A Critical Edition of Ezra Pound’s Pisan Cantos: Problems and Solutions

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Ronald Bush
David Ten Eyck


If for no other reason the fact that all published editions of the Pisan Cantos have been unable to execute Ezra Pound’s instructions for the insertion of Greek and have omitted over fifty sets of Chinese characters that he directed his publishers to include would be sufficient cause to re-edit the poem. But the case for a new edition is stronger than that. Owing to the extraordinary conditions of its composition and transmission, approximately five hundred corruptions of Pound’s typescript text survived into the poem’s first English and American publications. Pound’s typescript of the Pisan Cantos was prepared during his incarceration in the US Army Disciplinary Training Center (DTC) an American military prison camp near Pisa during the summer and autumn of 1945, and was the product of the harsh conditions of his imprisonment (his wavering memory following a mental breakdown, his lack of books, and the many errors he inevitably produced typing at odd hours on unfamiliar typewriters). Just as seriously, many of Pound’s emended carbons never reached his editors at New Directions and he was forced during his continued incarceration in the U.S. to delegate responsibility for many kinds of correction he would normally have made himself. He was also denied access to his originals at every stage proofing. Although there can never be a definitively “corrected edition” of the Pisan Cantos because Pound made inconsistent emendations on different typescript leaves and kept his publishers in the dark about which instances of idiosyncratic spelling, quotation, and punctuation he wished them to correct, this does not mean that an edition cannot be established that eliminates the corruptions that later crept into the text and that carries out Pound’s implicit and explicit expectations for producing the poem, many of which his first editors never fully understood. A critical edition based on the typescripts Pound produced at Pisa and including a complete historical apparatus is currently in preparation with Oxford University Press and will not only achieve these aims but also make it possible to understand the deficiencies of the poem’s currently circulating texts.


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