Swinburne, Pound, and Bridges

Algernon Charles Swinburne (1837-1909)

AG: Did I do that last time? (Swinburne’s Hendecasyllabics). If you listen to the way he handles it, it’s a direct transmission from him up to Ezra Pound up to modern days and into this classroom – “In the month of the long decline of roses/I, beholding the summer dead before me,/Set my face to the sea and journeyed silent,/Gazing eagerly where above the sea-mark/Flame as fierce as the fervid eyes of lions/Half-divided the islands of the sunset;/Till I heard as it were a noise of waters/Moving tremulous under feet of angels/Multitudinous, out of all the heavens; /Knew the fluttering wind, the  fluttered foliage,/Shaken fitfully, full of sound and shadow…”

(The) two tricks Swinburne does here in English that Pound takes over, and that passes through (Charles) Olson, (Robert) Duncan and a little bit of my work. First of all is that “da-da” at the end – if you notice the paradigms at the end, the end of the adonic line and the end of the hendecasyllabic line when it’s in the Sapphic mode, very often ends with two long, or two accented (stresses)  – or, some special emphasis on the last syllable, if it’s a two-syllable word like “shadow”, “ending”, “sea-mark”, “lions”. Pound takes that”sea-mark”, “sea-surge”, ear for the “sea-surge”, the rustle.. the rattle of old men’s voices”, ear for the sea-surge, and there’s a funny kind of crooning thing that he does with that that gives a weight to the last syllable – even if it’s “and the girls sing-ing” – Has anybody.. you’ve all heard Pound’s poems on records? – has anybody not? – anybody not heard Ezra Pound on record? Is this recognizeable for those who have heard it? Do you recognize what I’m talking about? Next time, I’ll bring in some Pound. We’ll get ahold of Pound reading The Pisan Cantos, I guess – (do we have one (of them) in here (in the clasroom anthology)?…toward the end.. with Pound…Pound…okay..if you look toward the end… I’ll find it.. [Allen keeps searching] – no..well, no, never mind).

What you can get is… You get it more in his handling of “The Seafarer” (“May I for my own self song’s truth reckon,/Journey’s jargon, how I in harsh days/Hardship endured oft/Bitter breast-cares have I abideth..” – “Known on my keel many a care’s hold,/And dire sea-surge…”). You hear that little thing that he’s doing with the “sea-surge”?, “cares hold”? “harsh days”?, “hail scur”?, “clamour”?, “mead-drink”?, “ring-having”?, “wave’s slash”? –  You know what I’m talking about? – two long vowels..two long vowels (or two accented vowels, however you want to count them) at the end of the line – or, an unaccented vowel, like “singing”, pronouncing it “sing-ing”, when you put a little bit of emphasis on the end of the…on the second vowel. That ear went, I believe, from Swinburne to (W.B.) Yeatsto Ezra Pound, probably, because Pound said that he didn’t get to see Swinburne when he went to London, Swinburne was the one man he missed.

Ezra Pound (1885-1972)

The other thing he does is – “Set myself to the sea and journeyed silent”. Instead of saying “I’.. well, he had “I, beholding the summer dead before me/>Set myself to the sea and journeyed silent” – there is a thing where you cut.. he cuts..  (he) cuts out the subject – “And then (we) went down to the sea in ships” – If you look at the Canto we have here by Pound [Canto 1], I think that he’s cut out that subject – “went down to the sea in ships”..(where is (the) Pound here? (in the Norton Anthology) – page 1007) – And then went down to the ship,/Set keel to breakers, forth on the godly seas, and/We set up mast and  sail on that swart ship/Bore sheep aboard her, and our bodies also” – Is that sounding familiar? – “Bore sheep aboard her, and our bodies also” – It’s a hendecasyllabic line – “Bore-sheep-a-board her-and-our-bod-ies-also” So, throughout The Cantos, you’ll find Pound making use of the rhythms of the hendecasyllabic line, the double.. the molossus, as it is called,  the double.. at the end, where we have a.. [Allen  moves to the blackboard to demonstrate the line] – it could be either, interchangeably, either light or heavy, the last one (last syllable).. I’ve forgot where the other one.. yeah, the fourth and the eleventh, can be interchangeably long syllables or short syllables, that’s why I… You following what I’m saying? – “sea-surge”…
So you find it in the Hendecasyllabics of Swinburne. So we’ll go on (because we did that already) from Swinburne to..  I think you got Swinburne’s Sapphics broken up into several pages, with the Hendecasyllabics sandwiched in-between. So if you put the Hendecasyllabics  first – 202, then 204, then, 206…

Robert Bridges (1884-1930)

Robert Bridges is the next. Bridges was a Georgian poet, a kind of conservative, not a very exciting poet at all. It’s called “Povre Ame Amoureuse” (You can’t quite see it, but it is Robert Bridges, down there, labelled) . It’s a trans(lation) – Louise translated the Sapphic-style poem into French in the Sixteenth Century and here is Bridges’ translation of Louise Labe so there’s further lineage – “When to my lone soft bed at eve returning/Sweet desir’d sleep already stealeth o’er me/My spirit flieth to the fairy-land of her tyrannous love/Him then I think fondly to kiss to hold him/Frankly then to my bosom, I that all day/Have looked for him suffering, repining, yea many long days/ O blessed sleep, with flatteries beguile me;/So, if I ne’er may  of a surety have him/Grant to my poor soul amorous the dark gift of this illusion.” – Can you find that? It’s at the end of the Sapphics (section). It looks like  [Allen displays the xerox anthology once again]

[Audio for the above can be heard here beginning at approximately fifty-one minutes in, and ending at approximately fifty-seven-and- three-quarter minutes in]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *