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In his 1918 essay A Retrospect, Pound wrote "I think there is a 'fluid' as well as a 'solid' content, that some poems may have form as a tree has form, some as water poured into a vase. That a vast number of subjects cannot be precisely, and therefore not properly rendered in symmetrical forms".

In this version, the poem began as an address by the poet to Robert Browning.

The section he wrote at the end of World War II, begun while he was interned in American-occupied Italy, has become known as The Pisan Cantos. There were many repercussions, since this in effect honoured a poet who was under indictment for treason.

The earliest part of The Cantos to be published in book form was released by Three Mountains Press in 1925 under the title A Draft of XVI Cantos.

Much critical discussion of the poem has focused on the relationship between, on the one hand, the economic thesis on usura, Pound's antisemitism, his adulation of Confucian ideals of government and his attitude towards fascism, and, on the other, passages of lyrical poetry and the historical scene-setting that he performed with his 'ideographic' technique. Elliot has drawn a parallel between Pound and Adolf Eichmann based on their antisemitism, while at the other Marjorie Perloff places Pound's antisemitism in a wider context by examining the political views of many of his contemporaries, arguing that "We have to try to understand why" antisemitism was widespread in the early twentieth century, "and not say let's get rid of Ezra Pound, who also happens to be one of the greatest poets of the 20th C." This is complicated by the fact that The Cantos themselves contain very little evidence of Pound's otherwise blatant antisemitism: in a close study of the poem, Wendy Stallard Flory concluded that it contained only seven passages of antisemitic sentiment in the 803 pages she read.

Further, when Allen Ginsberg visited him in Rapallo in October 1967, Pound described his previous work to Ginsberg as: "A mess ...

In 2015 Carcanet Press published a volume of Posthumous Cantos, a selection of discarded and uncollected drafts, ca. The Cantos has always been a controversial work, initially so because of the experimental nature of the writing.