Revisiting the Modern Purgatory in Ezra Pound's The Pisan Cantos

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Karabulut T.

International Modernism and Postmodernism Studies Conference 2022, Osmaniye, Turkey, 18 October 2022, pp.66

  • Publication Type: Conference Paper / Summary Text
  • Doi Number: 10.47333/modernizm.2022.73
  • City: Osmaniye
  • Country: Turkey
  • Page Numbers: pp.66
  • Ankara Yıldırım Beyazıt University Affiliated: Yes


American poet, writer and critic Ezra Pound is one of the most influential figures of the twentieth century. Pound, whose oft-cited dictum is “Make It New,” contributed to the prominent literary and artistic avant-garde movements of the early modernist era, particularly Imagism and Vorticism. Pound’s colossal and incomplete poem, The Cantos (1915-1962), often conceived as a Divine Comedy for our time, stands out as an experimental masterpiece of modernist poetry with its striking themes and features; it consists of 116 sections, each of which is a canto. The Pisan Cantos, written in 1945, when the poet was incarcerated near Pisa for treason in the aftermath of World War II, is usually considered the most read and admired section from this collection. The Pisan Cantos is a modern manifestation which responds to the contemporary world and modern society. The work synthesizes the political, historical and cultural panorama of the post-World War II from a global perspective; it alludes to mythological, political and literary figures and incorporates translations, musical notes, multiple voices and settings, efficacious memories, quoted lines and transnational references from diverse languages, such as Greek, Latin, Italian and Chinese. This paper, with references to Dante’s work and ancient Greek poetry, intertextually and semiotically investigates how the narrative voice is situated within a purgatory through a spiritual and philosophical journey during which he reconsiders the past and present. The poem unfolds the transition actualizing in modern society from the hell-through the purgatory-to the paradise. Pound’s narrator problematizes the moral and cultural deterioration of the existing modern society and looks for reality, wisdom and liberation through a global historicization.