Ferdinand (1961)

1940-17 June 1942/ Quarterly Review of Literature (May & Nov. 1950)



Blanchon, Philippe. “Pudeur et délicatesse de Louis Zukofsky.” Ferdinand, trans. Philippe Blanchon. Caen: NOUS, 2024. 119-126.

Greene, Jonathan. “Zukofsky’s Ferdinand.” MAPS 5 (1973): 131-136. Rpt. Terrell (1979): 337-341.

Parlant, Pierre. “Préface: Rêve éveillé.” Ferdinand, trans. Philippe Blanchon. Caen: NOUS, 2024. 7-23.

Twitchell-Waas, Jeffrey. “Louis Zukofsky.” Review of Contemporary Fiction 22.3 (2002): 26-37.


LZ and WCW exchanged comments on this story, although unfortunately some of the letters have been lost; see WCW/LZ 287-288, 302-305


Note on the Text: There are two distinct printings of the Dalkey Archive edition of Collected Fiction (1990), which effects some of the pagination, although there is no indication of the difference in the later reset printing. In both editions, Little is photostatted from the original Grossman publication (1970), while the additional stories collected as It Was were set in a different and somewhat unsightly type, which apparently is why the latter was reset to make a more uniform looking volume in 1997. As a result, the pagination is the same for Little, but different for the other stories. In the notes I have referred to the most recent (1997) printing. In the paperback editions, the earlier printing has an all-white cover with a full front cover photo of LZ, while the 1997 printing has a mostly black cover with the photo of LZ reduced and cropped.


Notes to Ferdinand


197      Portofino: as LZ mentions, a village on the Italian Riviera nestled along the sea and backed against mountains with a central square, the Piazetta, facing the harbor. Portofino is very near Rapallo, so perhaps was visited by LZ when he stayed with EP in Aug. 1933. In a synopsis of “Ferdinand” before he wrote or at least finished the story, LZ points out the fact that Portofino is in the municipality of Genoa, birthplace of Christopher Columbus, whose voyage to the New World will be repeated by Ferdinand and is evoked in images (e.g. the Nīna) at the end of the story (HRC 12.6). 

197      fiacre: a small hackney carriage (AHD).

199      Linnaeus: Carl Linnaeus (1707-1778), the great Swedish botanist who proposed the modern system of botanic classification; see 238.

204      capital city of the world: Paris.

207      one poet—a cannonier dangerously wounded so that “a star rayed his forehead”…: the French poet Guillaume Apollinaire (1880-1918), fought in World War I, initially serving with the artillery, and suffered a near fatal star-shaped head-wound from a piece of shrapnel—one of the more famous war wounds in literary history. In “Tristese d’une Étoile” (Sorrow of a Star) from Calligrammes (1918), Apollinaire alludes to this wound: “Une étoile de sang me couronne à jamais” (A star of blood crowns me forever). LZ of course wrote an extensive work on Apollinaire, The Writing of Guillaume Apollinaire (1934).

216      But the Russians, the first to isolate themselves…: when the Bolsheviks came to power in the October Revolution of 1917, they soon withdrew Russia from World War I, signing the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk with Germany in March 1918. In response, the Allies sent an expeditionary force consisting primarily of British, French and U.S. troops into northern Russia, who became involved in the Russian Civil War on the side of the Whites against the Communist government, but eventually withdrew in 1919.

220      White Russian: designates those who fought or sided against the Bolsheviks in the Russian Civil War following the October 1917 Revolution. The conflict continued until the Whites were finally defeated in 1921, when close to a million people emigrated to various capitals around the world.

220      An Englishman, who loved to sail…: this character is based on LZ’s friend Basil Bunting (1900-1985), who was an avid sailor and a translator of classical Persian, including Firdosi (c.940-1020), the great epic poet of the Shahnameh or Book of Kings (see 222 below). During the 1930s, Bunting published articles and reviews on politics in various periodicals, perhaps most notably in this context, “The Roots of the Spanish Civil War,” The Spectator No. 5639 (24 July 1936). In a 23 July 1938 letter to EP, LZ described Bunting as: “a British-conservative-antifascist-imperialist” (EP/LZ 195).

220      Merrie Isle: i.e. England.

220      “the rabbin”: rabbin is Fr. for rabbi. This character is presumably based partially on LZ himself, although many details are not biographically true.

221      Creeping Charlie…: reappears often in the latter half of Ferdinand and can designate several different plants, including the ground ivy (Glechoma hederacea), originally from Europe but naturalized throughout much of North America. However, judging from the description of the flower and leaves, it is more likely LZ has in mind the Commelina viginica or Virginia dayflower, which can easily be confused with the Wandering Jew (Tradescantia fluminensis). All three names are loosely conflated at 240, which also refers back to the forgotten Latin name here (see WCW/LZ 304-305 where the two are clearly discussing these names and identifications).

221      Crèvecoeur’s eighteenth century anticipation…: Hector St. John de Crèvecoeur (1735-1813), French American author of Letters of an American Farmer (1782). In Letter XI, which presents itself as a letter from a Russian giving an account of his visit to John Bertram, to whom he makes the observation: “I view the present Americans as the seed of future nations, which will replenish this boundless continent; the Russians may be in some respects compared to you; we likewise are a new people, new I mean in knowledge, arts, and improvements. Who knows what revolutions Russia and America may one day bring about; we are perhaps nearer neighbours than we imagine.”

222      King, Minuchihr I: Minuchihr or Manuchehr was a Persian king and prominent character in Ferdowsi’s Shahnameh (Book of Kings). This speech is a modernized version of a passage from Minuchihr’s speech on ascending to the throne in Ferdowsi; the same passage is alluded to in Arise, Arise 22. Ferdowsi and the Shahnameh are mentioned or quoted at 12.227.17-27, 18.394.6 and Bottom 121 (see 220). It seems likely LZ found this passage in the full translation by Arthur George & Edmond Warner in 9 volumes:
Whoever in the seven climes of earth
Departeth from the Way, abandoneth
The Faith, inflicteth hurt on mendicants,
Oppresseth any one of his own kin
Uplifteth in the pride of wealth his head,
Or causeth sorrow to the suffering,
All such are infidels in my regard
And worse than evil-doing Áhriman.
All evil-doers that hold not the Faith
Are banned by God and us: hereafter we
Will put our vengeance upon the scimitar,
And in our vengeance desolate their realm.  (Vol. 1, Book 7, verse 130)
Given the time of composition, it seems LZ is alluding to the forced abdication in Sept. 1941 of Reza Shah of Iran instigated by the British, who was succeeded by his 21-year-old son, Mohammed Reza Pahlavi. 

222      Barnacle Bill: archetypical sailor, from a well-known drinking song, “Barnacle Bill the Sailor.”

225      the day that Manchuria had been invaded by the Japanese: as a result of the so-called Mukden Incident on 18 Sept. 1931, the Japanese army immediately invaded and occupied Manchuria.

225      thirteen years since the peace was fashioned…: referring to the Treaty of Versailles of 1919 that officially concluded World War I and for the most part reaffirmed or even augmented the colonial empires of the Allied powers and Japan.

225      necessitous poor: see note at 227 below.

226      Cape Cod girls they have no combs…: a well-known traditional shanty or sailors song.

227      “the necessitous poor”—a tautology of a seventeenth century English economist…: from the economist and social reformer John Bellers (1654-1725), Essays About the Poor, Manufactures, &c. (1699), as qtd. by Marx in a footnote in Capital, Chap. XV; LZ included this passage among the many quotations from Capital in the “Aids” to First Half of “A”-9 (1940): “The uncertainty of fashions does increase necessitous poor. It has two great mischiefs in it. 1st, The journeymen are miserable in winter for want of work, the mercers and master-weavers not daring to lay out their stocks to keep the journeymen employed before the spring comes, and they know what the fashion will then be; 2ndly, In the spring the journeymen are not sufficient, but the master-weavers must draw in many prentices, that they may supply the trade of the kingdom in a quarter or half a year, which robs the plough of hands, drains the country of labourers, and in a great part stocks the city with beggars, and starves some in winter that are ashamed to beg.”

228      Unter den Linden …: major boulevard in the center of Berlin (Ger. Under the Linden (trees), after the title of a famous song by Walther von der Vogelweide). The torchlight parade here presumably refers to a Nazi demonstration demanding the revocation of the Treaty of Versailles that ended World War I and imposed on Germany heavy indemnities and restraints on military development. The Nazi Party effectively seized control of Germany in early 1933. Bunting was in Berlin for a few months in late 1928-early 1929, and he recorded his negative impressions in the savage “Aus dem Zweiten Reich” (Complete Poems 36-38).

228      latest Caesar hazarding a policy of conquest in Africa: Mussolini invaded Ethiopia in Oct. 1935.

229      The Englishman wrote from Singapore when Japan launched its attack on China…: Japan, after occupying Manchuria in 1931, attacked China in July 1937, while the Munich Pact (Sept. 1938) allowed Hitler to annex part of Czechoslovakia, seen as a major act of appeasement toward Hitler. Bunting never went to Singapore, although apparently he did apply for a job censoring films in Singapore in late 1937 (see Robert Burton, A Strong Song Tows Us: The Life of Basil Bunting (2014): 253-254; Burton gives no reference for this information). Bunting did spend a short while in Los Angeles 1938-1939 with the idea of looking for work in films (see EP/LZ 196), and he promptly enlisted for military service as soon as Britain declared war on Germany in Sept. 1939.

230      Everyone knew the enemy was arming…: the main events alluded to in this paragraph leading into the early years of World War II are the invasion of Poland by Germany in Sept. 1939, which finally forced England and France to declare war after an extended policy of appeasement toward Hitler. However, since the Allies in fact took no action against Germany’s aggression, the period immediately following is often referred to as the “phony war,” until May 1940, when Germany invaded Belgium, the Netherlands and then quickly overran France, making a mockery of the latter’s Maginot Line, which it was claimed could stop tanks. Paris fell 14 June, and Marshal Pétain, a hero of World War I, signed an armistice with Germany and headed the puppet regime at Vichy, France. Most of these events are also referred to in “A”-10, the work most contemporaneous with the writing of Ferdinand.

231      where the idea of people revolting for their right had an older heritage: referring to the French Revolution of 1789.

231      free army some thousands of his fellow nationals had mustered in England…: the Free French Forces comprised of those who escaped to England at Dunkirk in 1940 and other remnants of the French army, who reorganized under General Charles De Gaulle.

233      our general on England’s side is a patriot: General Charles De Gaulle (1890-1970); see previous note. 

235      port of arrival, the greatest city in the world, still extant: LZ’s hometown, New York City; Ferdinand is driving north from Washington, D.C.

238      Linnaeus: see 199. As Ferdinand’s uncle remarks, Linnaeus inspired many students who traveled to all parts of the world and continued his work. The information on Linnaeus and the naturalists mentioned on the following page is taken from Donald Culross Peattie, Green Laurels: The Lives and Achievements of the Great Naturalists (1936) (see also 246).

239      Like the farmer from our country…: the French botanists described in this paragraph are André Michaux (1746-1802) and his son Francois André Michaux (1770-1855). André took up botany on the death of his wife within a year of their marriage, was sent by the French court to Persia and then to the US, where accompanied by his son he explored much of eastern North America. He established two important botanical gardens, one in New Jersey and another in South Carolina. Francois published a major work on the classification and distribution of North American trees, The North American Sylva. LZ is summarizing information from Donald Culross Peattie, Green Laurels: The Lives and Achievements of the Great Naturalists (1936).

239      another naturalist who also came here from our country speaks of: “gamblers that although playing for nothing…: John Audubon (1785-1851), American naturalist and artist, who was born in the French colony of what is now Haiti and grew up in France before immigrating to the U.S. in 1803. This and following quotations through to the top of the following page are from Audubon’s journals, Audubon’s America: The Narratives and Experiences of John James Audubon, edited by Donald Culross Peattie (1940). A couple of these quotations appear in Bottom 238. In a letter to Lorine Niedecker postmarked 20 Feb. 1941, LZ mentions that he was asked by Norman MacLeod to lecture on Audubon’s book, although it is not clear whether in fact he did so.

240      Commelina Virginica: see note at 221.

243      Kalendas Mayas: troubador song by Raimbaut de Vaqueyras (d. 1207). The title words mean “Calends of May” or the first of May, which was a traditional holiday long before it became a worker’s holiday. As LZ notes every line rhymes with aya, as do numerous internal rhymes.

243      estampeda: or estampida, Provencal courtly dance of the 12th-14th centuries mentioned in troubadour poetry. Among the earliest surviving examples of written instrumental music, the “Kalenda maya” (see above) was set to an existing estampida.

243      shagbark: a type of hickory tree, native to North America.

243      Don Giovanni: opera by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart; see CSP 123 and “A”-23.563.10.

244      The Miller of the Dee: traditional English folk song; the first stanza as follows:
There was a jolly miller once
Liv’d on the river Dee,
He work’d and sang from morn till night,
No lark more blithe than he,
And this the burden of his song
Forever us’d to be,
“I care for nobody, no not I,
If nobody cares for me.”

246      words of Jefferson among his notes…: quoted from Donald Culross Peattie, Green Laurels: The Lives and Achievements of the Great Naturalists (1936), which also provided information on other naturalists mentioned in the Ferdinand (see 238-239): “[Jefferson] wrote to Alexander Wilson telling him that there was still one bird, absolutely unknown to science, which he had heard and some hunters knew, that sang divinely from the tops of the highest trees. But so adroitly did this chorister keep himself concealed aloft that through he, Jefferson, had outstanding a reward offered for a specimen, not the best shot had ever been able to bring down even one. Nor was it, Jefferson said, to be found in Buffon or Linnaeus.”

249      the enemy […] had broken another pact and turned on Russia…: Hitler invaded the Soviet Union on 22 June 1941, breaking the Stalin-Hitler (Molotov-Rippentrop) Pact of August 1939, which was a non-aggression agreement between the two powers, as well as secretly agreeing to carve up Eastern Europe into spheres of influence. The Hitler-Stalin Pact effectively marked the official beginning of World War II, as both Germany and the Soviet Union promptly invaded Poland, setting off the Allied response. See “A”-10.121.7 and 12.203.18.

252      slim statue of an Etruscan warrior…: probably one of three terra-cotta statues bought during World War I and prominently displayed by the Metropolitan Museum in NYC, although eventually proven to be fakes around 1960. One depicts a thin, white-bearded warrior.

252      forty-eighth state…: Arizona became the 48th state in 1912.

253      extinct tribes of Indians…: the Anasazi inhabited what is now northern Arizona, leaving behind their rock cliff villages and believed to be the ancestors of other village oriented tribes: the Hopi, Zuni and Pueblos. The Mayan civilization dominated much of northern South American up into what is now southern Mexico over many centuries, but they were in long gradual decline by the time of the Spanish arrival in the early 16th century. The Aztec civilization ruled central Mexico from the 14th century until the Spanish conquest. The Toltecs dominated much of what is now central Mexico from the 10th to 12th centuries.

253      dome-shaped swelling on its outlying acres…: details from Frances Densmore, Papago Music (U.S. Bureau of American Ethnology, Bulletin 90: 1929): “[The Papago’s] typical dwelling was dome-shaped, consisting of a framework of saplings thatched with grass of leafy shrubs, with an adjacent shelter or ramada. At the present time they live chiefly in adobe houses” (1). See further uses of Densmore below.

254      a young girl…: the incident with the native girl is at least partially based on or suggested by an experience LZ had while traveling through Arizona in April 1932 on his way to San Francisco (see WCW/LZ 287; also the two Arizona poems CSP 45).

254      conjectures about migrations of long ago, starting perhaps from the north of Asia…: paraphrased from Archaeological Relics of Mexico (Distribuidora de petroleos mexicanos, n.d.): 6-7.

257      came back home from Greece…: Mussolini attacked Greece in Oct. 1940 from Albania, but was disastrously repulsed, and eventually the Germans had to come in to subdue Greece.

257      all tribes came from the top of a mountain…: from Frances Densmore, Yuman and Yaqui Music (U.S. Bureau of American Ethnology, Bulletin 110: 1932): “Two legends of the origin of the tribe [the Yuma] were related. The oldest legend states that they came from a mountain farther up the Gila River, on the top of which is ‘a square place like a map,’ and the marks of little feet in the rock. All the tribes of Indians were sent from thence to various parts of the country, each being given what it would require in the place where it was to live” (4).

258      “I have no money to go to the ranch”: the lyrics of a Yaqui song, from Frances Densmore, Yuman and Yaqui Music (1932): 201; see preceding note.

258      Elder Brother, the hero who gave it to them, was killed…: from Frances Densmore, Papago Music (U.S. Bureau of American Ethnology, 1929). Elder Brother is a creator and cultural hero figure, about which there are series of stories and songs: “Elder Brother had a rival named Brown Buzzard, whose power was so great that he could make boiling water bubble out of the ground near his house. He said that he would kill Elder Brother but that after some years he would come to life and then worse things would happen to the people. […] Elder Brother remained dead so long that children played with his bones and made bridges of his ribs. One day the children ran home and told their parents that Elder Brother was sitting there and fixing a clay canteen” (21-22).

258      Two brothers and their grandmother travelled…: this story slightly adapted from Frances Densmore, Papago Music (1929): 27-28; see preceding note.

259      Père Noé, qui plantastes la vigne…: first line of a ballade by François Villon (1431-1474) from his Le Testament, a poetic last farewell; immediately translated by LZ.

260      This is the burial space…: details from Frances Densmore, Papago Music (1929), see 258: “On a hillside near San Xavier is an old burial place. The burial spaces are formed by building a low stone parapet on the side of the hill and roofing it with heavy timbers thrust into the hillside. The bodies were placed in these spaces, or shelters, and all openings were closed with stones. [… describing the contents of one of these burial spaces:] Scattered about were bits of leather resembling parts of a saddle” (2).

260      Antigone: in Sophocles’ tragedy, Antigone defies King Creon’s decree and buries her brother, Polyneices.

262      They were together now in the time when the Aztec calendar was correct…: from Archaeological Relics in Mexico (see note at 254): “[An illustration of the Stone of the Sun or Aztec Calendar with explanation:] The calendar is chronologically correct whereas that of the old world of the same period was in error” (40).

262      her eyes like stars moving: from song lyrics in Frances Densmore, Yuman and Yaqui Music (1932):
In Cocori (a town in Mexico) is a young girl whose name is Hesucita.
She is a pretty girl.
Her eyes look like stars.
Her pretty eyes are like stars moving.

262      a Walt Disney in which a baby elephant was the principal character: presumably Dumbo, an animated film released by Walt Disney studios in 1941.

262      Art’s longlife is too short to miss these: attributed to Hippocrates: Art is long, life is short; see 13.297.10.

263      La Niña: the smallest of Christopher Columbus’ three ships on his first voyage to America.

263      Palos: a harbor town in southwest Spain from which Columbus set sail in 1492 on his first voyage to the Americas, and where he returned the following year.

264      the Capitol—not much more than a hundred years old: although the U.S. seat of government moved to Washington, D.C. in 1800, the present Capitol building—having been partially burned down by the British in 1814—was completed by 1830.