I’m having some trouble working with this term counterpoint in regards to Pound. He is credited with masterful use of this concept, but as I try to narrow down what it means to him, these cantos appear to be contrapuntal in their entirety. His body of work runs counter to what is the established order, his melody is a separate entity to that of the poetic norms and he asserts himself in a way that both embraces and rejects the classic aspects of poetry. In the cantos themselves, there is rarely a lack of tension. Use of symbols and other languages is constantly putting strain on the reader, and when combined with frequent repetition, a sense of clutter is created. For a man who claims to be so interested in order, his work here doesn’t take on that appearance.
Eric Homberger writes in his book Ezra Pound (a free preview is where I located this passage) that “the motion of Mr. Pound’s melodic line is the motion of a frieze. He has described it exactly in a passage in the twenty-fifth Canto:”
notes as facets of air,
and the mind there, before them, moving,
so that the notes needed not move.
“Whether the music passes across the mind, or the mind traverses the music, is immaterial; the important fact is the motion.”
Pound uses repeated phrases and lines in various forms and appearances that there are often many factions present in a given section of the cantos. Homberger mentions a term that Pound uses called “echo-counterpoint,” in which repetition of pitch and rhythm creates an echoing effect that maintains a sense of harmony. He offers this passage in Canto IV:
And by the curved, carved foot of the couch,
claw-foot and lion head, an old man seated
Speaking in the low drone…:
Et ter flebiliter, Ityn, Ityn!
And she went toward the window and cast her down,
“All the while, the while, swallows crying:
“It is Cabestan’s heart in the dish.”
“It is Cabestan’s heart in the dish?”
“No other taste shall change this.”
And she went toward the window,
the slim white stone bar
Making a double arch;
Firm even fingers held to the firm pale stone;
Swung for a moment,
and the wind out of Rhodez
Caught in the full of her sleeve.
. . . the swallows crying:
‘Tis. ‘Tis. ‘Ytis!
We see phrases repeated, the structure established so that cadences are repeated, and as mentioned in Canto XXVII, “weightless… but moving, so that sound runs upon sound.”
We see that Pound employs certain techniques quite regularly; repetition is one of those that stands out. Repetition of sounds and phrases creates a flow, which then can be stacked on top of whatever suits him. From Canto LXXVII, the flow of this passage reads as having multiple layers, which are supplemented by symbols in this case:
and with the enquiry WOT IZZA COMIN?
“I’ll tell you wot izza comin’
Sochy-lism is a-comin’
(a d 1904, somewhat previous but effective
for immediate scope
things have ends (or scopes) and beginnings To
know what precedes and what follows
There are meant to be symbols in the gaps of precedes and follows, but even without them we see the flow and layering of phrases. As Homberger puts it, “It is a harmony not only of sound, but of image. The former quality is, like the counterpoint, achieved by iteration, by imitation, by a sort of recessive flooding of the phrase with the echoes and associations that have gone before; only, it is denser than the counterpoint, and static: motion is retarded, there is a piling up of resonances, the exact musical analogue is the resolution of cadence into chord.”
This sensation of counterpoint is present throughout much of his work, in some places the layers are so many and so dense that it reads like a fugue, with countless voices and subjects and answers that are weaved in and out of the work. There is a conflicting combination of what Pound calls raga, which is toneless rhythmic arrangement, and tala, which is the sequence of notes at various pitches. The structure is so fluid that it has a unique flow, combined with the fact that the various “notes” are of such variety, there is constant tension on the pages.