An Experiment in Reading - Robert Browning’s “My Last Duchess”

July 12, 2017 | Author: Subhendu | Category: Poetry, Linguistics, Semiotics, Languages, Science
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Engler, Balz. Reading and Listening. The Modes of Communicating Poetry and their Influence on the Texts. Bern: Francke Verlag, 1982. p. 67-110.

8. An Experiment in Reading: Robert Browning’s “My Last Duchess” In the previous chapters I have discussed some kinds of evidence that may be helpful in determining how a text should be experienced, including punctuation, spelling, typography, and the relationship between length and difficulty. In the following three chapters I shall deal with single texts and search them for evidence, to determine how they should be experienced. In discussing these texts in some detail it will also be possible to give more substance to the claim, made earlier in this study, that the question of how poetry is experienced should be an integral part of literary studies. In this chapter, I should like to show how closely the interpretation of a text is linked to the way it is experienced. I have chosen for this purpose Robert Browning’s “My Last Duchess,” for two reasons. As a Dramatic Monologue it raises the question whether it should be listened to or read in particularly pointed form; the text may even be considered as a drama. Further, the poem is central enough to the corpus of English literature to have elicited extensive and interesting critical comment. In particular it offers an opportunity to show that the tension between sympathy and judgement, which A. Dwight Culler has singled out as a central characteristic of recent views of the Dramatic Monologue (Culler 1975, p. 367), is related to the way the text is experienced. Recent definitions of the Dramatic Monologue have been fairly broad. Alan Sinfield, for example, describes it “as simply a poem in the first person spoken by ... someone who is indicated not to be the poet” (Sinfield 1977, p. 8). This definition alludes to the problem of determining the relationship between the poet and the speaker. It is too inclusive, however, to be useful. It does not take into account other features that have traditionally been associated with the Dramatic Monologue, like the individualized speaker. In “My Last Duchess,” for example, we are confronted with an idiosyncratic method of wooing, and the Duke’s words are meant to reveal his character. The Dramatic Monologue, in the more common narrow sense of the term, also implies the existence of a partner, to whom the speech is addressed, and thus a clearly defined situation internal to the poem. The partner is essential for our understanding of the poem: the monologue may be designed to influence him. The speaker may try to conceal things from him, he may even lie to him. In “My Last Duchess” our attitude to the Duke will be determined by our discovery that he has disposed of his former wife and is now addressing an envoy who has come to settle the contract for a new marriage. There are many reasons why the Dramatic Monologue flourished in the early Victorian period. Only three will be sketched here, those that may have directly affected the expectations of the audience. These are the awareness of the poet’s self, the state of the theatre in the period, and the tradition of monodrama. Robert Langbaum (1974) has shown that the Dramatic Monologue can be derived from the Romantic poetry of experience, in which the experience of the individual poet in a particular situation establishes truths that are of general value. The poet has the role of the seer, even, in Shelley’s words, of the “unacknowledged legislator of mankind.” As we have seen in chapter 7, The Dramatic Monologue is also a reaction against the Romantic poetry of experience, both an attempt to preserve the poet’s self1 by covering it with a mask, a persona, and an attempt to write as an “objective poet” (Browning 1895, p. 1008), to use Browning’s term. The second reason for the emergence of the Dramatic Monologue involves the state of the theatre in the early nineteenth century, a period in which drama and the stage increasingly diverged. The Romantic and Victorian poets tried to create a drama of the soul, a model for which they mistakenly saw in Shakespeare, while the theatre had become increasingly 1

Engler, Balz. Reading and Listening. The Modes of Communicating Poetry and their Influence on the Texts. Bern: Francke Verlag, 1982. p. 67-110.

interested in sudden, isolated, sensational effects, as in the acting of Edmund Kean. Poets therefore either hesitated to have their plays performed, like Byron, or had little success in the theatre. Browning must be counted among the latter group. The interest in isolated effects on the stage, however, also produced a type of text that is of particular interest for the history of the Dramatic Monologue. Anthologies of “beauties”2 include great passages from Shakespearean and other plays, which, in isolation, look very much like Dramatic Monologues. Finally, a third possible factor crucial to the form’s rise may be found in the monodrama, a type of play introduced by Rousseau3 in France. In the monodrama a figure, accompanied by music, expresses its emotions in a situation of personal crisis. The form was popular all over Europe. In England Robert Southey published several monodramas between 1793 and 1802; and in 1855, Tennyson’s Maud was referred to as a monodrama. Under these circumstances it is difficult to say with what kind of expectations Browning’s monologue would have been approached. To his audience, insofar as it was accustomed to take the “I” in the poem for the poet, it would have looked exceedingly strange. Insofar as the poem was associated with anthologies of “beauties” and monodramas it would have seemed fairly familiar. This situation offers us an opportunity to test different possibilities of how the text may have been meant to be experienced4, and to discuss how these may affect the interpretation of the poem. “My last Duchess” looks as if it could be read as a text to be performed by actors in front of an audience. The text implies scenery. There is a piece of furniture for the envoy to sit on; there is a painting of the late Duchess on the wall; the painting can be covered with a curtain; and there is at least one more objet d’art, a statue of Neptune taming a sea-horse. There is also some action. The Duke reveals the painting, and explains to the envoy, who sits down in front of it, why he had to get rid of his former wife. In the end they leave together, and the Duke insists that the envoy should walk beside, not, as convention would demand, behind him. None of this is indicated by stage-directions; Browning uses the Shakespearean method of controlling scenery, movement, and gesture by implying them in speech. The very first word of the poem is a demonstrative: That’s my last Duchess painted on the wall,5 (line1)

The text contains questions demanding some response, probably non-verbal, from the person addressed, e.g., Will’t please you sit and look at her? (5)

This close relationship between language and situation makes the tone of the Duke’s speech very lively and informal, an effect that is enhanced by the variation in sentence length, by elliptical syntax, by the Duke’s piling up of parallel clauses instead of forming complex sentences, by his vocabulary and by his groping for words: She had A heart – how shall I say? – too soon made glad, Too easily impressed; (21-23)

The heroic couplets, in which the speech is cast, do little to blur this effect of lively informality. They are handled with such unobtrusiveness and freedom that they hardly do more than intensify the effect of the Duke’s eloquence, authority, and self-confidence. Only in lines 49 to 53 the verse is very regular, which contributes to a change in tone that supports the point of the poem (see below, p. 71). 2

Engler, Balz. Reading and Listening. The Modes of Communicating Poetry and their Influence on the Texts. Bern: Francke Verlag, 1982. p. 67-110.

Although the part of the Duke offers material rich enough for an impressive performance, “My Last Duchess” cannot possibly be performed on stage. The text is obviously too short – performance would take no longer than three or four minutes;6 and into this short time so much material would have to be packed that the audience could hardly follow it. The kindhearted character of the Duchess is described, the function of the Duke’s partner is revealed, and these in turn are meant to illuminate the character and position of the Duke himself. Meanwhile, the allusions to persons and events must remain obscure even to an educated audience. The main problem in performance, however, would be presented by the envoy. He does not speak, but is referred to all the time. He would appear as an exceedingly pale and somewhat ridiculous figure, totally defined by the Duke’s words. Browning uses all his ingenuity to make it possible for the envoy to remain silent. The extreme comes in the Duke’s remark: [Strangers] seemed as they would ask me, if they durst, How such a glance came there; so, not the first Are you to turn and ask thus. (11-13)

Not only are gestures and movements recorded but also words, words we should expect to hear in performance. This somewhat odd procedure indicates that the scene cannot be meant to be staged; it confirms what the wealth of references to scenery and to action suggests. The envoy and the scenery do not help to constitute the meaning of the Duke’s speech, as they would in drama. On the contrary, it is the Duke’s speech that gives meaning to everything else; we see everything from a single point of view, his – a characteristic that the Dramatic Monologue shares with fictional texts. If “My Last Duchess” cannot be performed on stage, it may be that it can at least be recited in front of an audience. The conflict between the scene created in the Duke’s speech and the reciter on the platform would make this difficult, too. The tone of the Duke’s speech would invite some acting on the part of the performer, but as Geoffrey Crump has observed, the audience will then immediately feel the need for the partner’s presence (Crump 1964, p. 61). On the other hand, if all acting is avoided, the delivery will be relatively formal – a procedure in conflict with the presentation of the Duke in his speech. At the same time, the problem of allusiveness and compression is as serious in recital as in stage performance. Indeed, as Richard D.T. Hollister has observed, for a recital of the monologue to be successful, the speaker needs to introduce and explain the situation7 on which the poem is based, and thus, it may be argued, has to give away the point of the poem. Outside of the text, Browning only provides the title, which focuses our attention, and an indication of place. “My last Duchess” can only develop its full force if it is read in a book. Despite the difficulties of performance or recital, however, it is essential that one should imagine the scene on the stage of one’s mind. The poem may therefore be called a “closet drama,”8 in a sense that has nothing derogatory about it. The eloquence of the Duke’s imposing personality pulls the reader along, and to quite some extent the reader identifies with the addressee of the Duke’s speech. He learns about the Duke’s love of the arts, about his former wife, and may perhaps wonder about his pride and jealousy. Towards the end of the poem the reader experiences two shocks. He learns that the Duke has got rid of his wife (lines 45/46), and even more stunning that the Duke’s words have been addressed to the envoy of a future father-in-law (line 51). The effect of these two points on the reader would be lost if the situation in the poem were explained beforehand, but the effect is strong in the poem. The reader wonders why the Duke should have told all this to the envoy, what his motives are, and in general, what kind of person he is. These questions send the reader back to the text.9 3

Engler, Balz. Reading and Listening. The Modes of Communicating Poetry and their Influence on the Texts. Bern: Francke Verlag, 1982. p. 67-110.

Reading the poem again, the reader has changed his attitude towards it. He no longer tends to identify with the envoy, since he now knows who he is. Instead, the reader is trying to get an understanding of the Duke. He approaches the text in the way a detective might read the transcript of an incriminating tape. He re-reads and studies it in search of revealing contradictions and other clues, and by way of induction10 tries to arrive at certain conclusions about the Duke. The speech has become evidence – evidence of motives and intentions, of character.11 The motives and intentions of the Duke12 are the battleground for the critics of “My Last Duchess.” Some commentators believe that the Duke delivers his speech as a warning to be conveyed to his future wife.13 Others have objected that the Duke is more interested in obtaining the dowry than a submissive wife. If the envoy were to report this speech to the count’s daughter it were unlikely that either the dowry or the submissive wife would be forthcoming. Therefore, these critics take the Duke’s speech to reveal a lack of self-control (Sinfield 1972, p. 5). They argue that the Duke believes his egoistic carriage to be proper to his great nobility; or they contend that he is stupid or simply mad (Langbaum 1974, p. 79), and “does not realize that he has given himself away” (Jerman 1957, pp. 488-489) to the count’s emissary. Given this diversity of conclusions, a careful analysis of the external evidence is considered essential, and Browning scholars have spared no efforts in doing this, especially in trying to specify the historical events that may have served Browning as a source, starting from the only authorial note: “Ferrara,” following the title of the poem. The Duke is usually identified as Alfonso II, fifth Duke of Ferrara, who lived in the sixteenth century, his last Duchess would be a daughter of Cosimo de Medici named Lucrezia, who died under mysterious circumstances in 1561. Even the envoy has been identified, one Nikolaus Madruz,14 the emissary of Maximillian II, King of Austria. This knowledge, however, does not help us very much. Browning does not seem to have been after such historical accuracy. The two artists’ names that are mentioned – Frà Pandolf and Claus of Innsbruck – sound as if they were meant to be familiar to an educated audience; but both are fictional. Not even appeal to the author’s intentions helps us further. When Browning was asked what the Duke means by saying: “I gave commands,” (45) he replied: “Yes, I meant that the commands were that she be put to death,” but a moment later he added: “Or he might have had her shut up in a convent.”15 Thus, external evidence does not lead us anywhere, and we are again driven back to the text. In the end, the reader is forced to realize that his conclusions finally depend on the position he himself takes, in other words, that all his results will be relative. Browning’s “My Last Duchess” then invites two approaches. Though they are contradictory, they need not directly conflict with each other in the reader’s experience. Because the questing points are placed at the end of the poem, the approaches may follow each other in time. In one the reader is carried along; in the other he keeps his distance. In one he is moved by the lively and energetic speech of the Duke; in the other he tries to work out its implications. In one he lets himself be impressed by a personality; in the other he deals with a case. One approach is invited by the informal, even colloquial language, the other by the obscurity of the Duke’s motives. In one the language may be said to serve eloquence, in the other evidence. This distinction between two attitudes towards the text, between two ways of reading, is reflected in the interpretations of the poem. As we have seen, attempts to give definite reasons for the Duke’s behaviour fail. That path does not lead to an interpretation of the text. Robert Langbaum concludes that “when we have said all the objective things about Browning’s ‘My 4

Engler, Balz. Reading and Listening. The Modes of Communicating Poetry and their Influence on the Texts. Bern: Francke Verlag, 1982. p. 67-110.

Last Duchess,’ we will not have arrived at the meaning until we point out what can only be substantiated by an appeal to effect.” (Langbaum 1974, p. 76). In Langbaum’s view this is that moral judgment does not figure importantly in our response to the duke ... What interests us more than the duke’s wickedness is his immense attractiveness. His conviction of matchless superiority, his intelligence and bland amorality, his poise, his taste for art, his manners - ... these qualities overwhelm the envoy, causing him apparently to suspend judgment of the duke, for he raises no demur. The reader is no less overwhelmed. We suspend moral judgment because we prefer to participate in the duke’s power and freedom ... (Langbaum 1974, p. 77)

Here the Duke is seen as a Promethean Romantic hero, as heir to the “I” of the Romantic poetry of experience. Moral judgement is only important “as the thing suspended, as a measure of the price we pay for the privilege of appreciating to the full this extraordinary man.” (Langbaum 1974, p. 77). Philip Drew contradicts Langbaum’s view. He sees Browning’s poetry as “essentially a poetry which demands judgements of the reader and normally provides him with fairly plain hints as to what his judgement is expected to be.” (Drew 1970, p. 27). He summarizes Langbaum’s account of “My Last Duchess” and continues: If this is so, it is important that when we suspend moral judgement for the sake of reading the poem, this should mean not an anaesthetizing of the moral sense for the duration of the poem but a recognition that our acquaintance with the speaker depends on a provisional acceptance of his point of view, an acceptance which is continually revised and qualified by our judgements ...

Sympathy with the speaker does “not preclude a moral judgement of [him], just as we are able to love people and judge them.” (Drew 1970, p. 28). The difference between Langbaum’s and Drew’s interpretations is obviously based on different ways of reading the poem. Langbaum reads it as an example of eloquence, and it is no coincidence that he comes very close to identifying the readers’s position with that of the silent envoy. Drew’s attitude, on the other hand, is more distanced. His approach fuses Langbaum’s reading with the analytic one associated with the term evidence.16 It is significant that he rejects Langbaum’s argument concerning the acquiescence of the envoy by insisting that “this is not, of course, the same as transcending the reader’s moral sense.” (Drew 1970, p. 28). Both readings are invited by “My Last Duchess” and neither brings out its full force. Langbaum over-emphasizes the reader’s attitude towards the poem as eloquence over against evidence; Drew minimizes the difference between the two attitudes. But it is the tension between the two on which the effect of the poem depends. First the reader is impressed by the personality of the Duke, and by the richness of his life; then the revelation of the major dramatic points causes the reader to reconsider the figure from a more distanced point of view, to try to find out the truth about the Duke, and to judge him. The tension between sympathy and judgement is thus closely related to two ways of reading the text, pacing – adapted to the Duke’s eloquence – and study. This example shows us how the interpretation of a text is related to the process of experiencing it, and how conflicting ways of experience may create tensions that are essential to an understanding of the text. These tensions will appear again in the following chapters – in a radical form, however, which instead of enhancing the experience may disturb or destroy it.


Engler, Balz. Reading and Listening. The Modes of Communicating Poetry and their Influence on the Texts. Bern: Francke Verlag, 1982. p. 67-110.

9. Exploding Meanings: On the Poetry of G.M. Hopkins In any discussion of how poetry should be experienced, the case of Gerard Manley Hopkins must be of particular interest. More than any other English poet he insisted that his poems be listened to; at the same time most of them are so difficult and condensed that they demand prolonged study. In examining the conflict between these two ways of experiencing his poems, I shall begin with Hopkins’s own views on the subject. Using the types of evidence presented earlier I shall then show how the clash between listening and study is reflected in the texts of his poems, in particular in the sonnet “Harry Ploughman.” Finally, I shall have a look at the critical reception of Hopkins and show how both Bridges’ difficulties with his friend’s poetry and its sudden modernist fame are related to the conflicting ways of experience the texts suggest. As his criticism of Dixon’s poetry in a letter to Patmore shows17, Hopkins was aware of the difference between listening and visual reading: Canon Dixon has a hateful and incurable fancy for rhyming Lord to awed, here to idea, etc., and, what takes away all excuse, he nevertheless uses the ordinary licence of rhyming s’s proper or sharp to s’s flat or z’s, th proper to dh = th and so on.18

Hopkins seems to imply that rhymes may be correct either visually or aurally (in Standard English), but that a poet must not use the two norms beside each other. In his next letter to Patmore he clarifies his view: About rhymes – to imperfect rhymes my objection is my own and personal only; to what are called cockney rhymes with suppressed r’s I object cum communi criticorum, though they have Keats’s (in this matter) slight and boyish authority; but what I am clear about is that it is altogether inexcusable to combine the two sorts, the defence of either being the overthrow of the other. (22-VIII-1883, Abbott, Further Letters, 19562, p. 297).

Hopkins is aware of his own craft in the context of reading and listening. He does not reject visual reading; he takes it for granted as a common way of experiencing poetry. However, he considers his own poetry different in kind from that of his contemporaries, and for it mere reading is not enough. In a letter to Patmore he writes: “Such verse as I do compose is oral, made away from paper, and I put it down with repugnance”;19 and to Robert Bridges: “My verse is less to be read than heard, as I have told you before; it is oratorical, that is the rhythm is so.” (21-VIII-1877, Abbott, Letters to Bridges, 19552, p. 46). These remarks leave little doubt as to how Hopkins wanted his poems to be experienced. Nonetheless, the qualification concerning rhythm is striking, and similar qualifications are implied in many of his references to the experience of his poetry. Hopkins distinguishes rhythm and sound from other elements of the text quite explicitly in his lecture notes on “Rhythm and the Other Structural Parts of Rhetoric – Verse”: “Verse is speech having a marked figure, order / of sounds independent of meaning and such as can be shifted from one word or words to others without changing.” (House 1959, p. 267). To Coventry Patmore he writes: Some matter and meaning is essential to [poetry] but only as an element necessary to support and employ the shape which is contemplated for its own sake ... Poetry is in fact speech only employed to carry the inscape of speech for the inscape’s sake. (House 1959, p. 289).

– where we may understand inscape as “pattern,” “design,” “unity.” The experience of the music of speech-sounds in Hopkins depends on the text being heard, but the meaning of the text cannot be understood in listening. The meanings are “dark at first reading” (8-IX-1879, Abbott, Letters to Bridges, 19552, p. 90), but explode when once made 6

Engler, Balz. Reading and Listening. The Modes of Communicating Poetry and their Influence on the Texts. Bern: Francke Verlag, 1982. p. 67-110.

out. Hopkins’s friends often reminded him of the problem of obscurity.20 In a late letter to Bridges he writes: To return to composition for a moment: what I want there, to be more intelligible, smoother, and less singular, is an audience. I think the fragments I wrote of St. Winifred, which was meant to be played, were not hard to understand.21

This shows that Hopkins ascribes the difficulty of his texts, in part at least, to a lack of pressure from an audience. At the same time, Hopkins indirectly concedes in this passage that most of his poems ware not intended for performance. Hopkins had no solution for the conflict between the demands made on the recipient by the music of his sounds, and those made by the obscurity of his meaning. His texts, that is, show elements of both aural and visual poetry. Had his poems been intended for visual experience we would expect Hopkins to be radical enough to make full use of visual elements like typography in his texts. But even a cursory glance at his poems shows that his typography is traditional. The quatrains and sestets of the sonnets are separated by blank lines. There is some indentation, which in stichic verse may mark new paragraphs; but often the continuation of an over-long verse on an additional indented line disturbs any visual pattern which may have appeared. The typography is not entirely traditional, however. In a head-note to “The Wreck of the Deutschland” Hopkins defines his use of indentation Be pleased, reader, since the rhythm in which the following poem is written is new, strongly to mark the beats of the measure, according to the number belonging to each of the eight lines of the stanza, as the indentation guides the eye ... ; not disguising the rhythm and rhyme, as some readers do, who treat poetry as if it were prose fantastically written to rule (which they mistakenly think the perfection of reading), but laying on the beats too much stress rather than too little. (Gardner and Mackenzie 1967; 1970, p. 255/56).

This means that the printed text is meant to serve in part as a score for performance (see above, pp. 29-30). Hopkins also uses diacritical and related marks to guide performance. In a letter to Bridges he explains the background of this usage: I do myself think, I may say, that it would be an immense advance in notation (so to call it) in writing as the record of speech, to distinguish the subject, verb, object and in general to express the construction to the eye; as is done already partly in punctuation by everybody, partly in capitals by the Germans, more fully in accentuation by the Hebrews. And I daresay it will come.

But he ends on a despairing note: “It would, I think, not do for me: it seems a confession of unintelligibility.”22 We have an interesting example of this kind of notation in “The Windhover”: Brute beauty and valour and act, oh, air, pride, plume, here Buckle! AND the fire that breaks from thee then, a billion Times told lovelier ... (Gardner and Mackenzie 1967; 1970, p. 69).

It is significant for the approaches invited by Hopkin’s text that AND has been interpreted both in terms of how it sounds and of what it means. Gardner considers it “a curious expedient ... to point out that although the word counts in the scansion merely as a slack syllable, in the actual reading aloud it must be pronounced with speed and stress” (Gardner 1966, p. 99-100), an interpretation that is supported by an earlier version (Gardner and Mackenzie 1967; 1970, p. 267) of the text which has “And”. Schoder, on the other hand, offers another interpretation which Gardner accepts in the notes to his edition (Gardner and Mackenzie 1967; 1970, p. 268) of Hopkins’s poems: “The very way in which ‘AND’ is 7

Engler, Balz. Reading and Listening. The Modes of Communicating Poetry and their Influence on the Texts. Bern: Francke Verlag, 1982. p. 67-110.

emphasized reveals its importance in the development of the thought. It is the ‘and’ of consequence, equivalent to ‘and as a certain result’.” (Schoder 1949, p. 298). The difference between the two interpretations reflects that between the rhythmical-oratorical and grammatical-logical uses of punctuation, and that between aural and visual texts. Given Hopkins’s views on how his poetry should be experienced, one may be surprised to find purely visual effects in his poetry. Such effects indeed occur. In “Carrion Comfort” he has the lines why wouldst thou rude on me Thy wring-world right foot rock? (Gardner and Mackenzie 1967; 1970, p. 99).

Wring, the meaning of which is not supported by its context, is only visually distinguished from ring, the word that in listening is suggested by the alliteration with right. Wring, however, alliterates visually with world. Such visual alliteration is fairly frequent in Hopkins, and, once the temptation to rule it out on principle is overcome, its effect may be quite striking. Often, alliterating consonants are followed by vowels spelled identically but pronounced differently. In “The Windhover” (Gardner and Mackenzie 1967; 1970, p. 69), for example, we find the passages: daylight’s dauphin, dapple-dawn-drawn (line 2)

and gall themselves, and gash gold-vermilion. (line 14)

In some cases the repetition of letters, as against sounds, seems to be so insistent as to make coincidence unlikely. Line 12 of “The Windhover” runs No wonder of it: shéer plód makes plough down sillion.

It is followed by a line which does not contain the letter o. Of course, it cannot be the shape of the letter o alone that creates an effect when being repeated, but there is also a sound generally associated with it (see above p. 35) – the vowel in plod the repetition of which may express the monotony of man’s daily toil. Once we admit such effects, it is clear that Hokins’s texts are not only scores for performance, but offer – in the terms introduced in chapter 4 – visual comments on the text to be listened to, sometimes even contradicting it. In considering how Hopkins’s poetry should be experienced, the criterion of length (see above, pp. 25-26) yields interesting results. All his major poems, with the exception of “The Wreck of the Deutschland,” are short. The typical form of his mature poetry is the sonnet, which is short enough to allow for study at a single event. The sonnets are not, as a rule, arranged to be experienced in sequence.23 Hopkins was aware of the problems that the length and obscurity of “The Wreck of the Deutschland” presented. He advised Bridges: If it is obscure do not bother yourself with the meaning but pay attention to the best and most intelligible stanzas, as the two last of each part and the narrative of the wreck. (21-VIII-1877, Abbott, Letters to Bridges, 19552, p. 46).

And a few months later he wrote, somewhat impatient about his friend’s lack of understanding: Granted that it needs study and is obscure, for indeed I was not over-desirous that the meaning of all should be quite clear, at least unmistakeable, you might, without the effort that to make it all out would seem to have


Engler, Balz. Reading and Listening. The Modes of Communicating Poetry and their Influence on the Texts. Bern: Francke Verlag, 1982. p. 67-110. required, have nevertheless read it so that lines and stanzas should be left in the memory and superficial impressions deepened, and have liked some without exhausting all. I am sure I have read and enjoyed pages of poetry that way. (13-V-1878, Abbott, Letters to Bridges, 19552, p. 50).

In other words, Hopkins suggests that Bridges should first be content with the experience of isolated passages, and put off a full experience of the text until after a later study of it, something Bridges was obviously not ready to do. Study is often demanded by Hopkins’s vocabulary, his choice of archaic and dialectal words, his use of familiar words in unfamiliar meanings, his neologisms, and his unusual compounds. Study is demanded by his syntax, too. Fragmentation and dislocation often entail obscurity, whatever the words themselves may signify (Baker 1967, p. 87).24 William E. Baker, in his study of syntax in English poetry, has observed: Hopkins contorts or cuts off sentences more often than not ... Some of his fragments are more complex, more elaborate, than most sentences. Some of the dislocations are unprecedented and involve such odd innovations as the interruption of single words or phrase patterns by displaced modifying elements. (Baker 1967, p. 87).

Although brevity and difficulty both suggest a visual experience, Hopkins’s sonnets also show characteristics which we would rather expect in aural texts. Thus his sonnets have clearly marked beginnings and endings. Many of them - e.g., “Spring,” “The Windhover,” “That Nature is a Heraclitean Fire” - begin with the description of natural phenomena, i. e. of God’s creation. Man, weighed down by original sin, is then introduced, often in stark contrast to nature. In the last part, the salvation offered by Christ is presented. The poems may be considered public addresses25 or sermons with a rhetorical structure. The priest celebrates the beauty of God’s creation, contrasts man’s fallen state to it, and then reminds his congregation of the redemption offered through Christ. This pattern, it should be noted, has also been compared to the meditations prescribed in St. Ignatius’s Spiritual Exercises.26 These exercises consist of three preludes, the meditation proper, and a colloquy with God the Father, Christ, or Mary. In “That Nature is a Heraclitean Fire” the description of nature in the poem has been taken to correspond to the second prelude of the meditation, in which a vivid and detailed picture has to be imagined of the place where the story meditated on is located. This is followed by a meditation on the mortality of man “Dust” is his fate – and by a renewed meditation on mortality in view of Christ’s sacrifice and resurrection (Walliser 1977, p. 122-124). The comparison between Ignatian meditation and the poems only partly succeeds because the poem does not end in the prescribed colloquy with God.27 The reading of Hopkins’s sonnets as meditations does, however, remind us of the conflicting demands that his texts make. Hopkins’s poems indeed require that we dwell on words and phrases in order to see what they stand for. Hopkins’s poems then are difficult to experience. They show characteristics both of aural and visual poetry. The text is presented as a score, the music of sounds is at play, the text has a beginning and an ending. At the same time the syntax, mainly due to fragmentation, and the choice of words, make the texts difficult; and they are, as a rule, short. This dichotomy is illustrated by the late sonnet “Harry Ploughman,” a poem of which Hopkins himself thought highly.28 He seems to have been aware nonetheless that he had reached in it limits beyond which it was impossible to go. When he sent the sonnet to Bridges he added the note: I will enclose the sonnet on Harry Ploughman, in which burden-lines (they might be recited by a chorus) are freely used: there is in this very heavily loaded sprung rhythm a call for their employment. The rhythm of this sonnet, which is altogether for recital, not for perusal (as by nature verse should be) is very highly studied. From much considering it I can no longer gather any impression of it; perhaps it will strike you as intolerably violent and artificial. (11-X-1887, Abbott, Letters to Bridges, 19552, p. 263).


Engler, Balz. Reading and Listening. The Modes of Communicating Poetry and their Influence on the Texts. Bern: Francke Verlag, 1982. p. 67-110.

And about a month later he wrote: I want Harry Ploughman to be a vivid figure before the mind’s eye; if he is not that the sonnet fails. The difficulties are of syntax no doubt. Dividing a compound word by a clause sandwiched into it [see line 15] was a desperate deed, I feel, and I do not feel that it was an unquestionable success. (6-XI-1887, Abbott, Letters to Bridges, 19552, p. 265).

As the printed editions of the poem do not reproduce Hopkins’s diacritical marks they are here supplied from manuscript;29 they indicate how the text should be performed. Hard as hurdle arms, with a broth of goldish flue Breathed round; the rack of ribs; the scooped flank; lank Rope-over thigh; knee-nave; and barrelled shank Heád and foót, shouldér and shánk (5) By a grey eye’s heed steered well, one crew, fall to; Stand at stress. Each limb’s barrowy brawn, his thew That onewhere curded, onewhere sucked or sank Soared ór sánk -, Though as a beechbole firm, finds his, as at a rollcall, rank (10) And features, in flesh, whát deed he each must do His sinew-service where do. He leans to it, Harry bends, look. Back, elbow, and liquid waist In him, all quail to the wallowing o’ the plough. ’S cheek crimsons; curls Wag or crossbridle, in a wind lifted, windlaced See his wind- lilylocks -laced; (15) Churlsgrace too, child of Amansstrength, how it hangs or hurls Them - broad ín bluff híde his frówning féet lashed! ráced With, along them, cragiron under and cold furls With-a-fountain’s shining-shot furls. (Gardner and Mackenzie 1967; 1970, p. 104).

Hopkins explains these diacritial marks as follows: (1) ∧ (2) {


strong stress; which does not differ much from pause or dwell on a syllable, which need not however have the metrical stress; the metrical stress, marked in doubtful cases only; quiver or circumflexion, making one syllable nearly two, most used with diphthongs and liquids; between syllables slurs them into one;


over three or more syllables gives them the time of one half foot;

(7) ∼

the outride; under one or more syllables makes them extrametrical: a slight pause follows as if the voice were silently making its way back to the high-road of the verse.30

(3) ´ (4) ~

Beyond this notational system the music of sounds also suggests that the text should be listened to. Before saying anything about verbal music, it should perhaps be pointed out how little attention this phenomenon has received - not only in Hopkins criticism but also in literary criticism in general. Critics are usually content with treating sound as purely supportive of meaning; they take it for granted that the sound should seem an echo to the sense. This may be due to a lack of tools to deal with this aspect of poetry; but it also reflects a preoccupation with meaning - a preoccupation that is problematic in texts that the poet insists should be listened to, but in which the meanings are so complex as to require study. In my analysis of the sound-music31 in “Harry Ploughman” I restrict myself to the first syntactic group of the text, and deliberately resist the temptation to link sound with meaning. Hard as hurdle arms, with a broth of goldish flue Breathed round;


Engler, Balz. Reading and Listening. The Modes of Communicating Poetry and their Influence on the Texts. Bern: Francke Verlag, 1982. p. 67-110.

All the consonants are voiced, with the exception of the two /h/ at the beginning of the line, /T/ in /brcT/ and the cluster /S/ /f/ in /gEuldiS flu:/. All these voiceless consonants are fricatives. Thus there are no abrupt onsets and offglides - in the case of /PA:mz/, the “slur” excludes an abrupt onset. All the stressed vowels are either long monophthongs, or diphthongs, again with one exception, the /c/ in /brcT/. Between /hA:d/ and /bri:UDd/ the quality of the stressed vowels gradually moves from full and dark (low back in articulatory terms) to pointed and bright (high front). This movement is stressed by the vowels following the alliteration /br/: first /c/ (short middle back) then /i:/ (long high front). As to rhythm, stressed and unstressed syllables alternate in the first line, with the exception of /'hE:dl 'A:mz wiDE/, a variation which emphasizes /A:mz/ (and thus also the /A:/assonance with /hA:d/), and /brcT/ which follows the two unstressed syllables, and forms, as we have seen, an alliteration with /bri:Dd/. Thus, rhythm helps to emphasize the progression of vowels from /A:/ to /c/ and then to /i:/. The intricacy of patterning in this first syntactic group is typical of the sonnet. It is not only the verbal music and Hopkins’s notation that suggest the poem should be performed. The text shows another trait which is common in aural poetry. The short, additional lines, which Hopkins calls burdens (lines 4, 8, 11, 15, 19) create a certain amount of semantic redundancy which facilitates the understanding of the spoken text (see p. 39). These, however, are the only instances of semantic redundancy in the poem; otherwise, we are confronted with problems we cannot possibly solve as we listen. Several words and forms may at first seem ambiguous. Rack in line 2 may refer to a framework on which things can be placed, or it may be a verbal noun referring to stretching or torturing. The ’s after limb in line 6 may be the shortened form of is or a Saxon genitive. Features in line 10 may be a verb or a noun. It is not clear what he in line 12 and his32 in lines 9 and 11 refer to. Lashed in line 17 may mean “hit” or “fastened.” Performance does not help much to answer these questions, as the example of features may show. In his edition Bridges explains it as a verb33, and this may be brought out by a pause after rank. Hopkins does not indicate this pause in his notation; we may have to take the line-ending as marking a pause. If that reading is allowed, then curls in line 13 could also be taken as a verb, parallel to crimsons; but this is clearly wrong. Ambiguities may be resolved by the context, but here the context often consists of words which themselves need elucidation. Gardner and Mackenzie’s edition, for example, explains the following words (Gardner and Mackenzie 1967; 1970, p. 292):34 knee-nave (1.3), curded (1.7), -bridle (1.14), churlsgrace (1.16), frowning (1.17). The syntactical relationships are not easy to understand either, and the difficulty is not limited to the tmesis wind- lilylocks -laced in line 15. The last four lines (16-19), for example, have been called “a passage of incomparable tortuousness.” (McChesney 1968, p. 170). According to McChesney (1968, p. 170) it in line 16 refers back to churlsgrace, them in lines 17 and 18 forward to furls. Gardner, however, links them in line 17 with feet. In any case, the difficulty results from dislocation and fragmentation (Baker 1967, p. 87).35 The noun feet, for example, appears only long after references to it; it is further postponed by adjectival groups (line 17). In these lines we also find one of the passages in which Hopkins creates an effect which only succeeds in visual reading. Of Amansstrength means and has to be pronounced of a man’s strength (McChesney 1968, p. 170) (as Hopkins’s notation indicates, strength, too, carries stress). But the capital letter and the fact that the words are not separated by spaces create a personification; according to McChesney it should be understood as “like elemental Man or a primitive Norse God.” (McChesney 1968, p. 170). The reading demanded by such a text is extremely arduous, and William T. Noon’s account of the experience probably applies to most readers of Hopkins: 11

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The reader of a Hopkins poem ... finds himself sometimes at a loss to make out the meaning of the words. There is an impression of vitality and masculinity created by the language, but the impact of the idea is not at first felt. You patiently work out the collocation of phrases, you look up the meaning of unfamiliar or uncertain words, you determine the exact sense of other emphatic words in the passage or poem. (Noon 1949, p. 264).36

These difficulties make it impossible to experience the sound and the meaning of a poem simultaneously. The two experiences have to follow each other, and the order of their sequence will have a bearing on both. If we listen to the poem without reading it we get the full music of the sounds, but only a suggestion of the meanings. In analyzing the meanings after this we will be guided by the effects of sound, rhythm, and speed. If, however, we first analyze the poem we will appreciate the richness of its meanings, but the music of its sounds will only be faint. The sounds will remain something thought of as added, or mistaken as an illustration of meaning. This split between sound and meaning in Hopkins’s poetry is reflected in the reception of his poetry.37 The strange history of its sudden spring to fame in the thirties and forties of our century has often been commented on. Factors as diverse as Hopkins’s status as both a convert and a Jesuit, and the rejection of Georgian poetry by Modernists played prominent roles in his establishment. Here I shall concentrate on the question of how the opinions of Hopkins’s critics are related to their experience of his poems. I restrict myself to the period between 1918 and 1948, which comprises one swing of the pendulum38 between the two extremes of Hopkins criticism. When Robert Bridges published his edition of Hopkins’s poems in 1918, he wrote an introduction to the notes that Hopkins’s admirers find it hard to forgive him for. Bridges criticizes Hopkins’s obscurity. He could not understand why his friends found his sentences so difficult: he would never have believed that, among all the ellipses and liberties of his grammar, the one chief cause is his habitual omission of the relative pronoun ... The grammar should expose and enforce the meaning, not have to be determined by the meaning. (Gardner and Mackenzie 1967; 1970, p. 241).

Another source of obscurity are the homophones: In aiming at condensation he neglects the need that there is for care in the placing of words that are grammatically ambiguous. English swarms with words that have one identical form for substantive, adjective, and verb; and such a word should never be so placed as to allow of any doubt as to what part of speech it is used for; because such ambiguity or momentary uncertainty destroys the force of the sentence. (Gardner and Mackenzie 1967; 1970, p. 242).

Bridges’ emphasis on the clarifying function of syntax indicates that he expects poetry to be understood, whether listened to or read continuously. Bridges gives reasons for Hopkins’s “Oddity and Obscurity” (Gardner and Mackenzie 1967; 1970, p. 240): It was an idiosyncrasy of this student’s mind to push everything to its logical extreme, and to take pleasure in a paradoxical result; as may be seen in his prosody where a simple theory seems to be used only as a basis for unexampled liberty ... One would expect to find in his work the force of emphatic condensation and the magic of melodious expression, both in their extreme forms. (Gardner and Mackenzie 1967; 1970, p. 243).

It is Bridges’ merit to have pointed out the dichotomy of sound and meaning in Hopkins’s poems. Being cautiously reformist, he cannot quite approve of Hopkins’s bold ventures in either area. John Middleton Murry, in an essay published in 1919, echoes Bridges’ views, but places more emphasis on Hopkins’s sound-music: “He aimed at complex internal harmonies, at a 12

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counterpoint of rhythm.”39 This led him to formalism and rigidity, “and in this case the rigidity is bound to overwhelm the sense.” (Murry 1919 in Bottrall 1975, p. 51). Middleton Murry concludes from Hopkins’s use of sound and rhythm that the communication of thought was seldom the dominant impulse of his creative moment, and it is curious how simple his thought often proves to be when the obscurity of his language has been penetrated. Musical elaboration is the chief characteristic of his work, and for this reason what seem to be the strangest of his experiments are his most essential achievement. (Murry 1919 in Bottrall 1975, p. 52).

Like Bridges, Middleton Murry sees a conflict between music and meaning in Hopkins’s poems, and he, too, judges them as works to be listened to or read continuously. Unlike Bridges, he plays down the importance of meaning, and emphasizes the musical qualities of Hopkins’s poems. Approaches to Hopkins’s poetry changed radically after the publication of I. A. Richards’s essay “Gerard Hopkins”40 in 1926, an essay so influential that it “replaced Bridges’ critical preface as the dominant evaluation of Hopkins’ work.” (Bender 1966, p. 14). It is no surprise that it should have been I. A. Richards who started Hopkins’s rise to fame. His approach reflects the relationship between the recipient and the literary artefact suited to modernist poetry (see above, p. 64). Richards praises the very things Bridges deplored. He defends Hopkins’s obscurity on general grounds. Modern verse is perhaps more often too lucid than too obscure. It passes through the mind (or the mind passes over it) with too little friction and too swiftly for the development of the response. Poets who can compel slow reading have thus an initial advantage. The effort, the heightened attention, may brace the reader, and that particular intellectual thrill which celebrates the step-by-step conquest of understanding may irradiate and awaken other mental activities more essential to poetry. It is a good thing to make the light-footed reader work for what he gets ... We should be clear (both as readers and writers) whether a given poem is to be judged at its first reading or at its nth. (Bottrall 1975, p. 69/70).

This clearly shows that Richards is of the opinion that poetry should primarily be read slowly, haltingly, or even that it should be studied.41 Indeed, he speaks of “the state of intellectual enquiry, the construing, interpretative, frame of mind” (Bottrall 1975, p. 70) required in the reading of poetry. Listening still has a role to play, if a small one. Speaking of “The Windhover” Richards says that “unless we begin by listening to it, [it] may only bewilder us.” (Bottrall 1975, p. 72). This listening has no direct relation to understanding the poem: “I have to confess that [it] only became all right for me, in the sense of perfectly clear and explicit, intellectually satisfying as well as emotionally moving, after many readings and several days of reflection.” (Bottrall 1975, p. 72). In Seven Types of Ambiguity (1930)42 William Empson makes full - often too full - use of the possibilities offered by Richards’s approach. Ambiguity now becomes one of the main virtues of Hopkins’s poetry. These ambiguities make it difficult to read the poems aloud: You may be intended, while reading a line in one way, to be conscious that it could be read in another; so that if it is to be read aloud it must be read twice; or you may be intended to read it in some way different from the colloquial speech-movement so as to imply both ways at once. Different styles of reading poetry aloud use these methods in different proportions. (Bottrall 1975, p. 87)

Hopkins’s “Spring and Fall,” for example, “shows the first case being forcibly included in the second.” (Bottrall 1975, p. 87). The last quoted sentence probably means that the speechmovement, which is colloquial, should be understood as being at the same time different from colloquial speech-movement if the ambiguity is to be brought out. The suggestion is as ingenious as it is self-defeating. Empson gives as examples lines 9 and 12/13 from “Spring and Fall”: 13

Engler, Balz. Reading and Listening. The Modes of Communicating Poetry and their Influence on the Texts. Bern: Francke Verlag, 1982. p. 67-110.

MÁRGARÉT, áre you gríeving Over Goldengrove unleaving? Leáves, líke the things of man, you With your fresh thoughts care for, can you? Áh! ás the heart grows older It will come to such sights colder By and by, nor spare a sigh Though worlds of wanwood leafmeal lie; 9 And yet you will weep and know why. Now no matter, child, the name: Sórrow’s spríngs áre the same. 12 Nor mouth had, no nor mind, expressed 13 What heart heard of, ghost guessed: It ís the blight man was born for, It is Margaret you mourn for. (Gardner and Mackenzie 1967; 1970, p. 88/89).

Empson distinguishes several meanings in line 9. You will weep may mean “you insist on weeping, now or later” or “you will weep in the future.” Know may be an infinitive following will as weep is; or it may be a present tense form (“you already know why you weep”) or an imperative (“listen and I shall tell you”). I. A. Richards, who discusses this poem in Practical Criticism43, expresses the opinion that the underscoring of will removes the ambiguity: will is not an auxiliary but the present tense of to will. Empson rather sees the ambiguity intensified by the emphasis on will. It indicates that the main meaning of the word must be “insist upon.” But the future meaning also can be imposed upon this latter way of reading the line if it is the tense which is being stressed, if it insists on the contrast between the two sorts of meaning, or including know with weep, between the two sorts of knowledge. Now it is useful that the tense should be stressed at this crucial point, because it is these two contrasts and their unity which make the point of the poem. (Bottrall 1975, p. 88).

The two sorts of knowledge are the intuitive and the intellectual. According to Empson these two are embodied in the ambiguities in lines 12/13, “which may help to show they are really there in the line about will.” (Bottrall 1975, p. 88). Mouth and mind may belong to Margaret or to somebody else; what heart heard of goes both forward and backward, i.e. it is the object of either expressed or guessed; and ghost in its grammatical position “means both the profundities of the unconsciousness and the essentially conscious spirit.” It “brings to mind both immortality and a dolorous haunting of the grave.” (Bottrall 1975, p. 88). Empson’s interpretation, especially of lines 12/13, is ingenious - perhaps over-ingenious.44 For the argument of this study, however, another point is more important. Empson’s interpretations often make the adequate communication of the meaning by way of the human voice impossible; various senses can only come out in study. One of the very phenomena which Bridges criticized in Hopkins’s poetry - syntactical ambiguity - becomes a mark of its greatness. Words and phrases which can be ambiguous are taken as central points, as nodes, around which the poem develops its meaning. One of the most interesting - and strangest - readings of Hopkins’s poems made possible by Richards’s and Empson’s approach is that of W. A. M. Peters, published in 1948. He writes: If it is true that great poetry never yields all its beauty at a first reading, we do well to realize that this applies to the poems of Hopkins in a very special manner. Precisely because he inscaped the words, they could never become mere parts of a whole, of the line or the stanza; they retained their own individuality as well. And in order fully to understand what every word, as inscaped by the poet, contributes to the meaning of the line, many readings are necessary ... Each word should be allowed to assert itself in our minds with its complex of sounds. By concentrating on the music of the word in this way, we shall be reminded of other sounds and these will cast round the word a melody that greatly adds to the expression of the experience. (Peters 1948, p. 142).


Engler, Balz. Reading and Listening. The Modes of Communicating Poetry and their Influence on the Texts. Bern: Francke Verlag, 1982. p. 67-110.

It is difficult to see what exactly Peters means by “the music of the word.” He may be thinking of onomatopoetic effects, or of words of a similar sound, whose meanings may then be related to that of the word that called up the association. In any case, the relationship will be one between several meanings rather than sounds, creating intensity rather than extension (see above, pp.50-51). The melody that is “cast around the word” is not an aural, but a visual one.45 Peters lists a great number of homophones which Hopkins uses; he considers all the possible meanings to be pertinent all the time.46 He also discusses combinations of letters, in dealing, for example, with these lines from “The Loss of the Eurydice”: But his eye no cliff, no coast or Mark makes in the rivelling snowstorm. (Gardner and Mackenzie 1967; 1970, p. 74, lines 67/68).

Peters comments: Is there a suggestion of ‘ark’? or perhaps better, was there such a suggestion contained in the lines for the sensitive ear of Hopkins? ... I grant that normally ‘mark’ does not call up ‘ark’; but if we observe that Hopkins could separate the ‘m’ from ‘mark’ and use it as the final element of his rhyme-group ‘st-or-m’, this example may grow less incredible and admittedly possible. (Peters 1984, p. 169).

This is indeed a striking example. It only works in visual reading; it is improbable that Peters’s interpretation could be reflected in performance since this would presuppose that the ending of the line is not marked at all, in spite of what Hopkins says (see above, p. 77), and that or still carries as much stress as storm. Perhaps most important, the words storm and ark stand isolated, as two nodes of meaning - and the syllable coa is left as an independent unit which does not make sense. Peters gives another example from the same poem: And flockbells off the aerial [my italics] Downs’ forefalls beat to the burial. (Gardner and Mackenzie 1967; 1970, p. 72, lines 7/8).

He sees the word soft incorporated in the first line - an obvious indication that he (unlike Hopkins) works only with the signs he sees on the page, not the sounds they stand for. The last sound of flockbells is voiced, the letter t at the beginning of the part of the transcription of the phoneme /D/. Peters’s reading of Hopkins is an extreme case of a purely visual approach, of one that takes study to be the only correct way of experiencing Hopkins’s poems. His interpretations only work if we look selectively at single words and even single letters. As such his reading forms a total contrast to those of Bridges and Middleton Murry, for whose evaluation of Hopkins’s achievement clarity and the music of sounds were decisive. The conflict between the judgements of Hopkins’s poetry reviewed here is not simply a reflection of developments in critical theory. It has its roots in Hopkins’s poetry itself. It is no coincidence that his poetry was instrumental in establishing Modernism as a critical force, and that still today Hopkins is considered a poet of the twentieth rather than the nineteenth century. The conflicting judgements are the result of a conflict in the demands that Hopkins’s poetry makes on the recipient, a conflict apparent in Hopkins’s programmatic remarks, in the texts of his poems, and in the way they were received. Sound, rhythm, and rhetorical structure demand that his poems should be listened to; difficulty demands study. The two experiences do not complement each other. Study makes it difficult for the music of words to be heard. Listening to the harmony of sounds may easily result in disregarding meaning. Because Hopkins tried to achieve both supreme harmony of sound and supreme condensation of 15

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meaning, he made it impossible for the recipient to experience his texts in a single adequate way. We may therefore expect his achievement to remain a matter of controversy in criticism as it has been in the past.


Engler, Balz. Reading and Listening. The Modes of Communicating Poetry and their Influence on the Texts. Bern: Francke Verlag, 1982. p. 67-110.

10. Luminous Details: On the Poetry of Ezra Pound Both the shortest and the longest major poems in English of our century were composed by the same author. Ezra Pound wrote “In a Station of the Metro,” which, including its title, runs to twenty-seven syllables, as well as The Cantos, which, though unfinished, has a total of about 23,000 lines.47 These texts are the obvious examples to discuss the problem of a poem’s length, which I raised in chapter 3. I am going to deal first with the short poem, and the views that made it possible, and shall then turn to the problems that arise if a long poem is attempted along similar lines. The term “Imagisme” was coined by Ezra Pound, but he did not start the “movement” so named. T. E. Hulme, “the ringleader,”48 first proposed its programme in “A Lecture on Modern Poetry.” Among its points was the contention that “this new verse resembles sculpture rather than music; it appeals to the eye rather than to the ear.”49 He championed free verse, because, being less musical than traditional verse, it does not distract from the visual impression. I quite admit that poetry intended to be recited must be written in regular metre, but I contend that this [new] method of recording impressions by visual images in distinct lines does not require the old system. (Hulme in Roberts 1938, p. 267).

Hulme denied that the basic material of verse is sound. It is image and not sound. [The new poetry] builds up a plastic image which it hands over to the reader, whereas the old art endeavoured to influence him physically by the hypnotic effect of rhythm. (Hulme in Roberts 1938, p. 270).

This is a programme for poetry to be read on the page, not only because of its rejection of rhythm and sound, but also because the single line is intended to be read as a unit (see above, p. 46), and because it “hands over” - a curiously vague expression - “a plastic image.” Since this programme has only negative things to say about the aural and sequential characteristics of language, it cannot, as a whole, be helpful to a practising poet, even though he may feel attracted by some of its implications, and above all by its concreteness and conciseness. He will, however, have to find solutions of his own to a variety of problems where Hulme does not offer any practicable guidance, especially problems of sound and rhythm. In the texts that Pound wrote as a propagandist for the Imagist Movement, in particular in “A Few Don’ts by an Imagiste,” he echoes Hulme. He urges conciseness. The very definition of the Image, the heart of Pound’s doctrine, seems to be based on brevity: “An ‘Image’ is that which presents an intellectual and emotional complex in an instant of time” [my italics].50 Pound emphasizes the immediacy of the “handing over” of the image, but he does not restrict the image to a visual impression. He rather relates it to the reactions, intellectual and emotional, of the author and of the reader to whom the image is presented. Pound also has much to say about the music of verse. He offers support for Flint’s doctrine: “As regarding rhythm: to compose in sequence of the musical phrase, not in sequence of a metronome.”51 He follows Hulme in rejecting regular “hypnotic” rhythm, but insists on the rhythmical organization of short passages, which will often coincide with the line-unit. In “A Few Don’ts by an Imagiste” Pound also stresses the importance for the poet of familiarizing himself with all the traditions and terminology of metrics. Pound’s remarks on rhythm and rhyme do not closely fit the notion of the image introduced earlier in his essay. They have the character of an appendix. He even grants that it is “not necessary that a poem should rely on its music” (Sullivan 1970, p. 43), which implies that 17

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sound and meaning may be independent of each other. Pound makes this explicit when he advises the poet to fill his mind with the finest cadences he can discover, preferably in a foreign language so that the meaning of the words may be less likely to divert his attention from the movement. (Sullivan 1970, p. 43).52

This accords with his belief that there is “an absolute rhythm, ... that every emotion and every phase of emotion has some toneless phrase, some rhythm-phrase to express it.”53 I shall return to this distinction between the meaning and the physical characteristics of verse in my discussion of The Cantos. In a short poem of the Imagist type, rhythm has little chance of establishing itself clearly. In looking at “In a Station of the Metro” from the points of view of poet and recipient, we are lucky to have Pound’s report on how he composed it,54 a report that confirms some of the observations made earlier. One day when getting out of a Métro train at the Place de la Concorde, he saw “suddenly a beautiful face, and then another and another, and then a beautiful child’s face, and then another beautiful woman.” Pound had difficulty in expressing “that sudden emotion” caused by what he saw. On the same day he found “an equation ... not in speech, but in little splotches of colour. It was just that - a ‘pattern’, or hardly a pattern, if by ‘pattern’ you mean something with a ‘repeat’ in it.” He did not try to deal directly with the visual impressions from the station, but to find an abstract equivalent for the emotion produced by them. This equivalent was a bunch of colour bits, which, as he stresses, did not involve any repetition, i. e. did not suggest sequence. Being a poet, he felt in an impasse. He tried to get out of it by writing a thirty-line poem, but destroyed it as lacking intensity. Six months later he wrote a poem half that length; and another year later he composed the twoline poem we have. Because we have only the final result we can do no more than speculate on how Pound proceeded. It is striking that he returned to the original sequence of visual impressions from the station and telescoped them together in order to present the emotion, and that he did so by juxtaposing this visual impression to another. The brevity of the poem seems to reflect the suddenness of the emotion. But especially given the long process of composition, which must have been one of cutting as well as condensation, the brevity of the poem also suggests that its words were “charged with meaning to the utmost possible degree” (Pound 1934, p. 20) by the poet - in a way, however, which is difficult for the recipient to determine. “In a Station of the Metro” was first published in Poetry in April 1914, as part of a batch of poems (Perkins 1976, p. 462). Pound’s discussion of the poem shows that it was meant to be read as complete in itself, not as part of a sequence. In a Station of the Metro55 The apparition of these faces in the crowd; Petals on a wet black bough.

The two lines of the poem are so simple, and the event of reading is therefore finished so quickly, that we are left bewildered for a moment. Our reaction is to turn back to the beginning and repeat the text, thus prolonging the event. The brevity of the text suggests that it must be more complex than it seemed on our first reading, that we have to sound its depths in order to experience it adequately. Hugh Kenner’s reading of the poem in The Pound Era may serve as an example of this approach. “‘Apparition’ reaches two ways, toward ghosts and toward visible revealings.” (Kenner 1972, p. 187). That is, the core of the poem is a polysemous term which can only be grasped as such after repeated readings or in study (see above, pp. 47-48). “‘Petals,’ the 18

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pivotal word, relies for energy on the sharp cut of its syllables, a consonantal vigor recapitulated in the trisyllabic ‘wet, black bough.’” (Kenner 1972, p. 187). That is, sounds are linked, not by alliteration or assonance, but by expressing the same notion, that of energy (see above, pp. 65-66). Kenner goes on: “The words so raised by prosody to attention assert themselves as words, and make a numinous claim on our attention, from which visual, tactile and mythic associations radiate.” (Kenner 1972, p. 187). As we have seen, words tend to assume this radiant quality if they are freed from close syntactic relationships (see above, p. 87). Kenner takes this to be the case here, for the poem “is not formally a sentence; its structure is typographic and metric.” (Kenner 1972, p. 186/187). He produces a bewildering range of associations: We need the title so that we can savor that vegetal contrast with the world of machines: this is not any crowd, moreover, but a crowd seen underground, as Odysseus and Orpheus and Koré saw crowds in Hades. And carrying forward the suggestion of wraiths, the word “apparition” detaches these faces from all the crowded faces, and presides over the image that conveys the quality of their separation [i.e. the second line of the poem]. (Kenner 1972, p. 184).

Kenner is reminded of “flowers underground; flowers, out of the sun” (Kenner 1972, p. 185), and thus of Persephone, associated with such flowers in Canto 106. By way of conclusion Kenner draws together the associations he has made: So this tiny poem, drawing on Gauguin and on Japan, on ghosts and on Persephone, on the Underworld and on the Underground, the Metro of Mallarmé’s capital and a phrase that names a station of the Metro as it might a station of the Cross, concentrates far more than it need ever specify. (Kenner 1972, p. 185).

Kenner’s interpretation is brilliant,56 perhaps over-ingenious. His non-linear reading is certainly the kind invited by the brevity of the text, and by Pound’s account of how it was composed. As I have indicated, Kenner minimizes the role of syntax in the poem, in a way that is not quite justified by the text. It does indeed not form a complete sentence, but we only have to supply “is” or “is like” at the beginning of the second line to get one. That this procedure is not beneath Pound’s consideration is shown by the way he explains haiku verse in “Vorticism.” He gives the example: The footsteps of the cat upon the snow: (are like) plum-blossoms.

and he adds: “The words ‘are like’ would not occur in the original, but I add them for clarity.” (Sullivan 1970, p. 53). We should also remember that the semicolon at the end of the first line of “In a Station of the Metro” found in most editions is not the original punctuation. In the first printings there is a colon,57 which indicates a logical relationship between the two lines (cp. p. 27). This relationship is similar to, if vaguer than, the one established by the copula and the relational word. The syntax, then, is fairly clear; it does not force us to slow down our reading or to piece together the words to form a sentence, and it does not allow, therefore, the individual words to radiate independently. Pound seems to have been aware of the problem posed by the brevity of “In a Station of the Metro.” He wanted Harriet Monroe to print his poem with spaces: The apparition of these faces in the crowd: Petals on a wet, black bough. (Kenner 1972, p. 197).58

Kenner interprets these spaces as indicating five phases of perception (Kenner 1972, p. 197) – each group corresponding to one of the Chinese characters in which Pound was soon to become interested (see below, p. 95). But for Pound one of the important points about 19

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Chinese writing (as he understood it) was that the characters are juxtaposed without syntax, whereas in this short poem we do not really have a sequence of juxtaposed sensations. The percepts are related to each other syntactically, for example by the prepositions of, in, on. It seems that Pound divided the Poetry form of the text into syntactic units in order to suggest slow reading. But this does not solve the problem that the poem creates in reading. The experience suggested by the syntax and the wording remains too brief to form en event of its own. In his essay on “Vorticism” Pound concedes that the poem presupposes the existence of a definite mood: “I dare say it is meaningless unless one has drifted into a certain vein of thought” (Sullivan 1970, p. 54)59 (see above, p. 24). He continues with a sentence which is slightly apologetic: In a poem of this sort one is trying to record the precise instant when a thing outward and objective transforms itself, or darts into a thing inward and subjective. (Sullivan 1970, p. 54).

This is similar to the definition of the image quoted earlier in this chapter, though two points have been modified. The image has become dynamic (the Image has become the Vortex); and the goal is cautiously proposed to be recording a precise instant,60 rather than presenting a “complex” instantaneously. It is intriguing that Pound should avoid reference to instantaneous presentation in discussing this particular poem, which, by its extreme brevity, comes close to achieving it. Nonetheless, the problems created by the sequentiality of experience (see pp. 48-49) even exist in the case of this brief poem. Although Pound considers his “one image poem” as “a form of superposition, that is to say ... one idea set on top of another” (Sullivan 1970, p. 53), the ideas follow each other in reading. In reading, perception of a text is tied to syntactic units (see above, p. 46). We can distinguish three major units in this poem, if we include the title, each corresponding to one of the lines on the page. The title indicates a place, and the first line presents a phenomenon. The second line creates the Image by establishing a surprising link with a scene of nature. Only in reading this line can we have “that sense of sudden liberation; that sense of freedom from time limits and space limits”61 which, according to Pound, an image may give us. Even this very short text, then, is not able to produce the instantaneous revelation that Pound postulates in his definition of the Image; at the same time, the text is too short and too simple to create an event of its own. Shortly after Pound had written “In a Station of the Metro” he came to know Ernest Fenollosa’s manuscripts about Chinese poetry. From these he edited Cathay in 1915, and the essay The Chinese Written Character as a Medium for Poetry in 1920. (In what follows I shall relate the ideas of Fenollosa and Pound without detailed qualifications; their views on the Chinese language and its writing system are not correct,62 in any simple sense.) In Fenollosa’s essay Pound found a notion of the ideogram which was in many ways related to that of the image. The ideogram creates a strong visual impression; it is concrete (cp. Fenollosa [1936] 1964, pp. 8 and 9); it presents something instantaneously; and, like the image, it is “a form of super-position, that is to say ... one idea set on top of another.” (Pound, “Vorticism,” in Sullivan 1970, p. 53). In his ABC of Reading Pound gives the following example: tree sun sun tangled in the tree’s branches, as at sunrise, meaning now the East. (Pound 1934, p. 21).


Engler, Balz. Reading and Listening. The Modes of Communicating Poetry and their Influence on the Texts. Bern: Francke Verlag, 1982. p. 67-110.

As Fenollosa emphasizes, the ideogram, unlike the phonetic representation of a word, exhibits the embryonic stages of its growth, i. e. its etymology, and thus bears “its metaphor on its face.” (Fenollosa [1936] 1964, p. 25). Chinese characters are, therefore, particularly well suited for poetry. In a sentence that Pound echoes in his ABC of Reading (cp. Pound 1934, p. 20), Fenollosa writes: Poetic thought works by suggestion, crowding maximum meaning into the single phrase pregnant, charged, and luminous from within. In Chinese character each word accumulated this sort of energy in itself. (Fenollosa [1936] 1964, p. 28).

This means that the ideogram expresses, in the terms introduced on p. 50, vertical, intensive relations. The ideograms are linked to each other not by syntax as we know it in Western languages; rather they follow each other, representing the flexible sequence of thought (Fenollosa [1936] 1964, p. 7). This relation on the horizontal axis is implied in some definitions of Pound’s ideogrammatic method. J. P. Sullivan, for example, explains the method as the “juxtaposition of poetically significant material without the mediation of grammatical (that is, essentially prosaic) connexion.” (Sullivan 1970, p. 24). Pound, in his discussion of the ideogrammatic method in ABC of Reading (Pound 1934, pp. 21-23), is not dealing with horizontal relationships, but with complexities in the vertical dimension. This disparity suggests that the juxtaposition of particulars in the sequence of a poetic text - which Kenner sees at work in “In a Station of the Metro,” and which we shall see in The Cantos - is an attempt to reproduce on the horizontal axis an effect conceived of on the vertical one and perhaps only possible there. The attempt is based on the problematic assumption that sequence can stand for simultaneity under the pressure of poetic usage. The ideogram, unlike a word, always demands a visual experience. It does not, according to Fenollosa, refer to a phonetic unit, but to a notion. Sound is unimportant - a fact that should have interested T. E. Hulme. As I pointed out earlier (p. 45), a focus on visual reading leads the poet to work for complexity and intensity, and this in turn favours short texts, texts with minimal redundancy. A long poem like Pound’s Cantos, which is, to a large extent, composed according to the ideogrammatic method, must therefore present formidable problems. We have to ask ourselves, whether we can consider The Cantos a unity. From the point of view of this study this question is closely related to another: How should The Cantos be experienced? It is no coincidence that the two major tasks of critics writing on The Cantos seem to be explication (in particular, the hunting down of sources (cp. Sullivan 1970, p. 205206)) and the establishment of the poem’s over-all structure. In my discussion of the poem, I shall not offer much on either subject; instead, I shall try to show that the two fields of inquiry are related to each other, indeed, two aspects of the same problem. There can be no doubt that The Cantos were planned as a single poem. The first separate collection of cantos appeared under the title A Draft of XYI Cantos of Ezra Pound for the Beginning of a Poem of Some Length63; and while the overall title The Cantos might refer to a number of separate poems of the same kind, the fact that Pound called Cantos LXXXV-XCV a “Section”64 in 1955 shows that he still felt that he was working on the same poem. In his own comments on the plan of The Cantos, Pound tended to refer to Dante’s Divina Commedia, and to distinguish three main sections in his poem. In a letter to his father in 1927 he explained the structure of the poem as rather like, or unlike subject and response and counter subject in fugue. A.A. Live man goes down into world of Dead C.B. The “repeat in history.”


Engler, Balz. Reading and Listening. The Modes of Communicating Poetry and their Influence on the Texts. Bern: Francke Verlag, 1982. p. 67-110. B.C. The “magic moment,” or moment of metamorphosis, bust thru quotidien into “divine or permanent world.” Gods, etc.65

By then he had published the first sixteen cantos, and he wrote to his father: “You have had a hell in Canti XIV, XV; purgatorio in XVI etc.” (Paige 1950, p. 210). This suggests a poem rather shorter than the one we have. In 1944, having published 71 cantos, Pound described his plan as “an epic poem which begins ‘In the Dark Forest,’ crosses the Purgatory of human error, and ends in the light.”66 On the other hand, Pound started his long poem in 1912 with an address to Browning that promises no orderly progression from beginning to end: Hang it all, there can be but one “Sordello”! But say I want to, say I take your whole bag of tricks, Let in your quirks and tweeks, and say the thing’s an art-form, Your Sordello, and that the modern world Needs such a rag-bag to stuff all its thought in; Say that I dump my catch, shiny and silvery As fresh sardines slapping and slipping on the marginal cobbles?67

When he wrote a foreword to his own selection from The Cantos in 1966 he quoted these lines as the “best introduction to the Cantos.” (Pound, Selected Cantos, 1967, p. 9).But what was an expression of youthful vigour, even insolence, the aged Pound seems to have quoted with bitterness. In an interview two years later he told Daniel Cory that the structure of The Cantos was “a botch.” After a long hesitation Ezra resorted to a rather striking illustration. He mentioned a shop-window full of various objects. “I picked out this and that thing that interested me, and then jumbled them into a bag. But that’s not the way to make” - and he paused for a moment - “a work of art.”68

The critical dispute about the unity of The Cantos has never been settled. Basically two schools of critics can be distinguished, the integrators and the desintegrators.69 It is fair to say that a majority of critics go along with what Pound said about the structure of The Cantos late in his life, without necessarily dismissing the poem as a result. Few critics, e.g., Daniel D. Pearlman, see a consistent thematic development throughout The Cantos,70 and all recognize that there is no historical progression in them. Clark Emery (1958) has tried to show the thematic relationships between the different sections of the poem, and thus its coherence. Hugh Kenner denies the poem plot as well as thematic development, but sees its structure as based on “interlocking large-scale rhythms of recurrence.” (Kenner 1951, p. 260). These help the reader experience the poem adequately, for he “must remember all things and contemplate all things in a simultaneous present.” (Kenner 1951, p. 277). Although the structural effectiveness of these rhythms has been questioned,71 the recurrence of themes and images has generally been accepted as an important element in The Cantos. The notion of “large-scale rhythms of recurrence” makes the single canto relatively unimportant as a unit of experience. Features of the poem support this contention. Unlike the sections of other long poems (see above, p. 25), the individual cantos vary considerably in length,72 between two and almost twenty-five pages. In many cases Pound makes sure that the beginnings and endings of a canto do not give it complete autonomy. The very first canto73 begins with the line And then went down to the ship,74


Engler, Balz. Reading and Listening. The Modes of Communicating Poetry and their Influence on the Texts. Bern: Francke Verlag, 1982. p. 67-110.

which implies, according to epic convention, that something has preceded. The canto ends with a reference to Aphrodite75 followed by So that:, where the words as well as the colon suggest a direct consequence, but do not, in fact, lead on to it. Earl Miner has observed76 that Pound also uses the technique of superposition which he had developed in the Imagist haiku, to create striking endings, especially in the first thirty cantos and in the Pisan Cantos. An observation from nature is juxtaposed to the rest of the poem, for example, in Cantos III, XVII, XXI, LXXX. But this technique is used even more frequently within a canto “to express intensely in an image what has gone before or what directly follows.” (Miner 1958 in Sullivan 1970, p. 237). It does not, therefore, mark the ending of a canto as such. As a rule, the single cantos then cannot be understood as units of experience. This leads us to the question of how The Cantos should be experienced. If the large-scale rhythms of recurrence are to be perceived at all, the poem has to be experienced at a brisk pace. The ideogrammatic method, on the other hand, suggests slow reading and may even demand study. In the space at hand I cannot possibly do justice to The Cantos, nor can I deal with all the problems involved in experiencing the poem. I can only discuss two of the more general problems which appear throughout The Cantos: allusiveness and the recurrence of themes. The first lines of Canto IV, as analyzed by Walter Baumann77, will serve as an example: Palace in smoky light, Troy but a heap of smouldering boundary stones, ANAXIFORMINGES! Aurunculeia! Hear me. Cadmus of Golden Prows! (Pound, Cantos, 1975, p. 13).

The first two lines present vivid and concrete images of an event in Greek mythology that is fairly familiar. This cannot be said of the following two lines. ANAXIFORMINGES, “lyreleading,” is the opening epithet of Pindar’s second Olympian ode, Aurunculeia the family name of the bride praised in Catullus’ Song 61. The following line refers to Ovid’s account of the Cadmus myth. Athene summons Cadmus and orders him to sow in a ploughed furrow the teeth of the dragon he has killed. Thus Cadmus obtains the Spartoi, who help in building the acropolis of Thebes. “Golden Prows” indicates that Pound, like Ovid, considers Cadmus a sailor-hero. So much we may find out with the help of works of reference. But we still cannot make sense of the lines. In order to understand ANAXIFORMINGES! Aurunculeia! we must be familiar with Pound’s technique of alluding to whole domains of knowledge with a single word or phrase, with a “luminous detail.”78 We should further know what the texts alluded to so elliptically mean to Pound. We should know his distaste for Pindar’s rhetoric (Baumann 1967, p. 21) in general and for the epithet quoted in particular, which “ought to be sent to the dust-bin ...” (Egoist (March/April, 1919), quoted by Baumann 1967, p. 21) (The capitalization of the word may be a comment on the hollow rotundity of Pindar’s verse). In order to understand Aurunculeia! we should be aware of the whole stanza of Pindar’s ode epitomized by ANAXIFORMINGES!, which is hardly possible without consulting Pindar’s text.79 Pindar enumerates three possible subjects of his song, all male: gods, heroes, and men. Aurunculeia!, taken from a song of praise addressed to a woman, indicates a fourth possibility not mentioned by Pindar. Thus, the two alliterating words are meant to call up two contrasting domains of poetry. Another theme is alluded to by the juxtaposition of burning Troy and the Cadmus myth: the destruction of one city is balanced by the building of another. Troy falls because divine principles are violated; the Cadmeia arises because the divine instructions are followed. According to Baumann, the first four lines “contain in a nutshell all the major themes of the Canto.” (Baumann 1967, p. 23). My summary of them has been incomplete, but, I hope, sufficient to indicate the kind of demands Pound’s texts make, and the kind of experience they 23

Engler, Balz. Reading and Listening. The Modes of Communicating Poetry and their Influence on the Texts. Bern: Francke Verlag, 1982. p. 67-110.

impose on the reader. For an understanding of these lines we need a good knowledge of Greek mythology as well as of Greek and Roman literature. This will not take us far, though, if we are not familiar with Pound’s technique of allusion, and with his opinions about the figures and phenomena alluded to. In noting this, we must remember that the allusions in these lines are by no means the most obscure80 in Canto IV. Later on, there are also references to Provençal, Italian, and Chinese poetry (Vidal, Cavalcanti, So-Gyoku) and to Japanese religious beliefs (the pines at Takasago). The first four lines of the canto can only be understood if the nutshell they form according to Baumann is cracked - by study. The sequence in which elements juxtaposed are mentioned does not contribute much to the total meaning, and they are not linked syntactically. Juxtaposition of the second and the fourth lines yields a common theme;81 so does that of two types of literature in line 3. On the other hand, the four lines from Canto IV also contain plainly sequential elements, which we associate with aural poetry. The address Hear me reminds us of the beginnings of oral poems.82 The first line, Palace in smoky light prepares for the next line on Troy, and for the lines following those quoted, which re-create the effects of light at dawn. Lines 3 and 4 also contain at least two elements that are part of the “interlocking large-scale rhythms of recurrence,” which allegedly help constitute the unity of The Cantos. One of these elements is the story of Troy; the great survivor, Ulysses, appears in Canto 1. The other, perhaps less obvious element is the figure of Cadmus, which is linked to the theme of accepting divine guidance,83 and, especially, to the motif of city building. In Canto II Pentheus had been admonished to listen to the advice of his grandfather, Cadmus (Pound, Cantos, 1975, p. 9). In IV, the passage discussed, we get a piece of information on Cadmus’s origins as a sailor-hero, which forms a “subject rhyme”84 with Ulysses. In XXVII Cadmus (“of the gilded prows” (Pound, Cantos, 1975, p. 132)) will be mentioned again as sowing the teeth from which the tovarisch, ‘companions’ sprang; these probably stand for the masses rising in revolution. But the tovarisch return to the earth without being able to build the city. In Canto LXII, which deals with the American War of Independence, Cadmus will again be mentioned, this time in connection with the massacres associated with Boston’s resistance to British taxation, probably to indicate that the city was not built then either85. Later on, the Cadmus myth will be alluded to (Baumann 1967, p. 23) in references to city building in Cantos LXXVII and LXXXIII. Thus, the reference to Cadmus at the beginning of Canto IV is only one in a series of related passages which elucidate each other. Cadmus as a city founder, a notion that seems to be central in Canto IV, is only fully realized in later cantos. To some extent, therefore, full understanding of Canto IV presupposes the knowledge of later parts of the poem, i. e. simultaneous presence of large parts of the poem in the reader’s mind. But because the Cadmus myth is only one element in an overwhelming wealth of material, it is hard to see how the mutual elucidation of these passages should work over such long distances. It is even doubtful whether all the elements of these large-scale rhythms could be noticed as such in reading the poem. The four lines quoted from Canto IV demand two different kinds of experience: study in order to work out the relationship between the allusions to Troy and to the Cadmus myth, and pacing in order to catch the large-scale rhythms of recurrence. This conflict cannot be solved, as R. P. Blackmur has observed: The reader has the choice either of reading all the Cantos as if they were ... straightforward and selfexplanatory, or of going behind the verses to the same material, or as much as he can discover of it, that Mr Pound himself used. The poem the reader seizes will be very different depending on the choice he makes. (Blackmur 1957, quoted from Sullivan 1970, p. 161).


Engler, Balz. Reading and Listening. The Modes of Communicating Poetry and their Influence on the Texts. Bern: Francke Verlag, 1982. p. 67-110.

If we proceed at a brisk pace we come across many fine and lucid passages. We will have the feeling that we have traversed a great deal of material, without having at any time been quite certain what the material was about and without, perhaps, distinguishing any need to find out ... Collected, the parts attract each other, and without the cohesive power of obvious design or continuing emotion, cling together, a quilt in the patch work, a string of rags from the inexhaustible bag. (Blackmur 1957, quoted from Sullivan 1970, p. 161).

On the other hand, the context and allusiveness of many passages demand that we study them. The effect of study will be that we proceed slowly, so slowly often that sequence is suspended altogether. The poem then disintegrates into a large number of small units, and becomes a disjointed series of short poems, passages, lines and fragments, often of exceptional beauty or interest, but uninformed, poetically or otherwise, by larger purpose. (Stock 1967, p. 117).

These pieces may be related to each other thematically,86 but the sequence in which they are experienced does not matter. The “rhythms of recurrence” are not experienced as rhythms, instead the passages sharing a particular theme will be selected and placed beside each other, with the purpose of mutual elucidation - the procedure common in critical studies. This conflict between the two ways of experiencing the poem is reflected in the different critical strategies devised to confront it. T. S. Eliot, for example, emphasizes the horizontal drive of the poem, at the cost of neglecting its vertical one (see above, p. 50). He praises Pound’s verse in his essay “Isolated Superiority,” because it does everything that he wants it to do; it has the uniform rhythm running through it, combined with unlimited variability of mood. As for the meaning of the Cantos, that never worries me, and I do not believe that I care. I know that Pound has a scheme and a kind of philosophy behind it; it is quite enough for me that he thinks he knows what he is doing; I am glad that the philosophy is there, but I am not interested in it.87

Allen Tate, in his review of the first thirty Cantos, on the other hand, feels that “the thirty Cantos are enough to occupy a loving and ceaseless study - say a canto a year for thirty years, all thirty to be read every few weeks just for the tone.”88 This is also the approach of most academic critics. Baumann, for example, quotes Tate with approval, and goes on: The hasty and uninitiated reader may be struck by certain passages of poetic intensity, but he cannot pierce the complex, if not complicated, surface and acquire a sufficiently disentangled vision of the core of this poem. Thorough penetration of a small but representative portion of the text can alone surmount this acute difficulty. (Baumann 1967, p. 15).

This attitude does not agree with Pound’s view, expressed in 1935, that “the FIRST requirement" of a long poem "is that the reader be able to proceed.”89 The relationship between the two kinds of experience suggested by The Cantos is discussed by Donald Davie, with the express purpose of avoiding the pitfalls of academic criticism. Having quoted excerpts from Cantos XLVII, LXXIV, LXXX, LXXXI, and CX he makes comments that must be quoted in full for their flavour to be caught. Exegesis will be resisted; I could explicate each of these passages, but our present concern is with rhythm. And it’s obvious that the catching up and echoing - over intervals of sometimes many hundred verse-lines, sometimes only a few score - of a motif like Jonson’s ‘Have you seen ... ?‘ or ‘Have you marked ...?’ [in “A Celebration of Charis”] constitutes one of the large-scale rhythms which ride through the Cantos in our experience of them when we read many at a time, and fast. And this is the sort of reading that we ought to give them, not just to begin with either. This indeed is what irritates so many readers, and fascinates an elect few that the Cantos, erudite though they are, consistently frustrate the sort of reading that is synonymous with ‘study’, reading such as goes on in the seminar-room or the discussion group. It is hopeless to go at them cannily, not moving on to line 3 until one is sure of line 2. They must be taken in big gulps or not at all. This


Engler, Balz. Reading and Listening. The Modes of Communicating Poetry and their Influence on the Texts. Bern: Francke Verlag, 1982. p. 67-110. means reading without comprehension? Yes, if by comprehension we mean a set of propositions that can be laid end to end. We are in the position of not knowing ‘whether we have had any ideas or not.’ Just so. Which is not to deny that some teasing out of quite short excerpts, even some hunting up of sources and allusions, is profitable at some stage. For the Cantos are a poem to be lived with, over years. Yet after many years each new reading - if it is a reading of many pages, as it should be - is a new bewilderment. So it should be, for so it was meant to be.90

The sanity and vigour of Davie’s plea cannot hide a certain defensiveness. In his first sentence the rift between study and pacing is apparent. The advice that The Cantos should be taken in gulps has to be tempered by the suggestion that they should “at some stage” be studied; Davie does not say when - a point to which I shall return (p. 104). Each reading of the poem will offer new bewilderment - not, in itself, sufficient to justify, let alone encourage a return to the text. But perhaps the most defensive element in Davie’s plea is the notion of the “elect few.” This banishes all those who give up reading The Cantos - perhaps in desperation -from the circle of the initiated. Pound’s poem, unlike the poems of Homer, Dante or Milton, is addressed, according to R. P. Blackmur, “not to the general intelligence of its time, nor to an unusually cultivated class merely, but to a specially educated class alone” (Blackmur 1957, quoted in Sullivan 1970, p. 168), which is familiar with exactly the material used by Pound. The person belonging to this small group must further be able to follow the idiosyncratic workings of the poet’s mind. If he wants to get beyond enjoying beautiful lyrical passages and the sound-music of strange words, he has to read rare and often odd pamphlets and books, in the perhaps vain hope that this will prove worthwhile. It is no coincidence, therefore, that Pound has only had disciples91 and detractors. But for both followers and foes only prolonged study will unlock the secrets of The Cantos. The study of a text presupposes its visual reading, and the conflict between the difficulty and the length of The Cantos is reflected in the visual elements of the text. The most obvious among these are the Chinese ideograms.92 The first appears in Canto XXXIV (Cantos 1975, p. 171), and they recur throughout the rest of The Cantos. In the later cantos Pound often adds a transcription, but these notes do not help the text as a score. In Canto XCI he starts to introduce hieroglyphs93, and he uses other pictorial representations94 as early as Canto XXII. Pound was aware that these signs present problems to the kind of continuous experience he wanted for The Cantos. In a headnote to Cantos LII-LXXI he indicates that, as a rule, foreign words and ideograms both in these two decads and in earlier cantos enforce the text but seldom if ever add anything not stated in the english, though not always in lines immediately contiguous to these underlinings [viz., signs of emphasis]. (Cantos 1975, p. 256).

This suggests that these visual elements only serve as a kind of comment on the aural text (see above, pp. 31-32). This view does not tally with Pound’s statement (made at about the same time) that there is “condensation to maximum attainable”95 in The Cantos. This would suggest that the ideograms and hieroglyphs are complementary to the aural text (see above, pp. 3233). The visual elements are not continually present in the text; they tend to appear between long passages that can be read sequentially or listened to. Thus the “visuals” form a parallel to passages that require study; they are preceded and followed by others which can be understood at first hearing or reading. The Cantos thus not only demand two conflicting ways of proceeding. They also require switching from one to the other at certain points (see above, p. 100), without clearly indicating - except for the evidence of visual elements - where exactly this should happen. The recipient is in serious danger of simply getting confused, and of losing the pace necessary to bring out the “large-scale rhythms of recurrence,” or, indeed, any over-all sense. 26

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My purpose in dealing with two poems by Ezra Pound has been to discuss the problem of a poem’s length. At the beginning of this study I postulated that the experience of a poem needs a certain duration in order to create an event (pp. 25-26), and claimed that this duration may be achieved either by length or difficulty, or a combination of the two. It is no coincidence that Kenner’s discussion of both The Cantos and “In a Station of the Metro” implies the notion of speed. The need to find “rhythms of recurrence” suggests a quick pace, which shortens the experience of the long poem. The study of the one-image poem, on the other hand, prolongs the experience. Both “In a Station of the Metro” and The Cantos are problematic. In both there is a conflict between the experience suggested by the length of the text and the experience required by its difficulty. Pound’s one-image poem, whose brevity comes close to presenting simultaneously all its elements, is relatively easy to understand. Experience of it may therefore be too short to create an event of its own. As Pound’s report on the writing of the poem indicates, he was aware of this problem (see p. 94). If the poem is studied, as Kenner thinks it should be, the event of experiencing the lines will become long enough to be satisfying (p. 93). He takes the words of the poem to be allusive, and juxtaposed to each other in such a way as to create complex associations; as we have seen, neither careful reading nor early versions of the text necessarily justify this approach (p. 94). The problem of experiencing The Cantos, on the other hand, is that the poem is long as well as difficult. In traditional long poems the development of an argument or a story-line facilitates the experience of the poem in sections. The single cantos do not form such units of experience. The rhythms of recurrence which, according to Kenner, constitute the unity of the poem demand that we proceed through the whole poem. At the same time, “luminous details,” allusions to strange domains of knowledge, often related to each other in idiosyncratic ways, demand study. This conflict has been tackled in different ways. Meaning has been neglected for sequence, as by Eliot (see p. 102). Alternatively, sequence has been given up and length disregarded in order to study meaning, as in much academic criticism (see pp.99-100), with the result that the poem breaks up into small units. Compromises between the two approaches, like the one suggested by Davie (see pp.102-103), are unsatisfactory. The experience demanded by the poem is too long to form an event.


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11. Reading and Listening: Conclusion At the beginning of this study I put forward several claims to which I shall now return in summarizing its results. I started from the simple distinction between reading on the page and listening, which is sometimes made on principle - for example by Winters and Bateson (p. 15) - but I found that there are no simple, generally valid answers to the question of how literate poetry should be experienced. Instead, there is a broad range of possibilities. I have distinguished listening to song and to speech-verse, and other types of experience, which depend on the kind and size of the audience (chapter 5). Reading on the page can be divided into four types: pacing, halting, repeating, and studying (chapter 6). The situations in which literate poetry is experienced offer particular possibilities to the recipient, and impose restrictions on him. The performer’s voice, for example, gives the listener a sense of being addressed (p. 42), usually as the member of a group, and removes ambiguities in the text by intonation. Oral delivery allows sound-effects to develop fully, but it also demands that the text should be fairly easy to understand (chapter 5). Reading on the page, on the other hand, allows the recipient to choose his own speed. The poem may therefore be difficult; and ambiguity may become one of the chief effects perceived in the text (chapter 6). As I have shown in the chapters on Browning, Hopkins, and Pound, the differences between the types of experience are reflected in the way critics have interpreted various poems. The reception of Hopkins’s poetry, in particular, is a striking illustration of how different ways of experiencing texts can affect a poet’s reputation. To some extent, a poet can indicate how his poems should be experienced, not only by stating his intentions, but as I have tried to show, by suiting his texts to a particular situation. In order to describe the relationship between the text and the situation I have had to introduce a notion of the text different from the one used, for example, by Wellek and Warren in their Theory of Literature. Instead of a “structure of norms” independent of place and time, I described the text as part of a speech-situation, to which the recipient and the poet, as we see him, also belong (chapter 2). The text will reflect the situation to which it has been suited, and thus the way it is meant to be experienced (pp. 24-28). But as the text is only one of the elements of the situation we need to reconstruct, the evidence it offers need not be conclusive. Four kinds of evidence have been adduced: the relationship between the visual and the aural elements in the text; the degree of its difficulty; its length; and the relationship between the poet and his audience as reflected in the text. The visual elements of a text, spelling, punctuation, and typography, and the aural ones, sound, rhythm, and intonation, may be related to each other in five typical ways. The visual elements may indicate how the text should sound, i. e. serve as a score. They may give additional information without affecting the aural elements, i. e. comment. They may complement the aural elements, contrast with them, or even contradict them. The first two types are suited to listening, the others require visual reading (chapter 4). The second kind of evidence is the difficulty of a text. The syntax may be so complex or indefinite, the words and collocations so rare, the allusions so obscure as to demand close reading, i. e. the study of the text on the page. Study, which includes juxtaposition of words and clauses not immediately contiguous, presupposes the simultaneous presence of all the elements of the text, a demand which can only be met in a visual context (chapter 6). As the example of Beowulf (p. 23) shows, the difficulty of a text alone need not, however, be a reliable criterion. The third kind of evidence is related to my thesis that the experience of a poem has to be of a certain duration to constitute an event of its own (p. 25). Difficult texts, which demand study, may be short, as I have tried to show in my chapter on Hopkins (chapter 9). On the 28

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other hand, extremely brief poems will present problems unless they are considered difficult; and long poems have to be easy enough to be understood as they proceed lest they break up into a series of loosely related events. Major works by Pound illustrate both these points (see chapter 10). Finally, the relationship between author and recipient as reflected in the text may serve as evidence. Poetry in which the recipient feels addressed as a partner by the speaker in the text requires an experience different from that of a poem where the recipient must, in the absence of the force of address, himself find out what has produced the words with which he finds himself confronted. I have distinguished these two functions of texts as eloquence and evidence. One suggests performance or pacing, the other study. It is this last kind of evidence in particular, along with the historical dimensions of spelling, punctuation, and typography, which I have used in support of my claim that the different ways of experiencing poetry are historical phenomena and should therefore be studied as part of literary history (p. 16). In chapter 7 I have given a short sketch of how this relationship between the poet and his audience can be reflected in the texts. In particular, I have tried to show how the recipient in eighteenth and early nineteenth century lyric poetry increasingly faced the dilemma between two roles. The presence of a speaker in a clearly defined speechsituation cast him in the role of the addressee. At the same time the text offered itself as a document of the mood that had produced it. The tension between the two approaches could be used by the poet to achieve certain responses - as I have shown in the case of Browning’s “My Last Duchess” (chapter 8). The feeling of being addressed by a speaker was a hindrance to the recipient’s identification with the source of the mood expressed, and the speaker would therefore become the subject of the poem. The alternative of abandoning the distinctiveness of the speaker leads to giving up elements that have the force of address, rhetoric, syntax, and even sound. In the English speaking world the impact of poetry stimulated by these alternative possibilities was fully felt only at the beginning of the twentieth century, under the influence of French symbolism (chapter 7). The works of Hopkins and Pound discussed here represent a situation of crisis. Hopkins’s poems are so difficult that their meaning must remain obscure if they are listened to, though he insisted they should be heard. Pound’s poem The Cantos is so long that it cannot be read as one poem without losing much of its meaning. This study began by criticizing the way in which the art of close reading dominates classroom teaching, and I should now like to return to my claim that the question of how poetry should be experienced must become an integral part of literary studies (p. 16). I used a sentence from C. S. Lewis as an epigraph to this study with this claim in mind: If literary scholarship and criticism are regarded as activities ancillary to literature, then their sole function is to multiply, prolong, and safeguard experiences of good reading. (Lewis 1961, p. 104).

As I have tried to show, the close reading of a poem may be the appropriate experience of post-Romantic, and in particular, modernist poems (pp. 64-66). It cannot do justice to poetry written before the Age of Sensibility, and, in particular it cannot, in the way it is practised, take account of the fact that there is a whole range of possibilities of how poetry can be experienced. Some of the reasons for the predominance of close reading in the classroom may be found in the ascendancy of modernism in the period when the study of English and American literature was established as a discipline, in the usefulness and ease of close reading as a teaching device, and in the attempt to justify the necessity of the academic study of literature by producing systematic work (p. 14). When close reading is practised almost exclusively, the vertical, semantic dimension of the text is at the centre of the critic’s interest (p. 50). The horizontal dimension, in which the 29

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effects of rhythm, sound, and intonation develop, tends to be neglected. This neglect has resulted in the predominance of explanation and textual interpretation in literary studies, and the naiveté of discussions of metrical questions, not to speak of other aural qualities. This does not mean that close reading should be given up. It must retain an important, if more clearly delimited, function in literary criticism. It is not the most appropriate, complete, and profitable way of reading any kind of poetry. It may serve a particular purpose in the general effort of determining how a text should be experienced. It may even help us to find out how events which seem irretrievably lost may be reconstructed and, to some extent, reproduced in a translated form. A reader/student should critically examine the poem in the same way a director examines a play he wants to put on stage. He should try to determine what kind of production the text requires if it is to offer an adequate experience. Such a reading is only possible if readers, especially students, are provided with texts that are as close as possible to the spelling, punctuation, and typography intended by the poet (p. 56). The intentions of the poet may be difficult, even impossible, to ascertain, especially where his manuscripts have been lost. The difficulty of getting at these intentions does not relieve us of the task of trying to reconstruct them. In particular, the aims of the kind of reading under discussion would strongly discourage the use of modernized texts. The attempt to determine the appropriate experience also requires that the reader/student should know about changes in the function of spelling, punctuation, and typography, subjects rarely taught in literary studies today. Because adequate experience of a poetic text may consist in listening, the ear of the student should be trained, a task often neglected due to the strong emphasis on close reading. Experience in language teaching shows, moreover, that the ability to hear a sound, and the ability to produce it are often linked. In the study of poetry, therefore, both listening and reciting should be practised. In the present circumstances, when the question of how poetry should be experienced is often neglected, the student may feel uncertain about how to approach a poem. There may be conflicts between how he is used to reading other texts and how he is taught to read poems, and between experiences he has not learned to distinguish. He may read as if he were supposed to listen; and listen (or speak) as if he were supposed to read. This need not be so. We can choose from a wide range of possibilities. If we choose carefully, we may allow the poem to come into its own. Our experience of poetry will become richer and more varied. Occasionally we shall be able to close the book, having noticed that the letters on the page are not always necessary for the experience of poetry.


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12. Bibliography Editions Abbott, Claude Colleer, ed. The Letters of Gerard Manley Hopkins to Robert Bridges. 2nd ed. London, 1955. ---, ed. The Correspondence of Gerard Manley Hopkins and Richard Watson Dixon. 2nd ed. London, 1955. ---, ed. Further Letters of Gerard Manley Hopkins. 2nd ed. London, 1956. Gardner, W.H., and N.H. Mackenzie, eds. The Poems of Gerard Manley Hopkins. London, 1967; 4th ed. 1970. House, Humphrey, ed. The Journals and Papers of Gerard Manley Hopkins. London, 1959. Kermode, Frank, and John Hollander, eds. The Oxford Anthology of English Literature. 2 vols. New York, 1973. Pound, Ezra. Lustra. London, 1916. ---. Letters 1907-41. Ed. D. D. Paige. New York, 1962. ---. Selected Cantos. London, 1967. ---. The Cantos. London, 1975.

Studies Baker, William E. Syntax in English Poetry, 1870-1930. Berkeley and Los Angeles, 1967. Baumann, Walter. The Rose in the Steel Dust: An Examination of the Cantos of Ezra Pound. Berne, 1967. Bender, Todd K. Gerard Manley Hopkins: The Classical Background and Critical Reception of His Work. Baltimore, 1966. Berman, R. J. Browning’s Duke. New York, 1972. Blackmur, R.P. “Masks of Ezra Pound.” Form and Value in Modern Poetry. Garden City, N.Y., 1957. Bottrall, Margaret, ed. Gerard Manley Hopkins’ Poems: a Casebook. London, 1975. Bowen, Elbert R., Otis J. Aggert, and William E. Rickert. Communicative Reading. 4th ed. New York, 1978. Browning, Robert. “An Essay on Shelley.” The Complete Poetic and Dramatic Works of Robert Browning. Ed. Horace E. Scudder. New York, 1895. Cory, Daniel. “Ezra Pound: A Memoir.” Encounter 30.5 (May 1968): 30-39. Crump, Geoffrey. Speaking Poetry. 2nd ed. London, 1964. Culler, A. Dwight. “Monodrama and the Dramatic Monologue.” PMLA 90 (1975). Daiches, David. Poetry and the Modern World. Chicago, 1940. Davie, Donald. Purity of Diction in English Verse. London, 1952. ---. The Poet as Sculptor. London, 1964. ---. Ezra Pound. Fontana Modern Masters. Edinburgh, 1975. Dekker, George. Sailing after Knowledge. London, 1963. Donoghue, Denis. The Third Voice. Princeton, 1959. Drew, Philip. The Poetry of Robert Browning. A Critical Introduction. London, 1970. Eliot, T.S. “Isolated Superiority.” The Dial, 84 (Jan. 1928): 4-7; in Reeves 1969, 141-144. Elliott, George P. “Poet of Many Voices.” Carleton Miscellany, 2 (1961): 79-103; in Sullivan 1970, 251-77. 31

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Emery, Clark. Ideas into Action. Coral Gables, Fla., 1958. Empson, William. Seven Types of Ambiguity. London, 1930; 3rd ed. 1953. Fenollosa, Ernest. The Chinese Written Character as a Medium for Poetry. Ed. Ezra Pound. San Francisco, Cal., [1936] 1964. Flint, F.S. “Imagisme.” Poetry 1 (1913): 198-200; in Sullivan 1970, 40-41. ---. “The History of Imagism.” The Egoist 1 (May 1915). Fraser, G.S. Ezra Pound. Edinburgh, 1960. Gardner, W.H., ed. Gerard Manley Hopkins: A Selection of Poems and Prose. Harmondsworth, 1953; 2nd ed. 1966. Gross, Harvey. Sound and Form in Modern Poetry. Ann Arbor, Mich., 1964; 1968. Harrold, William E. The Variance and the Unity. Athens, Ohio, 1973. Hobsbaum, Philip. “The Rise of the Dramatic Monologue.” Hudson Review 28 (1975/76). Hollister, Richard D. T. Speaking Before an Audience. Ann Arbor, Mich., 1955. Hulme, T. E. “A Lecture on Modern Poetry.” T. E. Hulme. Ed. Michael Roberts. London, 1938: 269-270. Jack, Ian. Browning’s Major Poetry. Oxford, 1973. Jerman, B. R. “Browning’s Witless Duke.” PMLA 72 (1957). Kenner, Hugh. The Poetry of Ezra Pound. London, 1951. ---. The Pound Era. London, 1972. King, Roma A., ed. The Complete Works of Robert Browning. vol. III. Athens, Ohio, 1971. Langbaum, Robert. The Poetry of Experience: The Dramatic Monologue in Modern Literary Tradition. London, 1953; 3rd ed. Harmondsworth, 1974. Lewis, C. S. A Preface to ‘Paradise Lost’. The Ballard Matthews Lectures. London, 1942; 1960. ---. An Experiment in Criticism. Cambridge, 1961. Litzinger, Boyd, and Donald Smalley, eds. Browning: The Critical Heritage. London, 1970. Martz, Louis. The Poem of the Mind. Oxford [1966] 1969. McChesney, Donald. A Hopkins Commentary. London, 1968. Milroy, James. The Language of Gerard Manley Hopkins. London, 1977. Miner, Earl. “Ezra Pound.” The Japanese Tradition in British and American Poetry. Princeton, N.J., London, 1958. Murry, J. Middleton. “Gerard Hopkins.” Athenaeum (June 1919); in Bottrall 1975, 48-54. ---. Aspects of Literature. London, 1920. Nassar, Eugene Paul. The Cantos of Ezra Pound: The Lyric Mode. Baltimore and London, 1975. Noon, William T., S.J. “The Three Languages of Poetry.” Immortal Diamond. Studies in G.M. Hopkins. Ed. N. Weyand. London, 1949: 252-274. Paige, D.D., ed. The Letters of Ezra Pound 1907-1941. New York, 1950. Pearlman, Daniel D. The Barb of Time, On the Unity of Ezra Pound’s Cantos. New York, 1969. Perkins, David. A History of Modern Poetry. vol. I. Cambridge, Mass., 1976. Peters, Wilhelmus Antonius Maria. Gerard Manley Hopkins: A Critical Essay towards the Understanding of his Poetry. London, 1948. Pilch, Hermann. Phonemtheorie. 1. Teil. 3rd ed. Basle, 1974. Pound, Ezra. “A Few Don’ts by an Imagiste.” Poetry, 1 (March 1913): 200-206; repr. in Sullivan 1970, 41-45. ---. “Vorticism.” Fortnightly Review, 96 (1914): 461-71; in Sullivan 1970, 46-57. ---. ABC of Reading. London 1934. ---. Social Credit. Money Pamphlet No. 5. London, 1951. ---. Section: Rock Drill, 85-95 de los Cantares. Milan, 1955. Prior, Moody E. The Language of Tragedy. 1947; repr. Gloucester, Mass., 1964. 32

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Reeves, James, ed. The Poets and their Critics, vol. 3: From Arnold to Auden. London, 1969. Richards, I. A. “Gerard Hopkins.” The Dial, 81 (1926); in Bottrall 1975, 69-77. ---. Principles of Literary Criticism. London, [1924] 1926. ---. Practical Criticism: A Study of literary Judgment. London, 1929. Russell, Peter, ed. Ezra Pound: A Collection of Essays. London, 1950. Schoder, R.V., S.J. “What does ‘The Windhover’ mean?” Immortal Diamond. Studies in G.M. Hopkins. Ed. N. Weyand. London, 1949. Sinfield, Alan. Dramatic Monologue. The Critical Idiom, 36. London: 1977. Stead, C.K. The New Poetic. London, 1964; 1975. Stock, Noel. Reading the Cantos: A Study of Meaning in Ezra Pound. London, 1967. Sullivan, J. P., ed. Ezra Pound. Penguin Critical Anthologies. Harmondsworth, 1970. Sutherland Orr, Mrs. A Handbook to the Works of Robert Browning. London, [1885] 1895. de Vane, William Clyde. A Browning Handbook. 2nd ed. New York, 1955. Walliser, Stephan. “That Nature is a Heraclitean Fire and of the Comfort of the Resurrection”: A Case-Study in G. M. Hopkins’ Poetry. The Cooper Monographs, 26. Bern, 1977. Wellek, René, and Austin Warren. Theory of Literature. London, 1949; 3rd ed., Harmondsworth, 1963. Winters, Yvor. “The Poetry of Gerard Manley Hopkins.” The Function of Criticism. London, 1962: 101-156. Wolfe, Patricia A. “The Paradox of Self: Hopkins’s Spiritual Conflict in the ‘Terrible’ Sonnets.” Victorian Poetry, 6. 1968: 85-103. Yeats, W.B. “A Packet for Ezra Pound.” A Vision. London, [1928] 1962: 1-30.


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Browning, too, had to face this problem. After he had published Pauline in 1835, John Stuart Mill told him that its hero-narrator, and, implicitly, the poet himself, were “endowed with a more intense and morbid selfconsciousness than I ever knew in any sane human being” (Litzinger et. al. 1970, p. 3). 2 The most influential of these was Charles Lamb’s Specimens of English Dramatic Poets. See Hobsbaum 1975/76, p. 231. 3 Cp. his Pygmalion (1770). – For an interesting comparison of My Last Duchess with a monodrama, see Culler 1975, p. 383. 4 When the poem was first published in 1842, it appeared under the heading “France and Italy” and was entitled “I. Italy,” which linked it to “Count Gismond,” then entitled “II. France.” This juxtaposition brings out the themes of national character, and of the nature of the marriage bond. In 1849 the link between the two poems was severed (de Vane 1955, p. 107). The temporary linking of the two poems complicates the argument, but does not seriously affect its results. William E. Harrold (1973) discusses the complementarity of the two poems, pp. 37-51. “My Last Duchess” will be read first, in any case, and “Count Gismond” will only follow when the reader becomes interested in evidence for the Duke’s character (see below). The inclusion of the second poem in his analysis will lead the reader to narrow the poem’s meaning and parallel elements will gain in importance (cp. Harrold 1973, p. 50). In Harrold the reading of the Countess’ character is affected by that of the Duke’s. 5 This and the following quotations are taken from The Complete Works of Robert Browning, ed. Roma A. King, vol. III (Athens, Ohio, 1971), pp. 201-202. 6 See Bowen et. al. 1978, pp. 216-219, who discuss two readings of the poems by Alexander Scourby (3 min. 4 sec.) and Frank Silvera (3 min. 42 sec.). 7 Hollister 1955, p. 500. Hollister gives the text of such an introduction: In “My Last Duchess” the scene is laid in an upper room of a duke’s palace, where on a wall behind a curtain is a fine painting of the Duke’s former wife, his last duchess. The duke has been showing his art treasures to an envoy, from a count, who has come to arrange for a marriage between the count’s daughter and the Duke. Among the Duke’s art treasures is the picture of his last duchess. As the Duke draws back the curtain that hides from the public stare the beauty and the purity of his former wife he is fascinated for a moment, for it is a beauty and a purity that was, and is, beyond his power to comprehend fully and to possess for himself in a spiritual way. As he gazes intently on the picture, so intently that she seems to become alive - which, deep down within him, he may wish could be true, - the Duke says half to himself in the presence of the envoy, “That’s my last duchess, looking as if she were alive.” (pp. 500-501). 8 Browning takes “advantage of the directness and vividness which the method of presentation through characters in dialogue affords, and yet to write in freedom from the limitations which condition the form of a play.” (Prior 1947; 1964, p. 224). 9 Cp. Jack 1973, p. 93. 10 The inductive reasoning of the detective reminds one of the fact that the prototype of all detective fiction, Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Murders in the Rue Morgue,” was first published in 1841, one year before “My last Duchess.” But in the poem - as in Browning’s later crime story The Ring and the Book - the reader has to do without the assistance of a master detective. The limitations, not the triumph of inductive reasoning, are shown. 11 Browning’s “strategy for forcing the reader to work his way fully into the speaker’s point of view also affords the patient reader the imaginative pleasure of discovering the links between words and thoughts” (Sinfield 1972, p. 29). 12 An exhaustive treatment of the views expressed up to 1970 is offered by R.J. Berman (1972). 13 This opinion was first expressed by Mrs. Sutherland Orr [1885] 1895, p. 251. 14 Complete Works, ed. King, vol. III, p. 371. 15 Quoted in Complete Works, ed. King, vol. III, p. 372. 16 Drew (1970) distinguishes three stages in the reading of a dramatic monologue: 1) “the drawing of inferences to complete the poem” (p. 15); 2) “the next stage is normally one of comparison” - with external and internal elements, or with our own views (p. 16); 3) “an assessment of the speaker and his views” (p. 17). Drew emphasizes that “those reactions to the monologue, which I have for convenience divided into successive stages, are not so divided when we read the poem. They overlap and continually modify one another.” (p. 17/18). In any case, all the stages distinguished here are concerned with what I have called “evidence.” 17 On 29-VII-1888 he writes on Dixon’s “Eudocia”: “I see no good in dropping a syllable (that is in giving a superfluous syllable) a few times at a stop. It is lawful and effective in dramatic verse ...; but in smooth narrative, in couplets, that highly polished metre, and for private reading I think it needless and faulty and that it puts the reader out.” (Abbott, Correspondence Dixon, 19552, p. 155/156). 18 Abbott, Further Letters, 19562, p. 296. Letter to Patmore, 16-VIII-1883. Cp. also Abbott, Correspondence Dixon, 19552, p. 37, letter of 22-XII-1880. 19 12-V-1887, Abbott, Further Letters, 19562, p. 380. Cp. also letters on 11-XII-1886 (on “Spelt from Sibyl’s Leaves”) and on 11-X-1887 (on “Harry Ploughman”), Abbott, Letters to Bridges, 19552, p. 246 and p. 263.


Engler, Balz. Reading and Listening. The Modes of Communicating Poetry and their Influence on the Texts. Bern: Francke Verlag, 1982. p. 67-110.


Cp., e.g., the letters to Bridges on “The Wreck of the Deutschland,” 21-VIII-1877, 13-V-1878, 30-V-1878, and 22-VI-1878. Abbott, Letters to Bridges, 19552, p. 46, 50, 54, 79. 21 25-IX-1888, Abbott, Letters to Bridges, 19552, p. 291. Incidentally, Yeats included passages from St. Winifred’s Well in his Oxford Book of Modern Verse. 22 6-XI-1887, Abbott, Letters to Bridges, 19552, p. 265. It is interesting to note that Hopkins refers to marking the grammatical features, which are not directly related to rhythm and intonation. The implicit model here is that the signs on the paper first lead the reader to an understanding of the meaning, and from there to a correct enunciation of the poem. This view, with which I have dealt above on p. 26, does not agree with Hopkins’s notion elsewhere that his poetry needs to be listened to for an adequate experience. 23 “The Terrible Sonnets” (No. 64-69) have been grouped together because they express the desolate mood in which Hopkins seems to have been in 1885. Attempts to see them as a sequence (cp. Wolfe 1968, pp. 85-103) are only possible if Bridges’ arrangement of the poems is abandoned. 24 See also James Milroy (1977). 25 The character of Hopkins’s poetry as address is also stressed by Donoghue 1959, p. 273. 26 See Martz [1966] 1969, p. 213; and especially Walliser 1977, pp. 121-124. 27 Why Hopkins deviates from this pattern “is a matter of conjecture” (Walliser 1977, p. 123). 28 See letter to Bridges, 28-IX-1887. Abbott, Letters to Bridges, 19552, p. 262. 29 i.e. Ms A, according to Gardner and Mackenzie 1967; 1970, p. 232. The text is given in Abbott, Letters to Bridges, 19552, as the illustration facing p. 262. 30 Abbott, Letters to Bridges, 19552, illustration facing p. 262. See also Gardner 1949; 1958, p. 94, and Gardner and Mackenzie 1967; 1970, p. 293. 31 I follow Hermann Pilch’s discussion of the problem in Phonemtheorie (Pilch 1974, pp. 41-58). 32 He in line 12 probably refers to Harry, his in line 9 to the personification limb, and in line 11 to either of them. 33 Quoted in Gardner and Mackenzie 1967; 1970, p. 292. 34 McChesney (1968, pp. 169-171) explains 19 points in all. 35 For further examples of syntactic difficulty and ambiguity, see Baker 1967, pp. 87-91. Another striking example is to be found in “Carrion Comfort,” Gardner and Mackenzie 1967; 1970, p. 99/100: Does the clause “since (seems) I kissed the rod” belong to toil and coil before or to lapped strength after it? The parsing is crucial to the interpretation of the poem. 36 The passage is followed by a description of how stanza 4 of “The Wreck of the Deutschland” would be read. Cp. also the remark “All the devices which for the casual reader produce only obscurity are really intended to prevent the reader from understanding anything until he can understand everything.” (Daiches 1940, p. 32. Quoted by Noon 1949, p. 263. 37 e.g., Gardner 1949; 1958, vol. 1, pp. 198-244; Bender 1966, pp. 5-70. 38 Hopkins’s greatness as a poet was challenged soon after it had come to be accepted. Cp. Yvor Winters, “The Poetry of Gerard Manley Hopkins” in his The Function of Criticism (Denver, 1962), pp. 101-156 (first publ. in 1949) and Donald Davie (1952). - Harold Bloom calls him “the most misrepresented and overpraised” Victorian poet (Kermode and Hollander 1973, vol. 2, p. 1465). 39 J. Middleton Murry, “Gerard Hopkins,” Athenaeum (June, 1919); also in his Aspects of Literature (London, 1920). Quoted from Bottrall 1975, p. 51. 40 The Dial 81 (1926), pp. 195-203. I am quoting the essay from Bottrall 1975, pp. 69-77. 41 Richards explicitly states that poetry should be read visually (Richards [1924] 1926, pp. 116-118). 42 I am quoting from Bottrall 1975. 43 Cp. Richards 1929, p. 83. 44 I should rather see a juxtaposition of mouth and mind (as standing for conscious knowledge) to heart and ghost (intuitive knowledge). I do not think that the mind can belong to anybody else beside Margaret. As to line 9, there is little possibility of proving that the ambiguities which Empson sees in it are not there. 45 See the examples below, and Peters 1948, p. 148. 46 Sometimes Peters strains his argument. In a line on the drowning nuns from “The Wreck of the Deutschland,” Are sisterly sealed in wild waters (Gardner and Mackenzie 1967; 1970, p. 59) Peters interprets sealed as “having received the imprint of suffering Christ,” and also a “picture of the wild waters closing over these sisters and thus ‘sealing’ their common grave.” (Peters 1948, p. 164). It is only good taste, however, which hinders us from including a further meaning of sealed (“turned into seals”). 47 Perkins 1976, p. 483. Paradise Lost has 10’465 lines, The Waste Land only 433. 48 Flint 1915. Quoted by Stead 1964; 1975, p. 97. 49 Hulme 1938. Quoted by Gross 1964; 1968, p. 101. 50 “A Few Don’ts by an Imagiste,” Poetry 1 (1913). Quoted in Sullivan 1970, p. 41. The following sentences make it clear that in an instant of time refers to the presentation, and not to complex. 51 The third of the Imagist rules mentioned by F.S. Flint, “Imagisme,” Poetry 1 (1913). Quoted in Sullivan 1970, p. 41.


Engler, Balz. Reading and Listening. The Modes of Communicating Poetry and their Influence on the Texts. Bern: Francke Verlag, 1982. p. 67-110.


Cp. also p. 44: “That part of your poetry which strikes upon the imaginative eye of the reader will lose nothing by translation into a foreign tongue; that which appeals to the ear can reach only those who take it in the original.” 53 “Vorticism.” Quoted by Sullivan 1970, p. 49. Pound adds that he first expressed this view in his edition of Cavalcanti’s poems (1912). Cp. also “The Serious Artist,” New Freewoman 1 (1913), in Sullivan 1970, p. 46. 54 “Vorticism,” in Sullivan 1970, pp. 51-54. The following quotations are taken from p. 51 and 53. 55 in Lustra (London, 1916), p. 45. 56 He almost certainly goes wrong when he takes “petals” to mean “flowers.” I should rather think that the second line of the poem renders the effects of rain on a tree in full bloom. As the bark is black, and the poem is in haiku form, the tree is probably a cherry-tree. 57 Cp. “Vorticism” in Sullivan 1970, p. 54, and Kenner 1972, p. 197. The semicolon appears in Lustra (London, 1916), p. 45. 58 In the Poetry printing, there is an additional space between black and bough (Kenner 1972, p. 573). 59 It is after this sentence that Pound appends a note on the possibility of longer poems depending on a similar presentation of matter. 60 The change from presentation to recording is somewhat puzzling, as the deictic in the phrase “these faces” indicates a situation experienced in the immediate present. 61 Pound, “A Few Don’ts by an Imagiste.” Quoted in Sullivan 1970, p. 41. 62 The major errors can be briefly hinted at. The Chinese writing system has no more simple or complex relation to texts in the Chinese language than any other writing system. The writing system uses logograms (signs for words); neither Chinese or any other writing system uses ideograms (signs for ideas). Not all logograms are comprehensible in their graphic density, and few need be comprehended as they are used. Neither Chinese verse nor any text in any language is without syntax; juxtaposition is no more than a useful metaphor in hinting at the effect of the reduced syntax of Chinese verse (note by Michael Patrick O’Connor). 63 published in Paris, 1925. 64 Ezra Pound, Section: Rock Drill, 85-95 de los Cantares (Milan, 1955). 65 In a letter to his father, 11 April 1927 (Paige 1950, p. 210). He gave a similar account of his plans to Yeats at about the same time. Cp. Yeats [1928] 1962, pp. 3-5. 66 in “An Introduction to the Economic Nature of the United States” (publ. 1944, in Italian). Sullivan 1970, p. 199. 67 This passage from the Ur-Canto I was not made part of the final poem; the opening is condensed in Canto II. The text was printed in Poetry in June 1917. Pound quotes it in his Foreword to Selected Cantos (London, 1967), p. 9. - It is striking to see that Walter Baumann (1967, p. 15), seems to think the expression ragbag was first applied to The Cantos by hostile critics. 68 Cory 1968, p. 38. Quoted in Sullivan 1970, p. 375. 69 Cp. Pearlman 1969, pp. 7-12. Pearlman gives a useful survey of critical views on the unity of The Cantos in his Introduction. 70 Pearlman 1969, p. 27, distinguishes three phases in The Cantos: “Time as Disorder” (No. 1-46), blending into “Time as Order” (No. 31-71), “Time as Love” (No. 74-84). He follows the English canon in omitting the Italian cantos, 72 and 73. Curiously enough, Pearlman does not deal with the post-Pisan Cantos, because they do not offer any new elements to the structure (p. 30). 71 George P. Elliott (1961, p. 161, repr. in Sullivan 1970, p. 265) has questioned the usefulness of these rhythms in establishing structure: “Kenner fails to make clear what structurally valuable end these recurrences serve.” 72 Cantos of about two pages: I, III, VI, XIII, XXX, XLV, XLIX, etc.; particularly long Cantos: LIII: 13 pages; LIV: 15; LXV: 17; LXXIV: 24,5; LXXX: 24; LXXXV: 17; etc. Canto LXXXV is also one of the most difficult. Cp. Davie 1964, pp. 205/206. 73 Cp. also the beginnings of Cantos XI (The Cantos of Ezra Pound, London, 1975, p. 53); XXVI (p. 121); XXVIII (p. 133); and the endings of II (p. 10); VIII (p. 33); etc. 74 Pound, Cantos, 1975, p. 3. See also Kenner 1972, p. 349. 75 Pound, Cantos, 1975, p. 5. On its origin, see Kenner 1972, p. 361. 76 Miner 1958. Quoted in Sullivan 1970, p. 237/38. Cp. also Stock 1967, p. 116. 77 Unless otherwise stated, all my information about the poem is taken from Baumann 1967, pp. 21-23. 78 Pound uses this term for facts or names capable of giving one “a sudden insight into circumjacent conditions in their causes, their effects, into sequence, and law.” (New Age 7 (Dec. 1911), p. 131. Quoted by Kenner 1972, p. 152). 79 George Dekker (1963), p. 133, thinks that Pound’s allusions are meant to send us to their sources, the only place where they have full life and meaning. Davie (1964), p. 205, calls Canto LXXXV “unreadable in isolation.”


Engler, Balz. Reading and Listening. The Modes of Communicating Poetry and their Influence on the Texts. Bern: Francke Verlag, 1982. p. 67-110.


Examples of much obscurer allusions elsewhere in The Cantos are given by Stock (1967), p. 28. (Dolores in Cantos XXXVII, LXXX, LXXI), and p. 51 (a Max Beerbohm drawing in Cantos XXXV, XVIL, IIIC); cp. also p. 111 and 115. 81 The same holds true of the juxtaposition of the story of Itys and Tereus to that of Cabestan, and that of Peire Vidal to the myth of Actaeon and Diana later in the canto. Cp. Blackmur 1957. Quoted in Sullivan 1970, p. 165. 82 Cp. Hwaet! at the beginning of Beowulf. It is interesting that Baumann does not discuss Hear me in his otherwise detailed interpretation. 83 Emery 1958, p. 91; Baumann 1967, p. 23. Again, I follow Baumann’s discussion of the motif. 84 Pound in a letter to his father (11-IV-1927). Quoted by Sullivan 1970, p. 93. Kenner (1972), p. 93, calls The Cantos “a thesaurus of subject rhymes.” Cp. also Stock (1967) passim. 85 Pound, Cantos, 1975, p. 342. Pound speaks of five deaders (corpses). Their number corresponds to that of the Spartoi left after they had fought each other. 86 An example of such a reading is Eugene Paul Nassar’s The Cantos of Ezra Pound: The Lyric Mode (Baltimore and London, 1975). 87 T.S. Eliot, “Isolated Superiority,” The Dial (Jan., 1928). Quoted from Reeves 1969, p. 142/143. Cp. also George P. Elliott 1961. 88 Written in 1936. Included in Russell 1950, p. 72. Quoted from Baumann 1967, p. 15. 89 Apropos Laurence Binyon’s translation of Dante. Quoted by Perkins 1976, p. 475. 90 Davie 1975, p. 81/82. Cp. also Davie 1964, p. 229. 91 See, for a moving example, Fraser 1960, p. 106/107. 92 Beside the ideograms there are also other elements difficult to express in performance: the capitalization of words (cp. ANAXIFORMINGES! above, p. 99), excisions (e.g., in Cantos XIV and XV, Cantos, 1975, p. 61, 6465), italics and spaced words (e.g., in XXXV, p. 173), underlinings (e.g., XLVI, p. 233), black bars replacing words (LII, p. 257), marginal notes (LII to LIX, pp. 265-325). The problem of Pound’s typography is too complex to be reviewed here. Cp. his letter to Hubert Creekmore in February 1939 (Sullivan 1970, p. 192), and Pound’s Social Credit, Money Pamphlet No. 5 (London, 1951), p. 17. On Pound’s visual prosody, see Gross 1964; 1968, pp. 160-164. 93 See Canto XCIII, in Pound, Cantos, 1975, pp. 623-32. 94 Canto XXII, in Pound, Cantos, 1975, p. 103; XXXIV (p. 171); XLII (p. 210); etc. 95 Pound, letter to Hubert Creekmore. Sullivan 1970, p. 192.


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