je ne puis me passer, aucune vision ne vaut mes douces pensées.
Quant il me souvient comme
jaimais cette femme déloyale et sans pitié, sachez au une telle tristesse me
saisit que pue sen faut que je renonce vivant a
V. Il y en a qui ressentent trop dorgueil quand une grande joie ou un grand bonheur leur échoit; mais moi je suis dune autre classe et suis noble quand Dieu maccorde un bien. Car si jai été jadis a la lisière de lamour, a présent jai progresse de la lisière jusqua son cur. Ayez pitié, dame. Je nai mon pair ni mon egal. Rien ne me manque, pourvu que Dieu vous sauvegarde pour moi.
VI. Dame, si mes yeux ne vous voient point, sachez pourtant que mon coeur vois voit; nayez peine plus grande que la peine que jai, car je sais quon vous tourmenta a cause de moi. Mais si le jaloux vous bat le corps, gardez-vous quil ne touche votre coeur. Sil vous cause du chagrin, rendez-lui la pereille, et quil ne gagne jamais de vous un bien pour un mal.
VII. Puisse Dieu proteger mon Beau-Voir de la tristesse et des maux, quand je suis de loin, et de meme quand je suis pres delle.
VIII. Jai tout de que je desire et ne demands rien dautre, pourvu que Dieu sauvegard mon amour et mon Beau-Voir.
Trans. Moshe Lazar
Georg M. Gugleburger, The Secularization of Love To a Poetic Metaphor:
11 Literary Essays, p. 139.
12 Literary Essays, p. 164
13 Literary Essays, p. 155
14 Literary Essays, p. 154
15 Literary Essays, p. 177
16 Literary Essays, p. 151
Sincronía Summer 2008