“Beauty is truth, truth beauty, that is all

Ye know on earth and all ye need to know.”


In high school, if not before, most of us were introduced to these famous lines from John Keats’ Ode to a Grecian Urn. Of all the poems to present to an adolescent audience, none could possibly be more ridiculous than this one. At that age, we are all busily learning the Correspondence Theory of Truth. Sometimes at that age, it seems as though that lesson is our life’s work and beauty has no place whatsoever in such a theory.

“Who broke that vase?” my mother shouts. If I answer, “I did”, I am perceived to be ‘telling the truth’ since I did in fact knock it over while tossing a baseball in the air. Likewise, if I answer, “The wind blew it over,” I am not telling the truth because that is not ‘what happened’.

(Please don’t argue that ‘I’ didn’t knock it over, because it was knocked over by my overly active pubescent hormones or by an angry carelessness springing from the deprivations of my childhood or by bourgeois society that cruelly places fragile vases in little boys’ living rooms; we don’t have time for that!)

At that age, we learn that ‘Truth’ is the correspondence between verbal formulations and actual events. ‘Beauty’ has nothing to do with it. More often than not, the consequences of ‘truth’ are anything but ‘beautiful’. One might even argue that childhood, at least in bourgeois Western culture, is the process of learning to separate truth from beauty, ‘what it is’ from ‘what I wish it were’.

But as we grow older, some of us discover problems with the Correspondence Theory. We know what verbal formulations are (“I broke the vase”) but where are the historical events to which those formulations are supposed to apply?

“I broke the vase” corresponds with the perception of scattered shards on the living room floor or with the video footage secretly recorded on the nanny-cam no one knew existed or with a neighbor’s report of a crashing sound followed by a shriek and then deafening silence. But none of these correspondences actually constitutes the imputed historical event itself.

About all we can say about the verbal formulation, “I broke the vase”, is that it is consistent with a number of other ‘formulations’ (mother’s visual formulation of the shards, the camera’s video formulation of the vase toppling in the vicinity of me…and my baseball, and the auditory formulation in the memory of prying neighbors). None of these formulations is the event itself. Which begs the question: Is there an ‘event itself’?

Of course, this simple question is at the core of who we are as philosophers: idealists, empiricists, materialists, realists, etc? Kant, for example, would undoubtedly argue that there was an ‘event itself’, that it was the noumenon behind the phenomena that make up the various formulations. Plato would probably agree: the ‘event itself’ would be the confluence of several Platonic Ideas.

But these arguments are not helpful. We only know noumena through the related phenomena and we only know the Ideas from their shadows. We may choose to believe that noumena or ideas lie behind our perceptions, but that belief is not itself a perception; it is just another theory.

Consider another example: an explosion. Several people witnessed it, it was recorded on a traffic cam, it was measured by a seismograph, a satellite in space noted the light burst, etc…

There will be no end to the number of formulations related to this event: stories in the local papers, a segment on the nightly news, a poem submitted to a literary journal, several paintings, a chemical formula for explosion scribbled by a chemistry teacher on a high school blackboard, a list of bomb ingredients found on the internet, etc…

But where is the event? It appears after all that Truth is not measured by the correspondence of a symbolic formulation with an actual event; rather it is a measure of consistency among multiple symbolic formulations. Gradually, we move from a Correspondence Theory of Truth to a Consistency Theory of Truth.

The American legal system is an excellent illustration of the Consistency Theory at work. Cock Robin has been murdered and I have been accused of the crime. But I am presumed innocent until proven guilty. The prosecution goes to work gathering ‘evidence’, symbolic formulations that provide information about the event. They are especially keen to find formulations that are consistent with the statement, “David Cowles killed Cock Robin.”

Prosecutors will interview potential witnesses to see if anyone ‘saw’ me kill Mr. Robin (knowing that such eye witness testimony is prone to error). Detectives will see if they can find my fingerprints on the victim or on objects of interest in the area. Police will confiscate CCTV tapes to see if there are images of me striking the victim or fleeing the scene.

The objective is to build a dossier of symbolic formulations consistent with each other and with the charges against me. As far back as Mosaic Law, there has been a principle of jurisprudence that a man cannot be convicted on the testimony of a single witness (i.e. on a single piece of evidence); guilt requires confirmation. The charge against me cannot be ‘true’ unless it is consistent with multiple symbolic formulations.

At the same time, my attorneys are also looking for symbolic formulations – formulations that are inconsistent with the charges against me. Someone saw me across town at the time the crime was committed. My doctor testifies that I am not strong enough to inflict the wounds in question.

In the end, all of these formulations are submitted to the jury. Now the real work begins. The jurors have to try to construct the most probable theory of what ‘actually happened’. They will decide which formulations are credible and patch those formulations together. Can they build a consistent picture of what happened and is that picture consistent with the charge against me?

This is phase one: yes, we are convinced by the preponderance of the evidence that David Cowles did kill Cock Robin. But now comes the harder part of the process: how certain is the jury of its conclusion? If they think that I probably killed Cock Robin but they’re really not sure, they must acquit.

In order to convict, they must be sure ‘beyond a reasonable doubt’. So we learn that the truth value of a symbolic formulation is analog, not digital. It is not just a matter of T/F, 1/0. Propositions have a truth value that can range from near 0 to almost 1 (assuming no non-analytic proposition can ever be true or false beyond any doubt whatsoever).

This is very different from the ‘black and white’ Correspondence Theory of Truth we learned as children. Truth can be grey after all.

Things are no different, by the way, in the more exacting realm of science! A conclusion drawn from a single experiment in a single laboratory can be interesting but it still lies in the realm of theory. Only when the experiment has been performed again, and again, and again in independent labs with similar results do those results become part of our map of reality.

So far we have dealt with truth as it relates to imputed events, the stuff of everyday life. But what if I am looking to account, not for an event among events (a vase break, e.g.), but rather for the set of all events or for the nature of an ‘event’ or for the phenomenon of ‘event-ness’ itself? None of these is an ‘event’ per se, yet we would very much like to be able to make true statements about them. What if I want to make a true statement, not about something, but about everything? How do I do that? How can we talk about Truth in the context of a ‘Theory of Everything’?

Like the megalomaniacs that we are, living in shadow of the millennium, we imagine that we discovered the notion of a Theory of Everything. We’ve even given it a cute nickname, “TOE”. But what we usually mean by this enormous concept is ‘merely’ the harmonization of General Relativity with Quantum Field Theory.

A Theory of Everything can go much further even than that…and our generation is not the first to attempt such a synthesis. In fact, human beings have been generating TOEs since the dawn of recorded thought. From Lao Tzu’s Tao Teh Ching in the East and Parmenides’ On Nature in the West through the works of Plato and Aristotle, John and Paul, Augustine and Aquinas, to the great systematic philosophers of the modern era (Hegel, Marx, Whitehead, Heidegger and Sartre) and to the two great epic ‘poets’ of the 20th century, Joyce and Pound.

How does one evaluate Truth in the context of a Theory of Everything? We certainly cannot speak of Correspondence since now we are all in agreement that there is no event for our formulations to correspond with. This, by the way, is where the Logical Positivists and even Wittgenstein went wrong. The lack of an event does not necessarily mean that no meaningful formulation with a truth value is possible.

Nor can we settle for consistency among formulations, though this can be tempting. Often similarities among formulations abound. But such similarities are accidental and have no meaning. Theories of Everything, if they are to be successful at all, must be organic wholes. Their parts must derive 100% of their meaning from the relationship each has to its whole. Superficial similarities among the parts of disparate TOEs, while intriguing, are absolutely meaningless.

Consider the letters of the English alphabet. The letter “t” appears twice in both “tautology” and “tantrum”. A cryptographer from another galaxy might theorize that some connection existed between these two words because of the appearance of two “t’s” in each; but we know that no such connection exists (does it?). The common element between the two words is an ‘accident’ and effectively meaningless.

Likewise, we note that two paintings by different artists on adjoining walls of a museum are both dominated by the color red. Are we then to conclude that these two works or art are communicating a similar message? Of course not! The elements of a painting derive their meaning from their relationship to the whole. Superficial similarities between paintings are meaningless.

When we speak of a Theory of Everything, we don’t actually mean “everything”, of course; we mean everything in a certain ‘universe of discourse’. For example, if physicists do succeed in combining General Relativity and Quantum Field Theory into a single TOE, that will not tell us who won last night’s baseball game or why Americans’ taste in movies is so bad. These matters, while interesting in their own right, are not part of the physicists’ universe of discourse.

So how do we evaluate the truth of a TOE? We cannot rely on the touchstones of Correspondence or Consistency; we must apply a new standard: Completeness.

Completeness (Truth in the context of a TOE) consists of two things: Sufficiency and Necessity. The process of determining the Truth value of a TOE is therefore a two-step process:

(1)   Is the Theory ‘sufficient’ to account for all of the phenomena in our universe of discourse? In other words, does the Theory work?  This is a relatively easy test to apply…and to pass.

The problem with this test, if there is one, is a problem of ‘scale’. Genesis, for example, accounts for the creation and evolution of the universe and life on Earth; but it does not have very much to say about galaxy formation, natural selection or the workings of DNA. Does it therefore fail the sufficiency test?

I don’t think so. I think it is permissible for the TOE to specify not only its universe of discourse but also the scale at which the TOE is meant to apply.

(2)   Is the Theory ‘necessary’ to account for all the phenomena in our universe of discourse? Or is there a different way to account for the same phenomena? This is an extremely difficult test to apply…or to pass. In fact, it’s not clear whether it’s even possible to pass such a test conclusively because it requires us to prove a ‘synthetic negative’ (a negative statement outside the realm of logic, i.e. about the real world.)

If you claim your TOE is ‘necessary’ as well as ‘sufficient’, you must maintain not only that it works but that no other non-equivalent explanatory framework can possibly account for the same phenomena. If someone else comes up with a theory that works, sue that man; he must have violated your patent!

Newton’s physics was sufficient to explain the cosmic phenomena in his universe of discourse, and for a time many took it as necessary as well. But it wasn’t! Einstein accounted for the same phenomena using a radically different theory.

The problem here, and there definitely is one, is really twofold: (1) On the one hand, how can we be sure that some new theory will not emerge someday to shatter our claim of necessity? (2) But on the other hand, how can we be sure that any two theories are really different theories? How do we know that they cannot somehow be shown to be equivalent to one another?

Example: when physicists began to consider the possibility that space-time might not be 4 dimensional, it seemed that they were making great discoveries. But later it was shown that phenomena modeled in n-dimensions are often mathematically equivalent to phenomena modeled in (n-1)-dimensions. The disparate dimensional theories were not really different theories after all. They both accounted for the same phenomena because they were in fact the same theory, expressed differently.

Necessity is more difficult to establish than sufficiency because we impose on it a very different standard. Sufficiency can be established by simple demonstration: “See, my contraption works!” Of course, in real life such a demonstration might be immensely difficult but at the core it is just this simple.

Sufficiency, a positive, can be ‘proven’ by demonstration. On the other hand, a proof of necessity, a negative, requires rigorous logical deduction; it is not at all clear that any such proof is even possible.

So if necessity is logically required to establish the truth of a TOE, but if it is also an impossible standard to meet, where does this leave us? Must we give up our quest to make true statements beyond the realm of everyday events? Must we surrender to the Logical Positivists after all? Or is there a way around this impasse?

Sufficiency is a binary variable, it either works or it doesn’t, yes or no. But must necessity be binary as well? Is it possible that sufficient Theories of Everything might exhibit relative degrees of necessity? Between two sufficient TOEs, both addressing the same universe of discourse, is it possible for one to be more or less necessary than the other? If so, then it would also be possible to assign a relative truth value to each of those two TOEs.

Earlier, we saw that symbolic formulations about events exhibit truth values that are not binary (1/0); they exist in a range. Why should this not also be true for the truth values of TOEs?

Here is where Mr. Keats comes in…at long last! It turns out that the ‘necessity’ of a sufficient TOE is directly proportionate to its ‘beauty’. Its beauty is its truth.

Physical scientists are way ahead of us in this regard. It is a commonplace principle in science that a more beautiful theory is to be preferred over a less beautiful one. Although few scientists would admit to being theists, most practice a kind of ‘closet theism’: they assume that for some reason the universe prefers beautiful solutions over less beautiful ones (which was, essentially, Einstein’s test for the existence of ‘God’).

Copernicus’ model of planetary motion triumphed over Ptolemy’s, not because one was sufficient and other wasn’t (they both ‘worked’), but because it was simpler, more beautiful.

Among sufficient theories, the more beautiful theory is always to be preferred over the less beautiful. If there were such a thing as an ultimately beautiful theory, and maybe there is, then no other theory would be possible. And if there were more than one ultimately beautiful theory then those theories would have to be identical.

Beauty is the new Necessity!

According to the Completeness Theory of Truth, a proposition must be sufficient and necessary. Its sufficiency may be established by demonstration and its necessity by aesthetic valuation.

Now, let’s apply this Completeness Theory of Truth to some real life Theories of Everything. How do they fare? Earlier, we said that TOEs could be divided into three classes:

(1)   Theories about the set of all events in a given universe of discourse. The set is not itself an event but it is the common subject of every TOE in this class. Perhaps the best possible example is James Joyce’s Ulysses. The subject of this novel is literally the set of all human experiences. Joyce demonstrates that there is such a set, he explains how such a set comes to be, and most amazingly, he shows how the set itself influences the content of the events that make it up. And he does all this in one of the most beautiful works in all of literature. Ulysses demonstrates its own sufficiency and its incredible beauty constitutes its necessity.

(2)   Theories about the nature of ‘event’ itself. An excellent example in this class of TOE is Alfred North Whitehead’s Process and Reality. Whitehead’s theory assumes that events (he calls them ‘actual entities’) are the ultimate stuff of reality. His book identifies the features and processes that all events share in common. He answers the question, “What is an event?” His theory is undoubtedly sufficient…and very beautiful (necessary).

(3)   Theories that account for the phenomenon of ‘event-ness’ itself. These theories address the most fundamental questions of all: “Why is there something rather than nothing?” and “What a thing is universe that it should happen to be populated by events?”  An example in this class is the Gospel of John. John presents a theory of creation, incarnation and salvation that rigorously accounts for the fact that we live in a world populated by events. And because of its air-tight organization and the soaring lyricism of its language (this is probably the most beautiful book in the entire Judeo-Christian cannon), it can claim necessity as well.

We began this essay examining our childhood theory of truth: Correspondence. We then identified the Consistency Theory of Truth as a superior way to assess truth value in the context of events. Finally, we developed a Completeness Theory of Truth as a way to assign truth values to ‘Theories of Everything’, theories not about events per se but about event-ness.

In the context of ‘meta-events’, we recognized that Completeness requires a theory to be both sufficient (an easy test to meet) and necessary (an apparently impossible test to meet). However, we discovered another way, outside the rigors of logic, to establish the necessity of a theory. We discovered that we could approach the question of necessity not only through logic but through aesthetics.

And so we return once again to Mr. Keats. Beauty is truth and truth beauty, indeed. And in the context of Theories of Everything, that is all ye know on earth and all ye need to know.




“Great bulk, huge mass, thesaurus;
Ecbatan, the clock ticks and fades out
The bride awaiting the god’s touch; Ecbatan,
City of patterned streets; again the vision:” –

Ezra Pound, Canto V

Is it possible to present a fully formed Eschatology in four lines of verse? After all, great works like Revelation require half a thousand verses to tell their tale. But surprisingly, the answer is, “Yes!” And Ezra Pound has done it (above)…once you unpack all the allusions and references contained in those four lines.

Ecbatan (‘Ecbatana’) is an ancient city on the Silk Road, located in modern day Iran. It was the capital city of the Empire of the Medes. In Canto LXXIV, Pound refers to Ecbatan as “the city of Dioce”, the first ruler of the Medes.

It is at least remotely possible that this is also the city that the authors of Genesis attributed to Cain and his sons when Cain became a ‘wanderer’ and ‘settled in the land of Nod, east of Eden’ and ‘became the founder of a city’.

But what makes Ecbatan so important is not primarily its great age, nor its role in history and mythology; what makes Ecbatan important is its layout. Ecbatan consists of 7 concentric rings, demarcated by walls. Each wall is higher than the next and each a different color. The penultimate wall is silver and the final wall gold; and within that wall, the Palace.

“Ecbatan, City of patterned streets…”

Inside these walls run those “patterned streets”. The 7 rings of Ecbatan call to mind the 7 rings of the then known solar system. In Canto LXXIV, the first of the so-called Pisan Cantos, Pound confirms that association when he sets forth in a single line of verse his entire cosmo-political platform: “To build the city of Dioce whose terraces are the colour of stars.”

Ezra Pound’s Cantos are at least ab initio modeled after the 100 cantos that form Dante’s Divine Comedy. To understand Pound’s project, it is essential to understand Dante’s.

Unlike Pound, Dante is the hero of his own epic. His ‘odyssey’ begins “in the middle of the journey of our life…within a dark wood where the straight way was lost.” He is then conducted by a series of ‘guides’ through Hell (Inferno), Purgatory (Purgatorio) and finally Heaven (Paradiso).

Along the way, Dante encounters persons from early Renaissance Italy, the classical world, salvation history and the church. Their life stories supply the stuff of his epic. Pound likewise weaves cultural and historical events on an eschatological loom. But compared to Dante, Pound casts a much, much wider net. There is hardly a region of the globe or a period of history that does not contribute content to Pound’s epic.

And while Dante tells the story of ‘Earth as it is in Heaven’, Pound tells the story of ‘Heaven as it is on Earth’. For Dante, the 7 rings of the solar system were patterned after the 7 rings of Paradise; but Pound turns that relationship upside down…and inside out. Ecbatan may share the 7 ringed pattern of the solar system but Paradise shares the 7 ringed pattern of Ecbatan!

If Ecbatan is ‘Enoch’, the city of Cain, that would make Cain the world’s first urban planner. But even if there is no such association, being the first ‘founder of a city’ makes Cain responsible for developing and introducing the technology that would ultimately have made Ecbatan possible. Either way, Ecbatan (like all cities) traces back to Cain.

The theological implications of this are enormous. In Genesis, Cain is presented as committing the first great sin in historical time (i.e. post-Eden). How fitting then, from the perspective of Judeo-Christian eschatology, that Cain be responsible, directly or indirectly, for building the post-historical Eden, Ecbatan, Paradise!

This is the Judeo-Christian message of salvation in a nutshell. God does not just passively forgive the sinner; God empowers the sinner to become a co-creator of Paradise. We partner with God in the redemption of the world and we are led in this venture by Jesus, aka Christ, aka Redeemer. This is the essence of the theological virtue of hope: not just that our sins will be wiped away but that our lives will actually be redeemed. “I  know that my Redeemer lives and that he will at last stand forth upon the dust…(and) I will see God.” (Job 19: 25 – 26)

The Judeo-Christian tradition (including Dante) understands God as “the creator of heaven and earth, of all things visible and invisible” (Nicene Creed). Pound joins Alfred North Whitehead, perhaps Carl Jung, and a very few others in reversing that process. For these visionaries, the world in some sense ‘creates God’; or at least there is a mutually creative relationship between the two!

Ecbatan of the Cantos is Pound’s version of Dante’s Paradise. It is not a model for Paradise, it IS Paradise. There are no ‘models’ in Pound! The concept of a model necessarily introduces the notion of an ontological hierarchy (“the map is not the territory”). Pound rejects that idea categorically. In Cantos the mythological, the historical, the fictional, the experiential, the theological and the eschatological share a common ontological status and co-exist on one great ontologically democratic plane of being.

Of course, Ecbatan is Paradise seen from an eschatological perspective. Pity the lowly camel driver resting on the star colored terraces of the Median capital, not understanding that he is living in Paradise; pity the frenzied investment banker racing across Manhattan in a cab, still not understanding. Some Christians are fond of saying, “Repent and hear the Good News!” Perhaps we might rephrase, “Read Pound and live the Good News!”

Of course, Ecbatan is a once and future city, a once and future Paradise. Throughout Cantos, Pound rhymes the historical Ecbatan with other cities; for example, Wagadu, capital of the Ghanian Empire, four times rebuilt. The message is clear and consistent. We all share a common eschatological imperative, “To build the city of Dioce…”

Canto V is the Cliff’s Notes version of Pound’s Paradiso; the Paradiso proper begins with the first Pisan Canto (Canto LXXIV), which refers back to Canto V, and occupies most of the rest of Pound’s work. But is it the case that these 4 lines from Canto V constitute by themselves a complete and fully developed eschatology? To make that case, we need to unpack each line, beginning with:

“Great bulk, huge mass, thesaurus;”

Parmenides, the first Western philosopher to leave extant a significant body of work, presented reality under two aspects, the aspect of Truth (Aletheia) and the aspect of Appearance (Doxa). These two complementary, but mutually exclusive, aspects are both required in order to build a viable model of reality. Aletheia is Parmenides’ Eschaton; Doxa, his History.

Parmenides describes ‘Aletheia’ as follows:

“It is not divisible…but it is full of what is…it is not lacking but if it were, it would lack everything…It is completed from every direction like the bulk of a well-rounded sphere, everywhere from the center equally matched…equal to itself from every direction.”

The mini-Paradiso found in Canto V immediately links Pound to the philosophical tradition of Parmenides. Like Aletheia, Ecbatan is massive and symmetrical. Parmenides says that Aletheia lacks nothing because, if it lacked anything, it would lack everything. The same may be said of Ecbatan; above all else, it is complete!

But while Aletheia is changeless, things according to the “way of appearance” (Doxa) “come to be and perish, be and not be, shift place and exchange bright color” (aka attributes). This behavior is at the root of all the dissonance and conflict in our everyday experience.

In the “Doxa” fragments of On Nature, Parmenides dwells on the role that “naming” plays in shattering the homogeneity of ‘Truth’ into the seemingly endless variety of ‘Appearance’. For example:

“Thus according to belief, these things were born and now are, and hereafter, having grown from this, they will come to an end. And for each of these did men establish a distinctive name.”

Certain African and Australasian cultures believe that the process of naming (Namo) can actually make things come to be. Pound cites the story of “Wanjina” (Wondjina) whose father sowed up his mouth because he was making too many things. Parmenides would agree wholeheartedly. The “thrusting forth” of things that “come to be” (Fragment 11) is either caused by or chronicled by the development of the dictionary. The size of a dictionary is a good measure of the immersion of its readers in Doxa.

Hence “Thesaurus”! Thesaurus is the antonym of Dictionary. A dictionary records distinctions; a thesaurus, on the other hand, resolves those distinctions by finding commonality.

On the one hand, Dictionary smashes the crystal vase of ‘Aletheia’ against the rocks of empiricism and pragmatism and reduces it to tiny shards of glass (doxa).  Thesaurus, on the other hand, painstakingly matches those shards with one another until the vase is whole again (aletheia). Entropy…and negentropy.

But the reconstructed vase is not quite the same as the original vase. While the shape and volume are still the same, and while the vase can still hold water, now you can see the outline of each and every shard that makes it up. The new vase is vastly more beautiful and interesting…and much, much more valuable; it is the product of negentropy. This is why reality requires both Aletheia and Doxa in order to maximize coherence and intensity.

Compare this with the creation narrative in Genesis. Words play an important role in God’s creative process: “Let there be light…God called the light ‘day’ and the darkness he called ‘night’…God called the dome ‘sky’…God called the dry land ‘earth’ and the basin of water he called ‘sea’.”

Creation is the process of distinction; it is the living dictionary. Salvation reverses that process; it is a way of harmonizing apparent conflicts into mere contrasts. Salvation is the living thesaurus.

“Ecbatan, the clock ticks and fades out”

In Paradise there is no time; everything is a-temporal (or e-ternal). When the clock takes its final tick and fades out, eternity begins. Ecbatan, city of patterned streets, is timeless. It substitutes the pattern of its streets and terraces for the historical flow of time. Ecbatan is living proof that process does not require a temporal component.

When we speak of Ecbatan, we are not just talking about an historical city or some ‘kingdom (to) come’; Ecbatan is what it is, what there is, all there is, now and forever. Process is two dimensional. On one axis, process is change (Heraclitus), growth, evolution; on the other, process is harmonization (Whitehead), pattern building.

Today, we rely heavily on clocks to help us get where we’re supposed to be, when we were supposed to be there. But at the time of my childhood, kids didn’t always have ready access to clocks (or watches). No matter, you were still expected to be home on time. So without thinking about it, we built our own clocks. The progress of the sun in the sky, the changing colors on the horizon, the gas man lighting the street lamps every afternoon, the corporeal sense of time passing. These organic clocks worked just as well as Timex, often better.

Through all this, it never occurred to us that time might be nothing other than the clocks (natural or man made) we used to measure it. We took it for granted that time was something objective, that it formed the background of all things. In recent years, however, cosmologists have suggested that this might not be the case. Roger Penrose, for example, suggests that once we are unable to construct a ‘clock’ to measure time, time will cease to exist. Others have suggested that objective time is nothing other than an abstraction from the variable organic ‘durations’ of events superimposed on one another.

Pound predates Penrose by decades. Yet he uses Penrose’s imagery. When the last clock ticks its last tick, time ends and eternity begins: Ecbatan.

“The bride awaiting the god’s touch; Ecbatan…”

This evokes the image of Mary being touched by the Holy Spirit at the moment of Incarnation and of the Church as the “Bride of Christ”. Ecbatan is Mater Dei (mother of God), Ecbatan is Church. Ecbatan is the physical, corporeal substructure of Paradise.

Over and over again in Cantos Pound writes, “Le Paradis n’est pas artificiel.” It must be physical and historical…it is Mary’s womb, Christ’s Church, Ecbatan.

“City of patterned streets; again the vision:”

The ‘vision’ Pound refers to is Dante’s vision in Canto XXXIII, the final canto, of his Paradiso:

“O abounding grace by which I dared

to fix my look on the eternal light

so long that I spent all my sight upon it.

In its depth I saw that it contained,

bound by love in one volume

that which is scattered in leaves through the universe,

substances and accidents and their relations

as it were fused together in such a way

that what I tell of is a simple light.”

Dante rejects the Heraclitian model of continuous process. In Dante’s vision all of the events, entities and aspects of the world are organized as “leaves”. Pound’s Cantos recapitulate Dante’s vision using Pound’s own seemingly inexhaustible mine of ‘leaves…substances and accidents and their relations’.

Cantos consist entirely of such leaves, ‘fused together’, built into ‘a simple light’. Unique among authors, Pound avoids the temptation to add personal commentary, emotional shading, ideas, spin; instead, he literally lets the thing speak for itself (ipse loquitur).

In the visual arts, the 19th century saw objects dissolve into pure ‘impressions’. Starting with Cezanne, progressing through the Cubists and culminating in Surrealism and Dada, the 20th century reversed that process. It focused on the thing itself, releasing the object from its utilitarian context and allowing it to tell its own story.  Pound performed a parallel function in the literary arena.

Ideally, to read the Cantos would be to have the ‘vision’, Dante’s vision. Both Dante and Pound fixed their looks on the eternal light and saw that it contained that which is scattered in leaves through the universe; both Dante and Pound attempt to bind these leaves “by love in one volume…in such a way that what I tell of is a simple light”.

Pound confirms: “I have tried to write Paradise.” (Canto CXX)

To write Paradise, to build light, is everyone’s highest calling. But it is the nature of the human condition that no one will ever succeed, at least not completely. It is for God alone to write Paradise, to build light (fiat lux)…but that does not mean that we are not all called to do everything we can do in pursuit of that elusive goal. Like Cain, we contribute what we can to the Eschaton. (Le Paradis n’est pas artificiel!) And we humbly beg forgiveness for what we fail to do.

In this context, Canto CXX is worth reproducing in its entirety:


I have tried to write Paradise

Do not move

Let the wind speak

That is Paradise

Let the Gods forgive what I have made

Let those I love try to forgive what I have made.