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The cadence is a form developed in the prosody of the American imagination (Fletcher, Hulme, Pound, Lowell), which started from a distancing from the strict metric schemes. Instead, the lyricism of the imagists was based on the French verse libre, developing a clear, precise language, stringent verse lines and a free rhythm oriented to the musical phrase, the 'free verse'. The basic idea of the cadence is that each line corresponds to a single breath: in 1920 Amy Lowell declared the cadence to be the rhythmic basic form of the imagination and linked it to the concept of breathing: "By 'cadence' in poetry, we mean a rhythmic curve, containing one or more stressed accents and corresponding roughly to the necessity of breathing.” The concept of cadence, which emerged around 1915, thus describes a rhythmic pattern based on the interplay of the verse line and a single breath unit: Ezra Pound's example for this pattern was the so-called "line-sentence". On the initiative of Ezra Pound, other "imaginists" such as T. S. Eliot, William Carlos Williams, Hilda Doolittle, Carl Sandburg, and Amy Lowell also wrote a poem based on the prosodic concept of the "cadence", like the following passage from Carl Sandburg's poem Nocturne In A Deserted Brickyard:


Stuff of the moon

Runs on the lapping sand

Out to the longest shadows.

Under the curving willows,

And round the creep of the wave line,

Fluxions of yellow and dusk on the waters

Make a wide dreaming pansy of an old pond in the night.


The "necessity of breathing" assigns a breathing pause to each individual line, so that the "breath-controlled line" tends to function as an isochronous principle. As George Steiner emphasized, the actual basis of this pattern goes back to Ezra Pound's Cathay from 1915 (Steiner 1975, p. 358). In Cathay Pound followed Chinese poetry, which knows practically no enjambements, which explains the so-called line-sentence like in the following poem:


South-Folk in Cold Country


The Dai horse neighs against the bleak wind of Etsu,

The birds of Etsu have no love for En, in the north,

Emotion is born out of habit.

Yesterday we went out of the Wild-Goose gate,

To-day from the Dragon-Pen.

Surprised. Desert turmoil. Sea sun.

Flying snow bewilders the barbarian heaven.

Lice swarm like ants over our accoutrements.

Mind and spirit drive on the feathery banners.

Hard fight gets no reward.

Loyalty is hard to explain.

Who will be sorry for General Rishogu, the swift moving,

Whose white head is lost for this province?

Starting point of this line-sentence is the manuscripts of the American philosopher Ernest Fenollosa, which contained literal translations of ancient Chinese poetry and texts of the Japanese Nō theatre. Pounds' poem develops the principle of verse libre by going back to this model, according to which each line is a prosodic gesture and thus a poetic unit. Therefore, in the quoted poem each line contains a complete statement. In the USA, the influence of the cadence ranged from William Carlos Williams and Charles Olson to authors such as Charles Bernstein and Bob Perelman. In Germany, the cadence can be found especially after 1945, and was influential up to the lyrics of Günter Eich, Nicolas Born or Hans Magnus Enzensberger, whose 33 songs of the poem Der Untergang der Titanic are influenced by Ezra Pounds Cantos.


Amy Lowell: „Some Musical Analogies in Modern Poetry”, in: Musical Quarterly, 6 (Jan. 1920), S. 127-157, hier S. 141.

The Complete Poems of Carl Sandburg, London 1970, S. 55.

Selected Poems and Translations of Ezra Pound 1908-1969, ed. Richard Sieburth, S. 64f.

Steiner, George: After Babel: Aspects of Language and Translation, Oxford, 1975.