Study Guide

Canto VII Form and Meter

By Ezra Pound

Form and Meter

Mixed Bag

It can be really easy to read Canto VII and feel tempted to label the whole thing as free verse. But when studying a poet who knew the history and craft of poetry as well as Pound, we need to always assume that he's doing something interesting with his form and meter. And sure enough, if we look close enough, we find that Pound is mostly alternating between iambic lines and trochaic meters—so he's not just free-forming his way through this thing. For those who need a refresher, iambs are units of meter that go from unstressed to stressed, and trochees go from stressed to unstressed.

Mostly Iambic and Trochaic

So in checking out the meter of this poem, let's have a look at the following passage:

The old men's voices—beneath the columns of false marble,

And the walls tinted discreet, the modish, darkish green-blue,
Discreeter gilding, and the panelled wood
Not present, but suggested, for the leasehold is

Touched with an imprecision… about three squares;

The house a shade too solid, the paintings 
a shade too thick.

And the great domed head, con gli occhi onesti e tardi

As you can see in line 2 of this passage, Pound almost falls into two trochees when he writes "modish, darkish." In the fourth line, on the other hand, he nearly settles into the typical tick-tock sound of iambs, writing "Not present, but suggested, for the leasehold is."

But as Pound once famously wrote, rhythm should never imitate the tick-tock of a clock or metronome. It should instead copy the more balanced and open rhythm of a musical phrase. In other words, it shouldn't be totally random like everyday talking, but it should never fall into a steady beat, either. And that's the exact kind of balance Pound strikes by always hinting at normal meters, but never really falling into them.

Stressin' Out

You might also notice while looking at the meter of these lines that Pound is a pretty big fan of creating a sense of power and gravity by throwing out three stressed syllables in a row. Whether it's the "old men's voices" of line 1 or the "great domed head" of line 7, these triple stresses have a way of interrupting the poem with a big boom-boom-boom and giving you a sense of just how massive and godly the stakes of this poem are for Pound. Then again, no one ever accused the guy of not taking himself seriously enough.