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Pound had been considering writing a long poem since around 1905, but work did not begin until May 1915 when Pound wrote to his mother that he was working on a long poem.
The Cantos is generally considered one of the most significant works of modernist poetry in the 20th century.This was reissued in paperback in 1986 with the addition of the Italian Cantos 72-73.In 2015 Carcanet Press published a volume of Posthumous Cantos, a selection of discarded and uncollected drafts, ca. The Cantos has always been a controversial work, initially so because of the experimental nature of the writing.In this version, the poem began as an address by the poet to Robert Browning.Pound came to believe that this narrative voice compromised the intent of his poetic vision, and these first three ur-cantos were soon abandoned and a new starting point sought.Thus, although Pound indeed distrusted the masses, "foreigners," and so forth, The Cantos themselves (with their references to Confucius, the agrarian populism of Jeffersonian and Jacksonian Democracy, and even the "enlightened despotism" of Leopold II) reflect the underlying conservative sentiment behind his more well-known social and economic views (including his antisemitism.) The Cantos are not complex, they are complicated; they are not arrayed by logic or driven by pursuing emotion, they are connected because they follow one another, are set side by side, and because an anecdote, an allusion or a sentence begun in one Canto may be continued in another and may never be completed at all; and as for a theme to be realized, they seem to have only, like Mauberley, the general sense of continuity — not unity — which may arise in the mind when read seriatim.
The Cantos are what Mr Pound himself called them in a passage now excised from the canon, a rag-bag. Eliot had previously approached the subject of fragmentation of human experience: while Eliot was writing, and Pound editing, The Waste Land, Pound had said that he looked upon experience as similar to a series of iron filings on a mirror.
The Cantos was initially published in the form of separate sections, each containing several cantos that were numbered sequentially using Roman numerals (except cantos 85–109, first published with Arabic numerals).
The original publication dates for the groups of cantos are as given below.
Nevertheless, there are indications in Pound's other writings that there may have been some formal plan underlying the work.
In his 1918 essay A Retrospect, Pound wrote "I think there is a 'fluid' as well as a 'solid' content, that some poems may have form as a tree has form, some as water poured into a vase. That a vast number of subjects cannot be precisely, and therefore not properly rendered in symmetrical forms".
Further, when Allen Ginsberg visited him in Rapallo in October 1967, Pound described his previous work to Ginsberg as: "A mess ...