Phoneticians have long since described spoken English, and with great precision, but it wasn’t until Derek Attridge's The Rhythms of English Poetry (1982) that the revolution in linguistic science applied itself to our poetry. | 4 | He holds that poetic forms both exaggerate and regularize the natural intonation of speech; they are governed by inherent norms and expectations. Isochronosty of stress units (occupying equal amounts of time) takes precedence over that of syllable-length and count. A stressed syllable with its related unstressed counterparts (however many there happen to be) tend to be equalized. Of course, the time units never really achieve equality, but they do contribute to the regularity and alternation of rhythm characteristic of English poetry. The obvious examples come from nursery rhymes where rhythm is most notably exaggerated. “Thìs is the hoùse that Jàck buìlt.” The leading unstressed syllable is omitted – a strong attack as in the opening bar of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, but even so, the initial stress is less than those which follow. Language naturally compresses and elongates the timing of stress units whatever their syllabic length. Differentiations of pitch, which naturally accompany stress and juncture, add a vertical dimension to the forward thrust of cadence. Attridge writes:

4 | London; Longman, 1982.

In listening to the utterances of another speaker of English, I relate the physical signals I hear to the sequence of muscular actions needed to produce them, a sequence which is rhythmic in character, with its peaks on the bursts of energy which create stressed syllables, and its troughs on the weaker activity that produces unstressed syllables.[…] A speaker of English perceives stresses as rhythmic pulses and the intervals between them as rhythmically equivalent (though not necessarily equal). This impression is not affected by tempo. (72)


Furthermore stresses in poetry are counted “by instinctively exaggerating their rhythmic function, turning them into beats at relatively equal intervals, and often accompanying each stress with a muscular movement. Listeners do not assess the acoustic properties of the sounds they hear, but take account of the pressures needed to produce [them]” (65-66). The constraint of syllable count in accentual-syllabic verse has far less influence than stress.

On the other hand Beat/Offbeat scansion, as developed by Attrtidge, is, perhaps, overly stress-oriented and more or less neglects the importance of pitch, duration, and sound patterning. English intonation is, of course, not monotone and natural patterns include four distinct levels which indicate nuances of meaning, either grammatical or emotional. The mid tone (#2) constitutes a norm, and the lower (#1) indicates closure in indicative statements. The higher level (#3) falls on stressed syllables as well as marking internal juncture and closure in interrogative sentences. The fourth and highest pitch is purely emotive and registers surprise, anger, incredulity, etc.

Moreover, regional and class dialects differ in patterns of intonation as well as pronunciation and also vary over time. Vowel length, for example, greatly affects the dynamic of poetic rhythm, and Pound spoke the so-called, cultured dialect of the Northeastern sea-board at the turn of the Twentieth Century – as did Teddy Roosevelt, etc. It was highly influenced by an antecedent Scots vernacular, with burred ‘r’s and some short vowels which in standard English are now long. Poetry for him, as for Yeats, was incantatory and he chanted (Sprechgesang) with pitch changes on whole tones as do professional actors. | 5 | Most native speakers use half or quarter tones and some regional dialects ignore them altogether – Mid-Western American and Southern Californian, for instance. In hard-nosed, tough-guy films of the 1930s and ‘40s, as well as in contemporary costume drama, pitch is often avoided in order to achieve a distancing effect – either a complete absence of emotion or rhetorical elevation. Normally, pitch change coincides with stressed syllables, and Attridge accounts for ‘duration’ in terms of stress, but that is not the only possible view. On 16 December 2007 David Moody wrote, privately:

I listen for the pulse of the musical phrase, the sequence of same, and the movement within the phrase and from phrase to phrase. The movement arises from duration, as in dancing – quick, quick, slow etc. The weights, the stresses, do tend to fall naturally on the longer/slower syllables; but the forward movement which is the rhythm is in the varying durations running above any regular pattern of stresses/beats. […] From pitch + open or closed syllables comes duration – “And then went down to the sea”; 4 long descending in pitch, with the 4th the deepest, longest, and most stressed, with a minimal pause on that account before two quick and “sea” which is naturally lengthened by position and stress. As you observe, it comes down in the end to interpretation.

Beat/Offbeat scansion (as developed by Attridge) offers a meaningful tool for dealing with The Cantos, and the following tabulation under six headings allows easy access to its major concepts:












5 | Recordings of Pound's readings are available at Listen@Richard Sieburth,

Implied Offbeat () – Between any two Beats, adjacent to one another, an Offbeat is implied. Compensation for its absence occurs elsewhere in the set. Both double and triple off-beats occur naturally, balancing the relationship between the number of actual Beats and total syllable count. In the scansions of selected cantos which accompany the present text, that symbol has been omitted as being superfluous, and syllable count is given.


Promotion () – When three Offbeats occur in sequence, the central syllable may or may not represent a physical pulse, but rhythmic expectation will register it as such, none the less. The attached scansion of cantos counts examples of Promotion as Beats.


Demotion () – Where more than two beats follow one another, one or more of them will count as an Offbeat even though each syllable constitutes a strong physical pulse.



6 | Pound was unaware that every syllable in Japanese has equal weight and duration.

Partial Stress (b) – Words of three syllables or more often carry a secondary stress which arises from the expectation of alternation. For example:


Although phonetic stresses are transformed into rhythmic Beats, not all Beats are equal, and the Attridge notation includes +s and –s[tress].

  • Unrealized Beats (in rising, dupal rhythms [oB]) – 4 and 5 B lines are self-fulfilling, but when juxtaposed with 3B lines, the truncated set sounds incomplete, especially when end-stopped. The missing stress unit is heard as an emphatic pause which consummates the reader’s expectation and harmonizes with the base rhythm.

Word/Phrase Boundaries.
Initial Stress (Bo /B) – Although patterns of Beats and Offbeats may
suggest regularity, word boundaries subvert that artificial norm. In iambic patterns, for instance, a word or phrase with an initial stress will precipitate a falling meter throughout its length.


Medial Word Stress (oBo) is also made much of in The Cantos; an over-arching rhythm although Attridge doesn’t recognize its importance.


Phrase boundaries need not be marked where there is initial word stress. In the case of medial stress, however, there is a point to be made: