Nolan Mills- Blog 3

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.

Amber Lee~ Blog Three

For a moment in class during the presentation I mentioned the Chinese characters in class and the way I thought about them. I wanted to talk about them more in the presentation, but the question that I wrote didn’t mesh together with the other question’s themes. Now that I have the opportunity to discuss what Pound would have called an “ideogram” as we learned in Kelsi’s presentation, I will discuss the way the Chinese characters are used in 77 since it is the only one of the cantos with the explication of the Chinese characters at the end.

What is interesting about an ideogram is that it “represents the idea of a things without designating the sounds you use to say it” (Kinavey 2) which is not how I would have thought about the Chinese characters in cantos 77. When we did our group project a lot of what we talked about was the sound, musicality, and rhythm of the cantos, but the Chinese characters in the poem can only be interpreted by a non-Chinese speaking audience as a symbol, not as a word that we can say. Even though I have the definition of these symbols, I would have absolutely no idea how to say them to a Chinese speaking person. In a poem where words are broken down to be heard like they are spoken like “Sochy-lism” (Pound 77. 27) and sounds are put in front of us like “k-lakk…..thuuuuuu” (Pound 77. 40) to have symbols that can only be seen and understood, but never heard seems odd. This could be attributed to Pound’s concept of counterpoint, that for every word or concept that was can see, understand, and hear, there are those that we can see but may not be able to hear or say or understand, but they are just as important and valid to have, or they wouldn’t be in the poem. The only time that it seems that the sound of a Chinese character is given to the readers is on the last page of cantos 77 where the phrase “ch’êng” (Pound 77. 324) appears under the Chinese character that means “perfect or focus” (Pound 54) which appears twice on the page mirroring one another almost at the end of the poem. It is possible that the word sound described at the end of the cantos doesn’t describe the way to say the Chinese characters above it, but I think it is safe to assume that it is considering that the word “focus” (Pound 77. 323) is in between the two Chinese characters. Pound may give us the way to saw this character in particular because of how much he wants his audience to focus. He is, in a way, telling us to focus on what is happening five times without looking like he is doing so.

The other part of the ideogram and Chinese characters I would like to discuss is how they represent an idea of a thing. While reading the poem, the reader doesn’t know what the symbols mean. A first time reader, who wouldn’t have known about the explanation that Pound gives as the end of cantos 77, may be especially lost and unaware of what these Chinese characters mean. I think it might be a large jump to assume that just because Pound pairs these symbols with the words they mean that the readers would know this and see what Pound is doing when first readings. By showing us that he is in fact repeating words with Chinese characters, it may force the reader to either go back and re-read all of cantos 77 or just go back and see the small sections to understand the gist of what he is trying to do. Either way, there is some element of returning to poem to re-think and look at the poem another way. I have to wonder if I like the poem better or worse after going back and looking at the symbols again. I am reminded of the reading from week one where Arnold Schoenberg discussed in “The Relationship to the Text” hearing music and learning that there were poems that the music was based on, but when he read the poems, he didn’t gain any more understanding and depth to the music. On the contrary, he thinks it detracted from the way the music had initially affected him. It is possible that the Chinese characters mean less to the audience when we discover that Pound is reiterating ideas that he already portrayed in English. It is also possible that it adds to poem that Pound found these words and ideas worth reiterating or maybe Pound wanted more universality to his poems. Whatever the case may be, the fact that the Chinese characters are there at all has to mean that they are important to Pound.

Blog 3 // Rachel Mann

In this post I’ll primarily be concerned with Ezra Pound exercising his authority over the reader within his poems. Through dialect, fragmentation and spacing, and interjections within the text, the reader is manipulated to read in certain ways or through certain lenses. I sometimes get the impression that Pound is teaching his readers how to read, since his works were new innovations in the world of poetry. I suppose a good example of what I’m trying to illustrate can be found in his short poem that everyone knows him for writing:

In A Station Of The Metro

The apparitions of faces in a crowd;

Petals on a wet, black bow.

The syntax of this poem is what changes the words on the page to something that moves and impresses upon the reader. “Apparitions” is a noun, not a verb, but it holds qualities of something that acts because it implies that something wasn’t there a second ago, but just came out of nowhere. The impression of the apparition of faces in a crowd is a moving one, even though the phrase itself is stagnant. Placing the poem in a station in the metro also gives it movement. This is the way I read Pound, and most modernist poets. Reading their poetry isn’t like staring at something and trying to make sense of it. It is very much like being in a station of the metro or in the middle of a moving crowd. It’s the brevity and pace and fragmentation of the reading that communicate.

The Pisan Cantos behave similarly, fast pace and fragmented, alluding to an impossible amount of different references that overwhelm the interpreter, but communicate through their form and place within the poem. Even calling the poem “Cantos” throws the reader into a musically influences reading of the poem. I want to look at a few of the different ways that Pound “teaches” his readers how to read his own writing.

Canto 77 is written in free verse and is peppered in Chinese symbols, Greek, French, and even particular dialects of English. These images, interruptions, and sounds of different languages can easily distance the reader from the text, but they can also force the reader to listen to the tonal leading of the sounds of the words instead of focusing on what the words are saying. Example below:

255. “30,000, they thought they were clever,

why, Hell / they cd/ have had it for 6000 dollars,

and after Landon they picked Wendell Willkie

Roi je ne suis, prince je ne daigne

Citizen of florence, cd/ not receive noble titles

Pound frequently interjected comments in the poem which remind the reader of the poem’s textuality. Essentially, he is telling the reader how to read the poem within the poem. He does this by removing the reader from the fragmented, existential impressions to the actual words on the page, shifting from content to form, creating a bit of distance. Examples below:

15. “and having got ‘em (advantages, privilege)

there is nothing, italics nothing, they will not do

to retain ‘em”

Here, Pound draws attention to the way italics are read and drawn out by repeating and emphasizing the word “nothing” in a different form.

234 domini 1910 but I do not know what he has done with it

for I wd/ steal no man’s raison

and old Andre

preached vers libre with Isaiac fury, and sent me to old Rousselot

who fished for sound in the Seine

Here, Pound drops the term “vers libre”, as he’s writing in vers libre, calling attention to form. To me, “fishing for sound in the Seine” is an explicit command of how to read: listening to it as opposed to pouring over and interpreting it. He discusses in depth the ideas of free verse becoming something to be listened to and interpreted musically in “A Retrospect”:

“Indeed vers libre has become as prolix and as verbose as any of the flaccid varieties that preceded it. It has brought faults of its own. The actual language and phrasing is often as bad as that of our elders without even the excuse that the words are shoveled in to fill a metric pattern or to complete the noise of a rhyme-sound. Whether or no[t] the phrases followed by the followers are musical must be left to the reader’s decision.”

Ezra Pound is one of the most important names in modernism, and to me it seems reasonable to me that in his innovation with the movement and subject that he would require a sort of cipher decoder. I felt that Pound tactfully integrated this into his works.

Blog posts due 4.17

Group 1 (A-H): you have the week off, but I encourage you to keep up on what others are doing.

Group 2 (I-N): write a blog (700-800 words), due Friday 4/17, 11:59 p.m. Please tag your posting “Blog 3.”

Group 3 (O-Z): by Friday, 4/17, 11:59 p.m., reply (300 words) to blogs from last week. Unless I’m mistaken, only one person wrote a blog last week, so he’s going to get a lot of responses.


(1) Use one of the “key terms” on the handout from Kelsey’s graduate presentation last week, and explore its applicability to one of the Pisan Cantos.

(2) Engage with one of the critical excerpts on Canto 81 found here. Use specific textual references from C81 to develop the original critic’s conclusions; you may also refer to other Cantos and draw connections back to C81.

(3) With specific reference to the text, analyze how Pound develops one of the following themes, images, ideas, or motifs in one or two of the Pisan Cantos. Keep your focus as tight and narrow as possible so that you can explore the motif in depth.

  • counterpoint
  • periplum/voyage
  • ritual/ceremony/dance
  • noise (cf. Canto 83 – “noise in the chimney”)
  • printing/imprinting/inscription/carving (etc.)
  • Pound’s African-American DTC comrades
  • money
  • usury
  • ants/wasps/insects/spiders
  • precision
  • mask