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This review is taken from PN Review 55, Volume 13 Number 5, May - June 1987.

PASSING THE BARRIERS William Cookson, A Guide to the Cantos of Ezra Pound (Croom Helm) £19.95, £12.95 pb.

William Cookson has left us greatly in his debt. His Guide to the Cantos is a work of formidable scholarship, not so much in what he knows as in his ability to organize and clarify what he and other scholars know. And in turn, of course, to enhance our wonder at Pound's scholarship.

The author fairly defines the limits of our expectation. This book is not to be regarded as an exhaustive commentary or elucidation - 'it is not intended for the Pound scholar.' He scrupulously acknowledges his debts to others but acknowledges equally that he has 'left hundreds of references unannotated' and these omissions are partly 'due to ignorance' but there is a more important reason: 'The Cantos is a poem and not a work of history or scholarship.'

Two rewarding experiences may be had from the use of this Guide. Pound's work can be read the more swiftly by the modestly informed, as the more recalcitrant areas of reference are smoothed away by the detailed entries - and even the 'Pound scholar' is not always wholly informed in all the areas of learning to which EP's curiosity sent him exploring.

In many ways more rewarding is the other experience, of reading as a consecutive narrative Cookson's prefatory notes to each group of Cantos. They form a modestly unassertive commentary on the development of the whole work, marking the inter-related themes and establishing the total coherence and impulsion of the final work. ...


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