Published in 1937, canto XLV is part of the Fifth Decad, also called the Leopoldine Cantos, in reference to the Monte dei Paschi institution established by Arch Duke of Tuscany, Pietro Leopoldo. In short, the Monte dei Paschi established a system of usury–charging unreasonably high interest rates on (property) loans. Thus, this canto acts as a Poundian non-capitalist ideal, in which he denounces the practice or usury, essentially cursing it as the most heinous and crippling force against nature.
In breaking down this canto, we can examine how and to what degree Pound finds fault in the practice of usury (which he calls usura, and we will too for brevity’s sake). Pound begins his liturgy by listing several ways that usura separates or takes certain things away from existence and creation.
With usura/ hath no man a house of good stone/…with usura/ hath no man a painted paradise on his church wall/ harpes et luz/…with usura/ seeth no man Gonzaga his heirs and his concubines/no picture is made to endure nor to live with/but it is made to sell and sell quickly/with usura, sin against nature
A close reading of these lines reveals several aspects of Pound’s disdain for usura. First off, the syntactical structuring of Pound’s line breaks emphasizes the separation of usura from that which is good in nature. “hath no man a house of good stone,” if the construction of this house is in any way associated with usury. The next image is particularly telling: “hath no man a painted paradise on his church wall/harpes et luz.” This image presents usura as a preventative force that blinds the human race from a paradisal vision, thus inhibiting their creation of a paradise on earth.
The final lines of this passage depict usura as diminishing the inherent value of aesthetic creation: “no picture is made to endure nor to live with/but it is made to sell and sell quickly/with usura, sin against nature.” With the rapid selling of paintings, the motivation shifts from a desire to create and cherish artistic beauty, to solely appealing to the artist’s avaricious desires. Pound’s denouncement isn’t primarily based on the moral injustices of interest, but more so on the fact that excess capital is no longer devoted to artistic patronage, as it could now be used for capitalist business investment.
Continuing with lines 18-20, Pound portrays usura as an obscure agent, one that blurs the dividing lines of quality and individuality.
with usura the line grows thick/with usura is no clear demarcation/and no man can find site for his dwelling
The term “demarcation” alludes to the marking of boundaries, often associated with land distribution.With “thick” lines an area is blurred and therefore difficult to determine and appropriate. Thus, the dimensions of a man’s land or “dwelling” isn’t sufficiently distinguished from the surrounding dwellings; the sense of individuality is lost.
This theme is reinforced in the next two lines in which Pound writes, “Stonecutter is kept from his stone/weaver is kept form his loom.” This appeal to lost trades emphasizes the negative connotation of usura as a thief of even the inherent goodness of a man’s craft. And without his craft man loses his sense of self and value.
Thus far in canto XLV, the tone Pound perpetuates is overwhelmingly pessimistic and foreboding, particularly in his portrayal of usura as a deathly disease or parasite that infects all who practice the corruption of usury. In line 26 Pound labels usura as a murrain, which translates to plague. He proceeds to propound (ha) that usura is utterly contrary to all artistic creation and inspiration, referencing numerous artists from lines 28-33. He also asserts that usura is disconnected from the religious or spiritual realm, writing: “Came no church of cut stone signed: Adamo me fecit/Not by usura St Trophime/Not by usura Sain Hilaire” (34-36).
It may be inferred that Pound sees the architectural design of beautiful churches as a most righteous and pure form of artistic creation, one that is devoid of monetary motivation. The line Adamo me fecit translates to “Adam made me,” which refers to an inscription etched on a pillar in the Church of San Zeno, Verona. The mention of Adam alludes to the Biblical time on earth before the presence of sin; thus Pound may be asserting that this church–and perhaps the others listed–were formed through righteous and natural creation, untainted by the corruption of usura.
Continuing with 43-46, Pound seemingly returns to the “disease” or “parasitic” concept of usura, although including a more perversely sexualized depiction.
Usura slayeth the child in the womb/It stayeth the young man’s courting/It hath brough palsey to bed, lyeth/between the young bride and her bridegroom
In the first line, Pound may be implying the genetic character of usura, as if a disease passed on from parent to fetus. If this is the case, then usura can be viewed to perpetuate its destructive influence from generation to generation. Usura is also represented as a venereal disease, one that hinders a man’s sexual performance, yet another preventative force against nature. The resulting palsey would cause muscle tremors which create a divide “between the young bride and her bridegroom.” While this metaphor may seem abstract and slightly arbitrary,we believe that Pound was merely trying to illustrate the power of usura to debauch the most sacred practice of nature in creating new life.
This concept of money as the “root of all evil” is reinforced in line 48 with the appeal to the Eleusinian Mysteries, a symbol of sacramental coition, which is defiled by whores; a final metaphor of the carnal corruption of usura.