Near the end of The Bughouse, his brilliant book on Ezra Pound, Daniel Swift reflects on the reading of Pound’s Cantos and on his own fascination with the “impossible poem”.
I recognize what he says about the Cantos in my own love affair with Joyce's Ulysses and other Modernist masterpieces.
"When we read late Pound we wade through a river of allusion which runs hard upon a love story beneath. This is the grand tension of this impossible poem. Capaciousness - the welcoming in of all sorts of voices, sources, modes and interference - is the Cantos great gift of poetry, but it is equally its damage. It is so tempting to read only for those fine lyrical refrains, and to overlook the bitty, argumentative interference to read, that is as magpies, picking at the pieces; but we may not. For the Cantos do not permit a simple opposition between poetry and history, or beauty and politics, or between reading as a poet or reading as an academic. Instead we must ferret out the footnotes, must consult the guides and speak with the scholars, before we can make any sense of them. The Cantos ask of us this care; that we expend our time in their unpacking.
This is however a trap. For the Cantos are an artwork which demands forty years of attention – many have devoted their working lives to precisely this – and once a reader has expended such care, he or she is bound to assume that its object has been worthwhile. It is the care which ennobles the subject, and this is how Pound converts literary critics into disciples.
It is not possible to be a casual reader of the Cantos".