Published online by Cambridge University Press: 28 May 2006
The final phase of The Cantos began when Pound started planning the poem's paradisal conclusion. In 1944 he explained that “for forty years I have schooled myself... to write an epic poem which begins 'In the Dark Forest[,]' crosses the projected Purgatory of human error, and ends in the light, and 'fra i maestri color che sanno.'” Seven years before, he had assumed the middle part of that progress was concluded: in 1937 he published The Fifth Decad of Cantos [XLI-LI] and wrote in Canto XLVI that “This case, and with it / the first part, draws to a conclusion, / of the first phase of this opus” (XLVI/233-234). The crisis of impending war, however, caused him to insert an extra section on economics and politics - the China and Adams Cantos published in Cantos LII-LXXI (1940). It looked then like there would be one more push - one section in which, as he wrote to T. S. Eliot in January 1940, he had “29 canters to write” to match Dante's Commedia? At that point, the coils of Pound's own political and ideological misapprehension combined with the contingencies of history to produce a more complicated and extended outcome than the one he had foreseen. Having asked the world in general and T. S. Eliot in particular whether you "think you will / get through hell in a hurry" (XLVI/231), Pound discovered for himself how difficult it was to get to the other side of "human error," rage and hardened judgment. Whether he ever reached the light is a question that different readers will answer in different ways.