Turning to the poems affords illumination, though not resolution. The complete Cantos number 117, weigh in at more than 800 pages, and require several companion volumes of exegesis, filled as they are with private matters and forgotten, obscure souls and associations. Selected Cantos, 117 pages in all, contains what Pound called his "beauty spots": evocations of his heroes (from Chinese emperors to the Founding Fathers), cameos and critiques of his contemporaries (Yeats admiring the symbol of Notre Dame more than Notre Dame itself), and scabrous, unbeautiful visions of politicians, war profiteers, and "the perverts, the perverters of language" in hell. A signal irony is that the poet whose goal was to "make it new" is often freshest in his evocations and imitations of the past.
The greatest sequence is, however, "The Pisan Cantos". In 1945, following his pro-fascist Italian radio broadcasts, Pound was imprisoned by the American military. The art that emerged out of desperation, particularly Canto LXXXI, is a litany of nostalgia, pain, and delusion. Pound for once casts a sharp eye (usually reserved for others) on his personal and artistic failings: "Pull down thy vanity / How mean thy hates / Fostered in falsity ..." But even this section is troubling. In the end, the village explainer could explain little.