Analysis and commentary of Canto XLV by Ezra Pound


Modernism firmly rejected industrial capitalism, which was considered as the cause of the degradation of humanity and arts (Strickland). Following this idea, Ezra Pound in his ‘Canto XLV’ writes about usury[1], and how it corrupts society and, especially, art. The purpose of this paper is to analyse Pound’s idea of usury and how it is reflected in his poem, first highlighting the effects of usury on the human race and, then, on arts.

 Written in free verse, ‘Canto XLV’ starts saying that ‘With usura hath no man a house of good stone’ (line 1). Its meaning seems to be obscure, but, from my point of view, the author refers to the idea of the house as a symbol of the hard work and the effort. Nevertheless, it is apparently not sufficient to work hard to have a dignified home if the worker is a victim of a usurer. Pound also believes that ‘with usura’ political and economical frontiers do not exist[2] (line 18). In my opinion, with this line published in 1937[3], Pound foreshadowed the foreign policy of the United States and the allies during the near World War II (1939-1945).  A few years later, in 1942, Pound criticised the allies of being only united by one purpose, money: ‘Gold. Nothing else uniting the three governments, England, Russia, United States of America’ (qtd. in Collins Piper). It was in the decade of the 1930s when the modernist poet openly accused the Jews of being usurers (Wilmer). However, it is remarkable to say that there is no reference of this affirmation in ‘Canto XLV’.

 According to Michael Collins Piper in ‘What Did Ezra Pound Really Say?’, usury and the control of money by private interests were the main concerns of Pound, evidenced in a broadcast given by the poet where he argued that ‘There is no freedom without economic freedom’(qtd. in Collins Piper). Moreover, Pounds thought that usury was the main cause of war throughout history and that it was important to understand this matter to understand history (Collins Piper).

Furthermore, Pounds denounces that the man has difficulties in getting a place to live and that his job does not belong to him: ‘and no man can find site for his dwelling/ Stone cutter is kept from his stone/ weaver is kept from his loom’ (lines 19-21). In lines 42-43, the poet claims, with a borrowing, that usury goes ‘CONTRA NATURA’, since it assassinates the child inside the mother, impedes the youth to woo and hinders the bride and the bridegroom from having sexual relations. In other words, usury also affects the natural laws.

With regard to the effect of usury on art, Claire Colebrook states that for Pound artists could develop, choose and determine ‘the very forms of experience’ in the past, specifically in the Renaissance; nevertheless, this situation is impossible to reach in a world where ‘money’ rules the world. According to Pound, Pietro Lombardo, Duccio, Pier della Francesca, Zuan Bellin’, “La Callunia”, Angelico, Ambrosio Praedis[4], and St Trophine and St Hilaire (lines 27-32) were examples of artists and works of art that had not been dominated by the market. Although the repetition of the word ‘usura’ is considerable throughout the entire canto, it is in these lines (27-32) where this word appears more times, attaching more importance to the effect of usury on the production of artistic forms.  

In conclusion, ‘Canto XLV’ is a perfect example of what Pounds thought of industrial capitalism and its consequences in society. The modernist poet was worried about the dehumanised world which he lived in at that time, but, in my opinion, his main concern was the artistic production, as we could see above. This canto, as well as the majority of Pound’s work, requires a high degree of the reader’s competence due to the volume of cultural references. However, this does not mean that the reader cannot enjoy the poem after acquiring the essential information to understand it.


Erika Giselle Wilson Cantariño




[1] The practice of lending money and charging the borrower interest, especially at an exorbitant or illegally high rate.      <>

[2] “with usura is no clear demarcation”. Demarcation is the setting or marking of boundaries or limits. <>


[3]  in the ‘The Fifth Decad of the Cantos XLII-LI’. London: Faber & Faber


[4] Pietro Lombardo (c. 1435-1515), architect of numerous churches and palaces in Venice; Duccio di Buoninsegna (fl. 1278-1319) Italian artist and first great painter of Siena; Piero della Francesca (1420? - 1492), painter of religious works; “La Callunia” (1494 – c.1495), Sandro Boticelli’s painting; Fra Angelico (1400-1445), Italian painter; Anbrogio Lorenzetti (c, 1290- 1348), Italian painter.





Bibliography: Answers Corporation. 21 March.


Colebrook, Claire. “Ezra Pound: Univocity and Equivocity”. U. of Edimburgh. 19 March 2006


Collins Piper, Michael. “What Did Ezra Pound Really Say?” The Barnes Review Magazine. 12 (1997).  21 March 2006.


Pound, Ezra. “Canto XLV”. Celestial Homework. Ed. Eric Boticelli et al. 19 March 2006.


Strickland, Ron. “Modernism/Postmodernism”. Ron Strickland’s courses. 21 March 2006.


Wilmer, Clive. “Pound’s Life and Career”. The Oxford Companion to Twentieth-century Poetry in English. Copyright © 1994 by Oxford University Press. 20 March 2006.


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