Date of Award
Doctor of Arts (D.A.)
Diane M. Borden
First Committee Member
Second Committee Member
Ezra Pound wrote Cantos 85 to 95, Section: Rock Drill, while imprisoned in St. Elizabeth’s, a mental hospital in Washington, D.C. This section was first published in 1956, to be followed by the final Cantos (95-109) in 1958. The source for the title Rock Drill was an abstract sculpture cast in gunmetal by Sir Jacob Epstein as part of the Vorticist exhibition of 1915. In Pound’s eyes, this sculpture provided “a central metaphor,... [signifying] his own constant effort to drive home the ideas upon which the right kind of society rests.” In fact, Wyndham Lewis wrote a review of Pound’s letters entitled “The Rock Drill,” in which he attributed the concept behind Epstein’s work - the “hammering away” - to Pound’s own prose. As a major portion of Pound’s mature work, these Cantos represent the aging poet’s move toward a final synthesis of the ideas and philosophies of a lifetime.
As in The Cantos as a whole, Pound’s poetic technique in Rock Drill is fragmented and elliptical - dependent upon associational, rather than logical devices for the achievement of coherence. To create the overall structure, Pound combined two poetic techniques: first, the technique of “process,” that is a juxtaposition of constantly-shifting images representative of the poetic consciousness in a state of transformation, or “becoming”; second, the technique of atemporal synthesis - the insertion into the poetic flux of certain “timeless moments,” within which the central consciousness of the Cantos shares a state of “being” with compatible consciousness throughout history. In these moments of “being,” the fact of linear history is discredited, and is replaced by the idea of mythic time, in which the particular moment is eternalized through ritual reenactment of similar moments. For the content of these moments, the central consciousness, or persona, draws upon literary, historical, and mythical sources, as well as upon contemporary experience. Pound’s use of persona, then, becomes the major means by which he achieves a unified central structure for a large body of somewhat loosely-related and constantly-shifting material.
In the earlier Canots, Pound incorporates such figures as Odysseus, Dantema and Confucius into the central shared consciousness, or persona. In the later Canots, however, as Pound moves away from the persona of the hero toward that of the magician seer, a quite different consciousness “comes to the surface.” As manifested in Rock Drill, this persona not only incorporates elements of Merlin, the legendary magician, but also encompasses such deities as Hermes, such ancients as Apollonius of Tyre, and such contemporaries as W.B. Yeats. The persona becomes much more than an historical manifestation of Merlin; he becomes, in fact, the consciousness of all magicians/seers - both historical and mythological - as reenacted and relived by the poet. An examination of Pound’s development of this persona can be of great benefit in dispelling much of the puzzling haziness of the Rock Drill Cantos.
In order to understand the nature of this “overarching” consciousness, we must examine some of the biographical, historical and mythological guises which Pound’s Merlin assumes; at the same time, we must become aware of the technique by which the poet synthesizes these shifting shapes into one controlling persona.
North, Caryl J.. (1980). Pound's Use Of Merlin As Persona In The 'Rock Drill Cantos'. University of the Pacific, Dissertation. https://scholarlycommons.pacific.edu/uop_etds/3407