Harmony, Space, and Images: Ezra Pound and Music (2023)

“Ezra was the most generous writer I have ever known and the most disinterested. He helped poets, painters, sculptors and prose writers that he believed in and he would help anyone whether he believed in them or not if they were in trouble” (Hemingway 110).

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That’s how Ernest Hemingway described the American poet, critic, editor, and dynamic personality Ezra Pound, one of the foremost literary figures in Paris in the 1920s. It seems Pound was everywhere in Paris in the early 1920s. He introduced and brought together many of the Paris literary figures, edited their works (most notably, Eliot’s “The Waste Land”), and helped define and shape the tenets of literary modernism and imagist poetry. He is less well-known, possibly rightfully so, for another of his interests: Pound was a musician, composer (of questionable talent), and musical critic. Although music may seem simply a side interest of Pound’s, inspired by the intermingling of artists and artistic genres in the early days of modernism, Pound’s musical musings likely impacted and shaped his basic ideas on modernist poetry. Indeed, in his 1913 essay on Vorticism, he quotes the 19th-century English literary criticWalter Pater: “[A]ll arts should approach the conditions of music” (Pound “Vorticism”). Pater wanted art to elicit an emotional response without necessarily spelling out a narrow story. Pound, too, hoped literature can achieve without excessive narrative, but he took this idea one step further tocritique even music that is renderedover explanatory through excessive sentimentality.

In 1924, specifically, Ezra Pound wrote three essays on music: one on the composer George Antheil, one on harmony (which was published in the Transatlantic Review) and one on William Anthling, the pen-name he used to publish the Musical Supplement of the Transatlantic Review. Though specifically about music, each of the essays also reveals basic beliefs about poetry and all arts .

In “On Harmony,” published in the Musical Supplement of the third issue of the Transatlantic Review, Pound explains his rather abstract views on harmony. Pound believes that music should not be sentimental and that melody alone should not be relied upon. His views are similar to and likely influenced by his other contemporary music critics, such as Jean Cocteau, who breaks away from traditional interpretations of poetic beauty in music, saying, for instance, that “the nightingale singes badly” (Cocteau 8). By itself, the melody of a nightingale, a traditional symbol for poetry and poetical song, is not high art. Pound writes:

“The element most grossly omitted from treatises on harmony up to the present is the element of TIME. The question of the time-interval that must elapse between one sound and another if the two sounds are to produce a pleasing consonance or an interesting relation, has been avoided” (Harmony 9).

Pound emphasizes space and rhythm rather than melody and pitch. He goes so far as to say that any pitches can be used as long as the proper space connects them:

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“A sound of any pitch, or any combination of such sounds, may be followed by a sound, or any combination of sounds, providing the time interval between them is properly gauged; and this is true for any series of sounds, chords, or arpeggios” (Harmony 10).

Pound’s emphasis on the space between notes points to the relation and connection that must be made in those spaces. Whether or not a rule adopted by musicians at the time, Pound’s view on harmony seems as if it also could apply to imagist poetry. Pound and others began pioneering the imagist movement toward the end of the first decade of the 20thcentury. Imagist poems are free verse and attempt to relate messages through very specific and often very concise images. Possibly the most famous imagist poem by Ezra Pound is the two-line “In a Station of the Metro:”

“The apparition of these faces in the crowd;/Petals on a wet, black bough.”

The short, rhythmic poem is composed of three specific images: a metro station, a crowd of faces, and petals on a wet branch. Pound claims to have originally written a much longer poem to express his feelings in the metro station and then took months to refine it down to these two lines. As in Pound’s idea of a good work of music, this poem relies heavily on the juxtaposition of images, or, in the language of “On Harmony,” the “space” between and around images. The three images alone mean nothing independently of one another—the station, faces, and petals mean little independently, but by juxtaposing them beside each other, Pound provokes a connection. He implies that there is a relation and causes the reader to interact with the images in order to experience the connection. Someone reading the poem might choose to see the faces as beautiful but short-lasting—the beauty of ephemeral and delicate wet petals will soon fade, just as the faces one sees in a crowd, no matter how beautiful, may never be seen again. Another reader may think more morbidly of the short nature of human life—healthy faces, too, will wither like petals on a wet bough. Different readers will interpret the poem in a number of different ways, but the point is that the charged images are set in motion only when the reader begins to interact with them. Pound, although wanting the reader to interact, does not however leave too much up to interpretation. Every word and mark is carefully chosen. He, for example, sets the tone with the unusual word “apparition,” and the unique language establishes a space or environment where these different images can come together in harmony. His actual spacing between words also equate different images. Both “faces” and “petals” are followed by descriptive prepositional phrases. And though they come one after the other, they are separated on two lines and by a semicolon. Pound entices readers by the literal spaces between his words and mental spaces between his images.

We can look at the same phenomena in other of Pound’s short poems such as the three-line Alba:

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“As cool as the pale wet leaves /of lily-of-the-valley /She lay beside me in the dawn.”

Again, the space that connects the idea of the woman and the leaf is what creates the poem’s intrigue. The reader must actively attempt to feel and imagine the connection Pound insinuates. The contrast of the images, makes the insinuation poignant. The sensory image of cool, pale, wet leaf sets the tone—as a particular phrase of notes would set the key and mood—and the following image gains meaning due to its placement next to the first. The woman lying down speaks in a new tone when placed in connection with the leaf, specifically a delicate lily-of-the-valley. Her action takes place in the past tense, but the poem ends with “dawn”—all these ideas affect the tone, the feel, and could be thought of as the space around and juxtaposition of the images.

Pound wants music that elicits a reaction. He doesn’t want the music or the poem to over-explain, to indulge in sentimentality, to be too obvious. He wants to convey truth through images that the reader will feel rather than instantaneously understand. Ultimately, Pound sees poetry and music as one world, or of two different ways of achieving the same thing—eliciting authentic emotional reactions.

Works Cited

Albright, Daniel. Untwisting the Serpent: Modernism in Music, Literature, and Other Arts. Chicago, Ill: U of Chicago, 2000. Print.

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Cocteau, Jean. “Cock and Harlequin: Notes concerning Music :.” Internet Archive. N.p., n.d. Web. 24 July 2015.

“Ezra Pound.” Modern American Poetry. University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, n.d. Web. 24 July 2015.

Hemingway, Ernest. A Movable Feast. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1964. Print.

Pound, Ezra. “Antheil and the Treatise on Harmony, with Supplementary Notes.” Internet Archive. N.p., n.d. Web. 24 July 2015.

Pound, Ezra. “Vorticism.” The Fortnightly Review. N.p., 25 Aug. 2011. Web. 20 July 2015.

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What is an image according to Ezra Pound? ›

The essay begins with the three principles of imagism, including “Direct treatment of the 'thing'.” Pound defines “image” as “an intellectual and emotional complex in an instant of time.” He elaborates on the “rules” of imagism, advising precision, and proclaiming, among other things, “Use either no ornament or good ...

What are the three principles of imagism? ›

A reactionary movement against romanticism and Victorian poetry, imagism emphasized simplicity, clarity of expression, and precision through the use of exacting visual images.

What themes did Ezra Pound? ›

within the work Pound explores familiar themes of culture, society, and economics. He uses Chinese characters and foreign languages. 'The River Merchant's Wife: A Letter' is an interesting composition that takes the form of a letter from a wife to a husband.

What are the 7 types of imagery? ›

There are seven distinct types of imagery:
  • Visual.
  • Auditory.
  • Olfactory.
  • Gustatory.
  • Tactile.
  • Kinesthetic.
  • Organic.

What are the elements of Imagism? ›

What Are the Characteristics of Imagist Poetry? Imagist poetry is defined by directness, economy of language, avoidance of generalities, and a hierarchy of precise phrasing over adherence to poetic meter.

What was the main principle of Imagism? ›

Imagism was a sub-genre of Modernism concerned with creating clear imagery with sharp language. The essential idea was to re-create the physical experience of an object through words. As with all of Modernism, Imagism implicitly rejected Victorian poetry, which tended toward narrative.

What was Ezra Pound's motto? ›

'Make It New' refers to Ezra Pound's (1885–1972) modernist imperative and his 1934 collection of essays of the same name. This slogan compels the writer to create out of the material of art work that is distinctively innovative.

What did Ezra Pound believe? ›

Pound's aspirations for literature were grand. He believed that bad writing destroyed civilizations and that good writing could save them, and although he was an élitist about what counted as art and who mattered as an artist, he thought that literature could enhance the appreciation of life for everyone.

What was Ezra Pound influenced by? ›

Ezra Pound

What is Ezra Pound's definition of literature? ›

He put it this way: Literature is news that STAYS news. (Quoted from Chapter 6, “Literchoor Is My Beat”by Ian S. MacNiven.

How did Ezra Pound contribute to modernism? ›

Pound's contributions to modernism are varied, from his early advocacy of the publication of Joyce's prose to his extensive editing and paring of Eliot's The Waste Land to his own manifestos and aesthetic pronouncements.

What is music imagery? ›

Musical imagery refers to the experience of "replaying" music by imagining it inside the head. Whereas visual imagery has been extensively studied, few people have investigated imagery in the auditory domain.

What are 3 examples of a imagery? ›

Literary Imagery Examples
  • Visual: appeals to our sense of sight. The crimson apple glistened in her hand.
  • Auditory: appeals to our sense of sound. The roaring thunder frightened the little boy.
  • Olfactory: appeals to our sense of smell. ...
  • Gustatory: appeals to our sense of taste. ...
  • Tactile: appeals to our sense of touch.

How do you identify the imagery of a poem? ›

An easy way to spot imagery in a text is to pay attention to words, phrases, and sentences that connect with your five senses (sight, smell, taste, touch, and sound). That's because writers know that in order to capture a reader's attention, they need to engage with them mentally, physically, and emotionally.

What are 5 imagery types? ›

It is useful to break down sensory imagery by sense.
  • Visual imagery engages the sense of sight. ...
  • Gustatory imagery engages the sense of taste. ...
  • Tactile imagery engages the sense of touch. ...
  • Auditory imagery engages the sense of hearing. ...
  • Olfactory imagery engages the sense of smell.
29 Sept 2021

How do you analyze the imagery of a poem? ›

How to analyse imagery – A step-by-step guide
  1. Read the passage to see if there is something recognisable to the senses.
  2. Identify the examples using sensory imagery; and then: ...
  3. Ask yourself what this imagery is representing?
  4. Write about what this imagery does, and how it supports your argument using a T.E.E.L structure.

What was Imagism influenced by? ›

Other early and more radical influences on the imagists included the symbolist poets, classical Greek and Roman poetry, and Chinese and Japanese verse forms, in particular the haiku, or hokku. that which presents an intellectual and emotional complex in an instant of time. . . .

What is Imagism and symbolism? ›

Imagism or Imagisme, as it would be initially called, was a successor to the earlier French Symbolism with famous poets such as Charles Baudelaire and Stéphane Mallarmé. But whereas Symbolism had an affinity with music, Imagism sought analogy with the visual arts.

Who was Ezra Pound compared to? ›

Ezra Pound was often compared to T.S Eliot because they were close friends. Ezra Pound helped T.S. Eliot in his poem, "The Waste Land." Some critics claimed that T.S. Eliot's essay, "Tradition and the Individual Talent," had many similar ideas found in Ezra Pound's works.

Where do I start with Ezra Pound? ›

Our advice is to begin with Canto I and wade through: Pound begins The Cantos of Ezra Pound (New Directions Books) in medias res with a multi-layered poetic account of Odysseus' journey into the underworld to seek counsel from Tiresias.

What is a Ezra Pound couplets? ›

An Ezra Pound couplet consists of two rhymed lines of verse approximately the same length.

Who led Imagism or the use of direct sparse language and precise images in poetry? ›

Ezra Pound (1885–1972) and Thomas Stearns Eliot (1888–1965) were not only poetic contemporaries but also friends and collaborators. Pound was the instigator of modernism's first literary movement, Imagism, which centred on the idea of the one-image poem.

Who owns Ezra's Pound? ›

We caught up with Owner/Operator, Braeden La Marr, to talk about Ezra Pound's beginnings, and the journey it has taken in the years since. “So, Ezra was established in 2009, it was one of the first small bars in Perth.

What awards did Ezra Pound win? ›

In 1946 he was arrested and put into a mental hospital. During his confinement, the jury of the Bollingen-Library of Congress Award decided to overlook Pound's political career in the interest of recognizing his poetic achievements, and awarded him the prize for the Pisan Cantos (1948).

Why is the great figure an example of Imagism? ›

Both "The Great Figure" and "The Red Wheelbarrow" demonstrate the influence of Imagism, through their use of clear and precise language to frame a single, central image: the number 5 and the wheelbarrow, respectively. The resulting poem, "The Great Figure," was published in Williams's 1921 collection Sour Grapes.

What are three characteristics of modernist writing? ›

5 Characteristics of Modernist Literature

Some of those techniques include blended imagery and themes, absurdism, nonlinear narratives, and stream of consciousness—which is a free flowing inner monologue.

What was the biggest influence on modernism? ›

Technological innovations and the impact of the First World War are two main elements that influenced modernism.

Who were major contributors to modernism and imagism? ›

Imagist publications appearing between 1914 and 1917 featured works by many of the most prominent modernist figures in poetry and other fields, including Pound, H.D. (Hilda Doolittle), Amy Lowell, Ford Madox Ford, William Carlos Williams, F. S. Flint, and T. E. Hulme.

What factors influenced modernism? ›

Among the factors that shaped modernism were the development of modern industrialism and the rapid growth of cities, followed then by reactions to the horrors of World War I. Modernism also rejected the certainty of Enlightenment thinking, although many modernists also rejected religious belief.

What is the meaning of the return by Ezra Pound? ›

Themes and Meanings

Throughout his poetic life, Pound reasserted this conviction in an attempt to refresh the minds and senses of twentieth century urbanites cooped up in their cities and penned in by their guilt. “The Return” is an expression of this belief in the continuing reality of. human-kind's ancient gods.

What is the meaning of In a Station of the Metro by Ezra Pound? ›

The poem is Pound's written equivalent for the moment of revelation and intense emotion he felt at the Paris Metro's Concorde station. The poem is essentially a set of images that have unexpected likeness and convey the rare emotion that Pound was experiencing at that time.

How did Ezra Pound contribute to Modernism? ›

Pound's contributions to modernism are varied, from his early advocacy of the publication of Joyce's prose to his extensive editing and paring of Eliot's The Waste Land to his own manifestos and aesthetic pronouncements.

Who is the best Imagist poet in your view? ›

The foremost Imagist poet who is still actively read in the twenty first century is Ezra Pound.

What literary devices are used in the poem the return? ›

“The Return” is overflowing with literary elements such as personification, imagery, similes and rhetorical questions, and all of the literary elements work together to embody the concept of movement through time.

What is the theme of the poem the return? ›

Summary of The Return

'The Return' by Ezra Pound describes the return of the Gods who have weakened to an almost unrecognizable form through the ages. The poem begins with the speaker stating that “they” are returning. The gods are tentative in their steps as if they are unsure how to proceed.

What is theme of the poem? ›

The theme of a poem is the message an author wants to communicate through the piece. The theme differs from the main idea because the main idea describes what the text is mostly about.

What type of poem is In a Station of the Metro? ›

Ezra Pound, possibly the most important figure in Modernist poetry, wrote "In a Station of the Metro" in 1913. The poem is a perfect example of Imagism, a type of poetry that Pound created.

What is the central image of In a Station of the Metro? ›

The central image of the faces as petals is clear and simple, and can instantly be visualized. It draws together the urban world of the Paris Metro with the natural world, the world of leaves and tree boughs.


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