Pound and Provence: The Sense of Place in The Cantos
Stephen W. Gilbert
One of the
consistencies of The Cantos (particularly in reference to the Provençal tradition)
is the use of place as material for the poem. The
associations Pound creates are many places recall names, stories from older times,
Pounds own personal recollections of travel, buildings (castles, temples, towns and
cities). The poem believes in place, the
importance of place. Pound wrote, in the
short pamphlet Patria Mia, No nation can be considered historically as such
until it has achieved within itself a city to which all roads lead, and from which there
goes out an authority.1
And within the particular lexicon of the poem created out of Provençal material
there are many places of significance. As is
well documente, one of the central techniques of The Cantos poetic is
shall have reason to examine the way in which the Provençal places of the poem resonate,
illuminate, rhyme with places of other times, other traditions.
Another category under which the
Provençal material comes clear is that of event, including the occurrence in time of
particular persons and their actions, both individual and societal. We should recall in this context Pounds
comments on the factive personality in Guide to Kulchur. Relating to Provençal matters, the stuff of
events is mostly to be found in the razos or vidas of the troubadours. Pound was more than an adecuate student of these
materials; his fascination with the language and poetry of the period necessarily led him
to an interest in the men who employed and wrote it.
He even wrote his own version (or extended the original) of a razo
concerning Arnaut Daniel.3
But the separation between troubadour poetry and the lives of the troubadours is
not so great as some might imagine. Although
highly artificial, the poetry of 11th 13th century Provence
still reflects real concerns. (Matters of
love, however artificially expressed, are nevertheless matters of love.)
Another heading, under which I
would like to investigate the majority of Provençal material in The Cantos might
be labelled light-metaphysics. Pounds
reading of the Provençal poets is largely a reading of a poetry of light. (In this regard, the possibility exists that
Pounds fascination and high regard for Dantes Divina Commedia and its
treatment and use of light may have guided his reading of the earlier poets.) Pounds familiarity with medieval philosophy
also suggests that his reading of Provençal poetry may have been influenced the sources
other than the poetry itself.4
In the literary history of the
Middle Ages, the movement of what Hugh Kenner, in a brief passage on Cavalcanti, calls the
tradition of light from Southern France into Northern Italy could be of major
interest in plotting certain structural movements of The Cantos. Our investigations under this heading will be to
discover the manner in which Pouond uses the Provençal stuff as representative of one
moment, one expression of that tradition of light.
Canto V opens with the vision of
Ectaban. The barb of time
interrupts the continuity of the possible:
The fire? Always, and the vision always,
Ear dull, perhaps, with the vision
And fading at will.
The process of
ritual sets the tone of the canto, and the vision of possible permanency, the heavenly
order reflected in this world. But the vision
is part of a cycle including barrenness and neglect; the marriage ritual (The bride
awiting the gods touch,) is susceptible to dissolution and error. The metaphor of sterility:
And the vinestocks lie untended,
new leaves come to
North wind nips on the bough, and
seas in heat
Toss up chill crests,
vinestocks lie untended
And many things are set abroad and
brought to mind
Of thee, Atthis, unfruitful.
is balanced by the
story of Gaubertz de Poicebot:
And from Mauleon, fresh with a new
In maze of approaching rain-steps,
The air was full of women.
The story is told in
the old biography of the troubadour5 and translated by
Pound at the beginning of his essay, Troubadours Their Sorts and
The monk, Gaubertz de
Poicebot, was a man of birth; he was of the bishopric of Limozin, son of the castellan of
Poicebot. And he was made monk when he was a
child in a monastery, which is called Saint Leonart.
And he knew well letters, and well to sing, and well trobar. And for desire of woman he went forth from the
monestery. And he came thence to the man to
whom came all who for courtesy wished honor and good deeds to Sir Savaric de
Mauleon and this man gave him the harness of a joglar and a horse and
clothing; and then he went through the courts and composed and made good canzos. And he set his heart upon a donzella
gentle and fair and made his songs of her, and she did not wish to love him unless he
should get himself made a knight and take her to wife.
And he told En Savaric how the girl had refused him, wherefore En Savaric made him
a knight and gave him land and the income from it. And
he married the firl and held her in great honour. And
it happened that he went into Spain, leaving her behind him. And a knight out of England set his mind upon her
and did so much and said so much that he led her iwth him and he kept her long time his
mistress and then let her go to the dogs (malamen anar). And En Gaubertz returned from Spain, and lodged
himself one night in the city where she was. And
he went out for desire of woman, and he entered the alberc of a poor woman; for
they told him there was a fine woman within. And
he found his wife. And when he saw her, and
she him, great was the grief between them and great shame.
And he stopped the night with her, and on the morrow he went forth with her to a
nunnery where he had her enter. And for this
grief, he ceased to sing and to compose.6
immediately with another example of the razo, that of Pieire and Austors de
Maensac. Both are taken from the Miguel de la
Tours manuscript at the Bibliotéque National in Paris.
He gives the same order to the stories in The Cantos, condenased and crafted
into poetic form:
And Pieire won the singing, Pieire
Song or land on the throw, and was
And had De Tierci´s wife and with
the war they made:
Troy in Auvergnat
While Menelaus piled up the church
He kept Tyndarida. Dauphin stood with de Maensac.
The first story (of
Poicebot) takes its place in the balance of references to the marriage ritual: Gaubertz in parallel opposite to Atthis,
went forth from the monastery, enamoret se duna donzella gentil e bella. Atthis, driven also by passion:
Carried in a fast ship over
Atthis, eager and hurried, reached
the Phrygian grove,
The goddess dark places,
crowned with woodland.
And there, exalted by amorous
rage, his mind gone,
He cut off his testicles with a
sharp flint. 7
An interesting fact,
concerning methods of balance and mixture in this canto is that Pound brings a line from
the razo or Pieire de Maensac into his poetic version of the razo of
Gaubertz de Poicebot. The provençal, Lei
fassa furar a del, according to Pounds version in Literary Essays, is a
reference to the wife of Bernart de Tierci, for whom Pieire wrote his songs, whom he
carried off to the castle of the Dauphin of auvergne whence Troy in Auvergnat. In this manner the two stories are blended, or
balanced, or interwoven and in this manner focus on the survival in Provence of the epic
scale of ancient Greece a Provençal variation of the Odysseus story (Gaubertz)
connected by Pounds own poetic with a Provençal version of the Troy story.
As in Canto IV, Pound here makes
subtle use of the poetry of Catullus in clarifying and delineating the story, or
perspectives on the story, which he is presenting. Revision,
repetition, even reversal combine to focus our attention on some unchanged, immutable
kernel of human impulse that motivates action recorded as important by poets of ancient
Greece Imperial Rome and 12th century Provence.
Further investigation of this
technique could be followed by reference to the Catullus material that also provides
imagery of passion in the canto. The
reference to the Atthis poem (LXIII) is interrupted by the line And the vinestocks
lie untended, which is a line from Catullus LXIV, a poem celebrating the marriage of
Thetis and Peleus.
Not only has Pound conjoined the
Roman material of Catullus with the Provençal of the de Maensac story, but he presents
the resonance between fragments of each work being used.
A curious four-part harmony (like or unlike a fugue as he put it in a
letter to his father in 1927). The de Maensac
material is easily interspersed with bits of
catullus, forcing us to consider that kind of historical relationship; and lines from the
Catullus material are inverted with each other, as is true of the Provençal, inviting a
consideration that repetition takes place in more than temporal fashion it is as
well a reality of poetic harmonics.
Many of the events which Pound
focuses on from the poetry were concerned with matters of love. This is not the place to attampt any definitive
statement on the problems of courtly love, but we should recognize that the
poetry of the Troubadours is really inseparable from the factual and complex relations
which existed between the poets and their ladies. This
problem may be exxagerated by the vact that most of the razos involve stories about
love affairs. This tempts one to take a kind
of exclusive perspective. Pounds
Near Perigord provides a
knowledge of Pounds own grappling with this particular problem.
One of the more exceptional women
whose story has come down to us is Cunizza da Romanao, who was married to Ricciardo di San
Bonifazzio, and had an intrigue with Sordello between 1227 1229. Sordello was staying at her brothers at
Treviso and abducted her at the brothers urging, primarily for political reasons. In 1265 (when she was about 67 years old), she
freed her slaves by a deed of manumission executed at the house of Cavalcanti.
The action she performs, together
with her association with Sordello, make her
a character often
referred to in The Cantos. Her
appearance in the Divine Comedy in the third heaven of Venus (Par. IX, 13-66) must
also have heightened Pounds interest in her.
In Canto VI, the women are
introduced via the attitudes towards them held (once again) by the Hellenic and Provençal
literatures. Odysseus and Guillaume IX are
associated by virtue of their ability to enjoy women while concentrating primaily on
masculine matters: getting home, establishing ground rents. Perhaps the ability of both Eleanor and Cunizza,
bound together in this canto, to act determinedly on their own behalf is reason enough for
Pounds interest in them. Yet their
relations to men Cunizzas to Sordello, Eleanors (domna jauzionda,
mother of Richard) to Bernard de Ventadour seem to guide Pounds treatment of
There is no need to defend the
interest in Eleanor of Aquitane whose lineage and marital history is outlined at the
beginning of Canto VII. For many scholars,
she represents the height of achievement of the courtly tradition of Provence. The marriages of Eleanor, taking place at high
levels of society, shaped to a great extent the style of that society, and as a patroness
of poets, Eleanor helped elevate the attention paid to the lyric form among members of the
courts. The position of the poet himself at
court must also have been strengthened. Pound
tells the story that Bernard de Ventadour appealed to Eleanor in hopes that she could free
his lady (the wife of the Viscompte de Ventadour, Eblis) from the bondage into which the
Viscomte had thrown her on discovering the liaison between his wife and the poet:
Eleanor, domna jauzionda, mother
My Lady of Ventadour
Is shut by Eblis in
And will not hawk nor hunt
her free in the air
Nor watch fish rise to bait
Nor the glare-wingd
flies alight in the creeks
Save in my absence, Madame.
Que la lauzeta
Send word I ask
you to Eblis
seen that maker
And finder of songs so far
afield as this
That he may free her,
such light in the air.
The act of Cunizza
in freeing her slaves (ona Wednesday) is told by Pound in conjunction with his
telling of Sordellos love for her. The
free nature of the adulterous love enjoyed by the poets and their ladies undercuts the
machinations and extra-amatory concerns (lands, political alliances) described in the
outline of Eleanors marriages.
The de Maensac story is re-created
again in Canto XXIII. The Troy in
Auvergnat correspondence is enlarged, the story is given its ending, and balanced by
others. The destruction of Troy as a loss
becomes an explicit statement. The ending of
the Provençal tradition as a reflection of that other citys destruction is made
concrete by Pounds moral stance toward every destruction of beauty.
As an encapsulated history of the
short-lived Provençal moment, the story of Pieire de Maensac serves well. Pounds development of it in Canto XXIII is
much more prosaic (indeed it imitates the razo form of the Provençal biographies)
than his condensed treatment in Canto V.
And my brother De Maensac
Bet with me for the castle,
And we put it on the toss of a
And I, Austors, won the coin-toss
and kept it,
And he went out to Tierci, a
And on the road for his living,
And twice he went down to Tierci,
And took off the girl there that
was just married to Bernart.
And went to Auvergne, to the
And Tierci came with a posse to
And went back for an army
But never got Pierre nor the
And he went down past Chaise Dieu,
And went after it all to Mont
end of all things
And they hadnt left even the
And Simon was dead by that time,
And they called us the Manicheans
Wotever the hellsarse that is.
The comparison to Troy is augmented strikingly.
Our attention is immediately directed to the figure of Anchises survivor of
And that was when Troy was down,
And they were sailing along
Sitting in the stern-sheets,
Under the lee of an island
And the wind drifting off from the
it? said Anchises.
Tethneke, said the
helmsman, I think they
Are howling because Adonis died
Anchises attention is then
directed to the virgin death of Adonis by the helmsman of the ship in which he is
travelling, and we may recall that the aearlier telling of the de Maensac story (Canto V)
was conjoined to the Atthis poem of Catullus. To
consider a figural relationship betweeen Atthis and Adonis, Mont Segur and Troy, reveals
perhaps Pounds moral stance towards the destruction of beauty, his sense of loss in
face of sterility.
Pounds interest in the de
Maensac story may be illuminated by the fact that in his comment on the razo of
Miquel, he refers to the straightforward prose of the de Maensac story as
an epic.8 The
fact that Miquel de la Tour is aware of the comparison (he speaks of the abduction of the
wife of Bernart de Tierci as occurring in the manner of the golden Menelaus9), is probably the source of Pounds
The end of the Provençal literary
tradition is one event to which Pound returns often.
At times simply by mentioning the place name of the final slaughter, Mont Segur. Of course, he refers more often, and more
hopefully, to the survival of the tradition in the Tuscan poets, but while the survival of
the tradition is almost entirely literary, its end was the result of a misguided religious
philosophy cum politics on the part of the Catholic church.
The Encyclopedia Britannica gives
the information that in 1245, royal officers assisting the Inquisition seized the
heretical citadel of Mont Segur and burned 200 heretics in a single day. This was almost the final blow to the Albigensian
heresy. The Crusade of 1209 1229
under the direction of Pope Innocent III and championed by Simon de Montfort already had
effectively destroyed the political (and literary) autonomy of Provence.
Our knowledge of the Albingensian
heresy relies entirely on statements by the triumphant church, Catholic controversialists
of the day, and confessions of the heretics preserved among the documents of the
Inquisition. It has been concluded10 from sources such as these that the Albigensians
were part of a neo-Manichean heresy spreading generally through Western Europe having
arisen in the Balakan peninsula. The term Cathar,
adopted by many of the new heretics, is taken from the Greek, CATHAROS, pure.
Although M. de Rougement (Love
in the Western World) may be too insistent in his reading of heretical doctrine as
principal motive for the lyrics of the Troubadours, we may assume that the poetry and the
love-relations about which the poetry spoke were to some extent influenced by the new
philosophy. The notion that the lady can be
seen as a metaphor for spiritual purity, revealed truth, even theology itself, was
undeniably part of the lyric tradition before Dante. 11
Pound makes no attempt to resolve
or even grapple with the term manichean.
The accusations of the Church are treated in the simplest and roughest of terms:
Wotever the hellsarse that is.
It is clear that Pound considers
it important only in its application as a label by the Church authorities, interested
primarily in extending political and territorial power into the south of France. The result, however, the destruction of the
singular beauties of Provençal society, was to Pound as tragic (perhaps because he sensed
it as repetition) as the destruction of Troy.
1 Ezra Pound.
Patria Mia. Chicago,
Ralph Fletcher Scymor, 1950, p.21.
2 Hugh Kenners discussion in The Pound Era
is particularly useful as he discusses the notion of subject rhyme as it illuminates much
of Pounds juxtaposition of fragments.
3 Ezra Pound.
Literary Essays. New York, New
Directions, 1953, pp. 109-115.
4 See, at least initially, Pounds short essay
Neo-Platoicks Etc., in Guide to Kulchur, pp. 222-226.
5 Here is the original, from Shepard, William P.,
ed., Les Poésies de Jausbert de Puycibot. Paris,
Lirairie Ancienne, Edouard Champion, 1924, p. 57. lo monges Jousbertz de Poicibot si fo
gentils hom e fo de levescat de Lemozi, fills del castela de Poicibot; e fo mes
monges qand era enfas en un mostier que a nom Sain Leonart.
E saup ben letras e ben chantar e ben trobar.
E per volontat de femna issic del mostier e venc sen a celui on venion tuich
aquill que per cortesia volion honor ni benfaich, a.N Savaaric de Malleon; et el li det
arnes de joglar e vestirs e cavals. E pois el
anet per cortz e trobet e fetz bonas chansos. Et
enamoret se duna donzella gentil e bella, e fazia sa chansos della; et ella
no.l volía amar si no.fezes cavallier e no la tengués per mollier. Et el dis a.N Savarics lo fetzcavallier e.il donet
alberc e terra e renda; et al tolc la donzella per moiller e tenc l a grand honor e avenc
si quél anet en Espaigne e la donzella remas. Et
us cavalliers dEngleterra sentendía en ella e fetz tan e dis que la menet via
ab se e tenc la lonc qand Jausbertz tornet dEspaigna, el alberguet una sera en la
ciutat on ella era. E qand venc lo ser, el
anet de foras per volontat de femna et intret en lalberc duna paubra femna
que.il fon dich que la entre avía una bella donzella.
E trobet la sua moiller. E qand el la
vi et ella lui, fo grans dols entre lor e grans vergogna.
Ab lei estet la nuoich, e lendeman sen anet ab alla, e menet la en una
mongia on la fetz rendre. E per aqella dolor
el laisset lo chanta e.l trobar.
6 Ezra Pound, Troubadours Their Sorts
and Conditions, Literary Essays. New York, New Directions, 1968, pp. 95-96.
7 C. H. Sisson.
The Poetry of Catullus. New York, The Viking Press, 1966, p. 103.
8 Literary Essays, p. 96.
9 Cited in Literary Essays, p. 97.
10 Francis Hueffer.
The Troubadours: A History of Provençal life and Literature in the Middle Ages.
London, Chatto and Windus, 1878, pp. 231-233.
11 See sonnet XXXV of Guido Cavalcanti, in which he
explains to a fellow poet the miracles of the madonna perfomed in the temple of the town
of Orto, by telling whose image it is: Una figura de la donna mia / Sadora,
Guido, a San Michele in Orto....
Sincronía Winter 20