Using Juxta in the Digital Variorum Edition of Ezra Pound’s Cantos

(Guest post by Mark Byron, University of Sydney, Australia)

I am currently assembling the digital variorum edition of Ezra Pound’s Cantos with Richard Taylor. This edition aims to collate all published versions of every canto, including page proofs and setting copy, where available, and to integrate digital reproductions of illustrated capitals in deluxe editions, audio and video recordings of Pound reading his poetry, and a very large cache of annals material pertaining to the production of his epic poem over the course of sixty years.

We have chosen to use Juxta to collate the very extensive set of variants for each canto – the total number of witness files runs into the thousands – because this application addresses a number of issues inherent in such a project.

The Juxta interface lists any chosen comparison set, which, for example, might be as small as ten witness files for Canto VI or as large as forty witness files for Canto IV. The degree of variation of each witness text from a chosen base text is visually represented next to each file in the comparison set list. This provides an efficient means to identify the more eccentric versions (bibliographically speaking) of a particular canto. A curious reader viewing the Edit Note in the figure below might choose to compare the 1922 version of Canto II published in The Dial with the so-called “Base text” – the 1975 New Directions edition of the Cantos that was adopted by Faber in place of its own edition, marking the end of the separate stemmatic lineage of the British edition of the text. (It should be noted that any witness file may be chosen as a base text for the purposes of a particular collation.)

Juxta’s elegant interface provides immediate visual information concerning the kind and degree of variation between the two witness files represented here: the reader is already aware of the canto’s changed status after 1922 from the “Eighth Canto” to Canto II, and can see – immediately – that the heaviest revision occurs in the opening lines, a revision that ushers in the now-iconic address to Robert Browning (the rhetorical and semantic implications of which can be processed by means of careful comparison of the two versions).

Variation is visualized in the integrated heat map, and is complemented by the Histogram function, allowing the reader to see exactly at which points the densest variation might occur in the canto. In this case, the beginning of the text bears the most acute variation, but other significant variations occur throughout the canto, including the final lines. To be able to see this at a glance is truly a powerful aid to scholars, even those intimately familiar with the textual state and history of this poem.

The complexity of Pound’s text is legendary, and not all bibliographic features can be captured in either codex or digital editions. Yet Juxta provides the means to collate Greek text, including diacritics (seen in the example above), and the increasingly substantial presence of Chinese in later instalments of the Cantos. Indeed, any element present in the Unicode palette can be deployed in a Juxta text file. While those ideograms drawn by hand (often incorrectly) and included in published editions of the Cantos are not represented in the text field, photographic reproductions of them can be added as Edit Notes at precisely where they occur in a particular canto.

These features provide excellent reasons for the digital variorum edition of Pound’s Cantos to employ Juxta. Potential development of an HTML applet – allowing for an integrated collation function within a web-based edition – is exciting news indeed.

Mark Byron
Department of English
University of Sydney, Australia