In the first canto of his modern epic poem, The Cantos, Ezra Pound
stages the journey into the Underworld Circe tells Odysseus it is necessary for him to visit. And so he enters that dark realm with his sword and a single pig for his sacrifice to the dark lords. And there
he meets the shade of every single human being who has ever lived –
kings and queens, princes and princesses, peasants and slaves, and all they want, regardless of their earthly status, is to drink some of the pig’s blood to revive their lost sense of life. It is very bleak.
The pattern Pound adopted for The Cantos was to put his ulyssean character in peril, a peril that his human strength cannot avert.
Then a theophany suddenly rescues the hero. It is the appearance of Aphrodite who saves Odysseus, but her rescue is not a narrative element. Rather Pound shifts attention from the warrior hero to the scholar-poet, detailing the literary sources that gave him knowledge of the ancient past. And those sources evoke vividly the presence of Aphrodite as the calm, unruffled rescuer.
Take we the Goddess, Venus:
“Venerandam, Aurean coronam, pulchram, etc.”
Light on the foam, breathed on by zephyrs,
And air-tending hours. Mirthful, “orichalci, ” with golden
Girdles and breast bands.
Here are two theophanies I wrote for my poem, “The Double Woman, ” but
I could not fit them into the finished poem. I print them separately here because Aphrodite deserves the homage.
It is dawn when Aphrodite alone enters
our world. Time and Change scatter before
her august approach. She stepped forth
from a mirror, and strides across a marble
floor, whose pattern suggests the movement
of water in its restless grace of motion.
She stops at the edge of the portico, and
looks up into the vanishing stars. Her eyes
connect the stillness of things above and below,
whose calm, ultimate calm, puzzles humans, expecting
every moment only turmoil….
A silence had descended over the bustle of morning
in the palace. Servants fell silent, some fell
to their knees. The old men of the Council had
witnessed such divine piercing of the fabric of
the world. Oh, some among these graybeards
smiled and felt no fear. What they saw, what everyone saw
was a benign presence, gentle, pure, kind. Aphrodite
rose out of a hive of honey, she glided across the mosaic
floor, and people later claimed it was a music of total
beauty that accompanied her. She trailed sweetness
wherever she went, and when she reached the painting,
she touched it with nectar and ichor….