A summary of Pound’s poem
Ezra Pound’s colossal work of modernist poetry, The Cantos, runs to nearly 800 pages and took him over half his life to write – and even then, he never finished it. Pound himself said that the structure of The Cantos could be analysed as follows: ‘Live man goes down into world of dead. “The repeat in history.” The “magic moment” or moment of metamorphosis, bust through from quotidian into “divine or permanent world.” Gods, etc.’ This structure can be observed in the poem which opens The Cantos, predictably but perhaps inevitably titled Canto I, which is an English rendering of a Latin translation of the ancient Greek poem The Odyssey, specifically that section which involves Odysseus and his crew travelling down to Hades, the Underworld. You can read ‘Canto I’ here.
The content of Canto I can be summarised as follows: Odysseus narrates how he and his crew sailed to Hades to have their fortunes told by Tiresias, the blind seer. Read the rest of this entry
An introduction to Eliot’s greatest play
The Cocktail Party (1949) was T. S. Eliot’s greatest success in the theatre. Loosely based (according to Eliot himself) on Euripides’ Alcestis, the play combines autobiographical aspects from Eliot’s own life with ideas derived from his Christian beliefs, as well as aspects of drawing-room comedy, family drama, and psychoanalysis and psychiatry.
In summary, The Cocktail Party focuses on the failing marriage between Edward and Lavinia Chamberlayne. The play opens at the cocktail party which provides Eliot’s play with its title. Lavinia has walked out on Edward, leaving him to pursue a relationship with Celia. Chamberlayne, a lawyer, is present at the party, along with Celia; also in attendance are their friends Julia (a talkative older woman), Alex (a traveller who recounts a number of exotic tales of his adventures abroad), Peter (a screenwriter), and an Unidentified Guest (played by Alec Guinness in the original 1950 production). Edward and the mysterious stranger strike up a conversation, and Edward reveals that Lavinia has left him. The Unidentified Guest (who is later revealed to be Henry Harcourt-Reilly, a psychiatrist) says he can get her back for Edward, but on the condition that Edward doesn’t question Lavinia when she returns. Read the rest of this entry
An introduction to a classic play
The plot of Sophocles’ great tragedy Oedipus the King (sometimes known as Oedipus Rex or Oedipus Tyrannos) has long been admired. In his Poetics, Aristotle held it up as the exemplary Greek tragedy. Samuel Taylor Coleridge called it one of the three perfect plots in all of literature (the other two being Ben Jonson’s The Alchemist and Henry Fielding’s Tom Jones). Oedipus the King might also be called the first detective story in Western literature. Yet how well do we know Sophocles’ play? And what does a closer analysis of its plot features and themes reveal? Read the rest of this entry