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STEPHEN J. ADAMS Are the Cantos a Fugue? One of the ways in which music can have a bearing on poetry is as an analogy for poetic structure. Pound compared the structure of the Cantos to fugue, and a number of critics have alluded to this supposed resemblance in defence of the poem's supposed incoherence; but no one, I think, has ever examined the analogy closely. I do not intend here an analysis of the Cantos using the vocabulary of 'subject/ 'response/ 'countersubject,' that Pound proposes. I do intend to examine the limits of the fugal analogy, in order to discoverwhat was in Pound's head when he suggested it, how it may be applied justly, and perhaps more important, how it may not. For musical structure in poetry is a subject much bandied but rarely, it seems to me, rewarding. Critics who suggest musical analogies too often have a naive textbook understanding of musical form as a donnee with no flexibility, no inner necessity of its own. Analogies are suggested casually, with no explanation of what verbal phenomena the analogy is supposed to single out. The various manipulations of harmony, tonality, melody, rhythm, that govern most musical structures simply correspond to nothing in a verbal text. When a text is said to have a musical structure, the question must be asked whether the structure is moulded to a textbook paradigm (as in a jeu d'esprit like Wallace Stevens's 'Peter Quince at the Clavier'), or if the structure is verbal, with perhaps certain necessarily vague resemblances to some musical procedure. Pound, who once prided himself on refusing to define one art in terms of another,! was cautious in his own use of the musical analogy. He never declared the analogy in print. The references are all made in private correspondence , or in one case reported from private conversation by W.B. Yeats in A Packet for Ezra Pound (1929). All of Pound's references are themselves tentative. On the two occasions in his published letters when he refers to Yeats's report of his fugal idea, he disavows it angrily: 'God damn Yeats' bloody paragraph. Done more to prevent people reading Cantos for what is on the page than any other one smoke screen.'2 Pound evidently regarded the analogy as something of a red herring. During the thirties, two articles appeared on the musicality of the Cantos, one by Louis Zukofsky, which Pound approved, the other by Dudley Fitts, which he dismissed as uncomprehending; Fitts speaks at some length on the subject of 'counterpoint,' while Zukofsky, who knew of Pound's UTQ, Volume XLV, Number 1, Fall 1975 68 STEPHEN J. ADAMS fugue idea, never mentions it.3 Equally significant, though, is the want of evidence that the fugal notion had ever occurred to Pound before 1927, the date of his earliest extant allusion to it in a letter to his father. At this date the first twenty-seven cantos were already written. Yeats must have received Pound's explanation early in 1928 when he was in Rapallo. For some reason Bach's fugues were on Pound's mind around this time: there is a reference in 'How to Read' (published January 1929) to taking a fugue apart and putting it together again.4 None of Pound's references to 'fugue' or 'counterpoint' before 1927 relates in any direct way to the Cantos; the significance which he attached to the word 'fugue' around 1917, when the Cantos were begun in earnest, was even less definite, as we shall see, than the usage he discovered later. When Pound was writing the first cantos, he was notoriously vague as to their eventual structure. He wrote to James Joyce in 1917: I have begun an endless poem, of no known category. Phanopoeia or something or other, all about everything. "Poetry" may print the first three cantos this spring. I wonder what you will make of it. Probably too sprawling and unmusical to find favour in your ears. Will try to get some melody into it further on. Though we have not ornbra and ingornbra to end our lines with, or poluphloisbious thallassas to enrich the middle feet.5 Melody...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1712-5278
Print ISSN
0042-0247
Pages
pp. 67-74
Launched on MUSE
2015-07-01
Open Access
No
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