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- Ezra Pound discussion list of the University of Maine <[log in to unmask]>
Mon, 6 Oct 2003 12:12:01 -0700
- Ezra Pound discussion list of the University of Maine <[log in to unmask]>
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Dirk Johnson <[log in to unmask]>
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Tone leading would have to be a property of pitch rather than of time.  Pound's sense of time is indeed the major distinguishing mark of his prosody, but I don't see why he would have used the phrase "leading tone" to indicate a modification of time.  Duncan may at some point have interpreted it this way, though I'm not convinced that he did.  Both Ellen Stauder's and Margaret Fisher's excellent posts clearly indicate that Pound would have been thinking in terms of pitch, and I don't think that Pound would have been confused about a term that is generally used to indicate a tendency from the seventh to the tonic.

An interesting essay by Jim Rosenberg touches on this subject without clarifying it for me. Possibly you will find more in it: http://www.well.com/user/jer/nonlin_prosody.html

Since Pound didn't clarify to Duncan what he meant, one might speculate that Pound was seeking to use his influence with the young poet to try to bring poetry back toward music, from which it had by that time in English strayed so far, especially under the influence of Stevens.  I think that both Ms. Fisher's and Ms. Stauder's postings correctly suggest (according to my interpretation) that it would be a suggestion toward making Duncan's poems "singable" -- though by this Pound would NOT have been referring to what most people would think of as a "song", i.e., a repetitive and regular metrical piece set to music.  The "jazz phrase" comes to mind.

However one interprets it, a leading tone would seek resolution of pitch, not a division of time.  Unless one were to incorporate it into a newly devised notation for the performance of poetry, "tone leading" is an intangible performance indicator, which a poet may or may not be able to build into his/her composition, which is generally simply words on a page without performance markings.  On the other hand, keeping an ear in this direction may help a poet compose according to a more melodious prosody without their being any directly analyzable result.  Pound was talking to a poet about the practice of writing poetry, not to an academic about the practice of scanning it.  Possibly he was simply suggesting to Duncan a technique for tuning his ear during composition.

In Ms. Stauder's quotation from "Osiris", Pound is asking a question.  Possibly he thought Duncan capable of working out an interesting answer, hence the cryptic postcard suggestion.

Also, Duncan seems to have taken the suggestion metaphorically as well as literally and used it in relation to images, vide:

"The poem is not a stream of consciousness, but an area of composition in which I work with whatever comes into it. Only words come into it. Sounds and ideas. The tone leading of vowels, the various percussions of consonants. The play of
numbers in stresses and syllables. In which meanings and ideas, themes and things seen, arise. So that there is not only a melody of sounds but of images."  (Unfortunately, I can't source the above quotation.  I took it from http://www.duke.edu/~tkp1/poetrydefs.htm)

But this, too, indicates an interpretation of pitch for "tone leading".

A lot of "possibly" here, but at least I didn't say "perhaps".

Dirk Johnson
676 Geary St. #407
San Francisco, CA 94102