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This article is taken from PN Review 72, Volume 16 Number 4, March - April 1990.

The Composition of the Cantos Kenneth Cox


Amare è intendere / intendere
senza amare non è dato.
            Eugenio Tomilio


1. A view of the Cantos as a whole is possibly not necessary. They are not drama or thriller, made like a complicated mousetrap to be traversed from start to finish and culminating in climax and dénouement. They consist of various sequences of loose-knit particulars apparently directionless. The attention they invite is instant, not extended. The little tricks of construction that lure readers onward are brief or absent. As the Cantos proceed, the techniques of the writing develop and connexions between certain particulars multiply but neither to the point of furnishing structural support. A unified effect does not result. At the most there remains after nearly a lifetime of intermittent acquaintaince a residual after-effect, similar in kind to the peace and gratitude that greet the conclusion of a long marvellous and at times fearful bedtime story.

2. How is it that the lack of unifying factors does not prohibit final satisfaction, that in so far as they can be apprehended in their entirety the Cantos do after all cohere? The present attempt to answer the question abstracts such persistent elements of procedure as seem to have contributed to the composition of the Cantos. Composition in either sense: how they came to be put together and what they now comprise. The ultimate objective is a cogent account of the form the total work can be seen to have. ...


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