Pound's Sestina; Altaforte.

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  • 18 Mar 2013 at 9:02 pm #3227


    Came across this clamorous, gloriously rambunctious Ezra Pound poem the other day and immediately saw the judge declaiming it over his minions. Needs to be read with a yard of ale in one hand and a blonde Viking shield-maiden in the other:

    LOQUITUR: En Betrans de Born.
        Dante Alighieri put this man in hell for that he was a stirrer-up of strife.
        Judge ye!
        Have I dug him up again?

        The scene is his castle, Altaforte.
        “Papiols” is his jongleur.


    Damn it all! all this our South stinks peace.
    You whoreson dog, Papiols, come! Let’s to music!
    I have no life save when the swords clash.
    But ah! when I see the standards gold, vair, purple, opposing
    And the broad fields beneath them turn crimson,
    Then howl I my heart nigh mad with rejoicing.


    In hot summer have I great rejoicing
    When the tempests kill the earth’s foul peace,
    And the light’nings from black heav’n flash crimson,
    And the fierce thunders roar me their music
    And the winds shriek through the clouds mad, opposing,
    And through all the riven skies God’s swords clash.


    Hell grant soon we hear again the swords clash!
    And the shrill neighs of destriers in battle rejoicing,
    Spiked breast to spiked breast opposing!
    Better one hour’s stour than a year’s peace
    With fat boards, bawds, wine and frail music!
    Bah! there’s no wine like the blood’s crimson!


    And I love to see the sun rise blood-crimson.
    And I watch his spears through the dark clash
    And it fills all my heart with rejoicing
    And prys wide my mouth with fast music
    When I see him so scorn and defy peace,
    His lone might ’gainst all darkness opposing.


    The man who fears war and squats opposing
    My words for stour, hath no blood of crimson
    But is fit only to rot in womanish peace
    Far from where worth’s won and the swords clash
    For the death of such sluts I go rejoicing;
    Yea, I fill all the air with my music.


    Papiols, Papiols, to the music!
    There’s no sound like to swords swords opposing,
    No cry like the battle’s rejoicing
    When our elbows and swords drip the crimson
    And our charges ’gainst “The Leopard’s” rush clash.
    May God damn for ever all who cry “Peace!”


    And let the music of the swords make them crimson
    Hell grant soon we hear again the swords clash!
    Hell blot black for always the thought “Peace”!


    There’s some funny background stuff on the old fascist reading it in public for the first time:

    Ezra Pound‘s “Sestina: Altaforte” (1909) was first published in June, 1909. Pound had given a reading of the poem to the Poets’ Club two months earlier, which was so emphatic that at the Soho restaurant where the club met “a screen had to be placed around the gathering to prevent a public disturbance.”[1] The violence of Pound’s reading suggests his dramatic ability to identify with the poem’s speaker, the Gascon nobleman and war-loving troubadour Bertran de Born, who lived in the second half of the twelfth century. As Pound points out in his epigraph, Dante encounters this “stirrer up of strife” in Canto XXVIII of the Inferno, in which he is presented carrying his own severed head (a punishment for parting the union of father and son by encouraging young Prince Henry’s rebellion against Henry II).[2] Born is one of the personae, or “complete masks of the self,” that Pound discusses in “Vorticism” (1914), and this poem (like “Piere Vidal Old,” which appeared in the same volume, Exultations) is one of Pound’s early experiments in the dramatic monologue– a form that would become increasingly important to him as his career progressed (particularly in Hugh Selwyn Mauberly and “Homage to Sextus Propertius“).[3]

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