Ezra Pound among the Mawu

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The Mawu people of eastern Ghana make common use of ideophones: marked words that depict sensory imagery. Ideophones have been described as “poetry in ordinary language,” yet the shadow of Lévy-Bruhl, who assigned such words to the realm of primitivity, has loomed large over linguistics and literary theory alike. The poet Ezra Pound is a case in point: while his fascination with Chinese characters spawned the ideogrammic method, the mimicry and gestures of the “primitive languages in Africa” were never more than a mere curiosity to him. This paper imagines Pound transposed into the linguaculture of the Mawu. What would have struck him about their ways of ‘charging language’ with imagery? I juxtapose Pound’s views of the poetic image with an analysis of how different layers of iconicity in ideophones combine to depict sensory imagery. This exercise illuminates aspects of what one might call ‘the ideophonic method’.


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