Number ten in the Unwin Critical Library, Peter Makin's book is very good. No one can say with any confidence that it will attract new readers to Pound 's immense poem; and in fact one of its great virtues is that it doesn't try to minimise how difficult The Cantos is, and always will be. The difficulties are of three kinds: first, those inseparable from the nature of the enterprise (i.e. epic); second, those inseparable from Pound's temperament; lastly, those involved with the political and other vicissitudes endured by Pound through his more than fifty years labour on the poem. Devoted work by commentators through now several decades has in one sense 'cleared up' difficulties in each of these areas: for, though The Cantos have attracted a quota of pedants and loonies, that quota is surprisingly small, and most Poundians have worked harder and more responsibly than, for instance, the Hardyans have. But their clearings-up necessarily partake of the refractory and multifarious and arcane nature of the text that they work with, and of the sources of that text; and so mastering the elucidations is not much easier than mastering the poem. The Cantos is or are, and through any foreseeable future will remain, 'caviare to the general': and yet there they sprawl, a labyrinthine ruin (to put the case at its worst) plumb in the middle of whatever we understand by Anglo-American Modernism in poetry. Anyone may be excused for deciding that life is too short for coming to terms with The Cantos: but if we make that decision we thereby disqualify ourselves from having any opinion worth listening to, about the poetry in English of this century.
LRB 23 May 1985 | PDF Download