Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Despite the painstaking work of Pound scholars, the mythos of the Cantos has yet to be properly understood, because its occult sources have not been examined sufficiently. The "occult" here includes the body of speculative, heterodox religious thought which lies outside all religious doxologies--including Gnosticism, Hermeticism, Neoplatonism, Cabalism, and Theosophy. As well, occultism involves belief in gnosis or direct awareness of the Divine which can be attained through myesis or ritual initiation.;Drawing upon recently published material and unpublished Pound letters, the thesis traces Pound's intimate engagement with specific occultists (Mead, Upward, and Orage) and their ideas, and argues that speculative occultism helped shade his aesthetic theories and poetry. Special attention is paid to Mead's work on Gnosticism and its contribution to Pound's extraordinary aesthetic and religious sensibility much noticed in Pound criticism.;The discussion falls into three sections. Chapter I sees the Cantos as "palingenesis" and argues that the poem should be read symbolically. Chapter II and III discuss the intense public interest at the time of Pound's arrival in London. Chapter II also details Pound's interest in particular occult movements and describes modern philosophical occultism. Then Chapter III establishes, first, that Pound's contact with the occult began at least as early as his undergraduate years and that he came to London already primed on the occult, and second, that many of his London acquaintances were unquestionably occultists. They include Upward, Mead, Orage, Yeats, and Olivia and Dorothy Shakespear (Pound's future mother-in-law and wife). The occultism of Upward and Mead was most congenial to Pound and was adopted in the Cantos. Chapters IV and V examine selected cantos (17, 23, 45-51, and 90-91) in light of Pound's occult interests. Chapter IV outlines a triparite schema for the Cantos called katabasis/palingenesis/epopteia. It is argued that the Cantos are structured on the model of an initiation rather than a journey, but that the poem does not so much describe an initiation rite as enact one for the reader. The last chapter is an analysis of cantos 90 and 91. The emphasis is placed here on the spiritual drama enacted by the illuminated soul undergoing an initiation. The discussion of canto 90 reveals that it can be read palingenetically and a reading of canto 91 interprets that canto as an account of paradise as a higher plane of being in occult terms.



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