Cathay: Ezra Pound’s “Re-Creation” of Chinese Poetry

Pound's Gadfly
Ezra Pound’s Gadfly Signature


As for Cathay, it must be pointed out that Pound is the inventor of Chinese poetry for our time.   I suspect that every age has had, and will have, the same illusion concerning translations, an illusion which is not altogether an illusion either.  When a foreign poet is successfully done into the idiom of our own language and our own time, we believe that he has been “translated”; we believe that through this translation we really at last get the original… His [Pound’s] translations seem to be – and that is the test of excellence – translucencies…[2]

Introduction: The History and Context of Cathay 

In 1913, Ezra Pound obtained the notes and manuscripts of Ernest Fenollosa, an American who had begun to translate Japanese Noh drama and Chinese poetry, but had passed away before his work was complete.  Little did Pound know that this material would ignite his curiosity, provide him with material that he would weave into the then-nascent school of Imagism, and begin a lifelong inquiry into the inner workings of the Chinese language.[3]  His prior studies had included the verse of English and the Romance Languages, but he had had no previous experience with either Japanese or Chinese.  Despite a lack of experience and knowledge relevant to Sinology, Pound came armed with a recently modernized diction and perhaps more experience experimenting with prosody than any other living poet.  Whatever his motivations and qualifications, Ezra Pound was drawn toward the doors opened to him by Fenollosa’s philosophy and scholarship.[4]

Pound’s interest in China, though not unusual at the turn of the 20th century, took a much different route than the ‘oriental’ interests of many of his peers.  During Teddy Roosevelt’s administration, many of Pound’s contemporaries in America and Europe saw China as an untapped market in which Western goods could flourish and as a “barbarian” [5] society that could be tamed by the expansion of Western civilization.[6] Only a very few scholars and intellectuals saw elements of the “future” or “modernism” already inherent in China. Among them was Henry Adams. Adams embarked on a trip to China in order to “align himself with the future,” seeking elements of modernism in the Eastern perspective on Western Art.  Even his forward-looking interest in the East, though, tends to orientalize and objectify China. His bias reveals itself when he calls China “the great unknown country of the world.” Who doesn’t know it? To the West it might be ‘unknown’ or even ‘mysterious,’ but to the Chinese?  Adams certainly possessed a complicated relationship with the East, at once attempting to see the West through an Eastern perspective, and then objectifying the entire culture as “modern,” “ancient,” or “unknown.”[7]  Even among Pound’s few ‘Eastward-looking’ contemporaries, many tended to exoticize the artistic and intellectual landscape they encountered, beginning a complicated discourse of Orientalism that continues in some respect to this day.

At the forefront of the camp who ‘found the modern world’ in the East were Ernest Fenollosa and Ezra Pound.  According to Jerry Israel, “Fenellosa (sic), like Ezra Pound, sought his own future in China, an artistic or spiritual open door, a renaissance to be sparked not by classical antiquity but by China which Pound called ‘new Greece.’”[8]  For Pound and Fenollosa, China represented a different kind of open door: not a place for America to expand its civilization and ideals, but a “spiritual open door,” the source of an artistic heritage that would bolster Pound’s inclination toward Imagism and pave the way for high Modernism.  The actual Open Door Policy – and its simultaneous claims of two-way trade and practice of one-way imperialism – forms an interesting parallel for Pound’s and Fenollosa’s relationship with the ‘orient.’  Did they too mine Chinese poetry in a one-way interaction? Or is there some sort of two-way flow at work?

When Ezra Pound first acquired Fenollosa’s manuscripts, he knew not one word of Chinese.  Even 14 years later, long after his first translations were published under the title “Cathay,” Pound admits in a letter to his father:

“Dear Dad:
Given infinite time I MIGHT be able to read a Chinese poem, thass to say I know how the ideograph works, and can find ‘em in the dictionary or vocabulary, BUT I shd. Scarcely attempt it unless there were some urgent reason.  Also some of the script in that book was fairly fancy. For Cathay I had a crib made by Mori and Ariga, not translation or anything shaped into sentences, but word for sign, and explanation with each character. […] No I am not a Sinologue.  Don’t spread the idea that I read it a zeasy as a yourapean langwidg.”[9]

In his characteristic letter-writing style, Pound openly admits his inability to translate Chinese without significant help.  Though fascinated with Chinese poetry and the structure of the Chinese ideogram, Pound’s translations would have been impossible without the help of Fenollosa’s notes, the help of scholars like Achilles Fang, Mori, and Ariga, as well as an array of Chinese dictionaries.  Thus, many scholars have contended that Pound’s “translations” do not even deserve to be called such.  Eric Hayot writes about this phenomenon, “That Pound’s translations are successful has been taken by any number of critics as a literary miracle, by others as literary fraud.”[10]  In my own mind, a flurry of questions arises around this issue: How do Pound’s translations differ from so-called “accurate” ones?  Do his poetic liberties obscure the meanings of the originals?  And do the tenets of their style owe more to their translator, the original authors, or to ‘interesting mistakes’ that occur across cultural, temporal, and linguistic boundaries?[11]  Perhaps a discussion of the poems in Cathay will begin to elucidate the answers to some of those questions.

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“The Jewel Stairs’ Grievance”: An Introduction to Pound’s Imagism and Chinese Translation

Robert Lowell and Ezra Pound would almost certainly agree about one thing: that the best translations are those that speak to the current cultural moment, that strictly metrical-literal translations often fail to create good poems.  Neither writer strives necessarily to adhere to the strict meaning and metrical qualities of the originals.[12]  Pound, for one, argues in “How to Read” that “it is practically impossible to tranfer or translate [melopoeia][13] from one language to another, save perhaps by divine accident, and for only half a line at a time.”  Instead, both Pound and Lowell intended to capture a tone or sense of immediacy that renders them poems and not just inert objects transferred between cultures.  Lowell says about these metrical translators, “Their difficulties are bold and honest, but they are taxidermists, not poets and their poems are likely to be stuffed birds.”[14]  This is not to exonerate them from criticism of creating melodically unsound translations, but to clarify that their interests and foci lie elsewhere.  If asked, Lowell would most likely tell us that Pound is certainly not a taxidermist when he translates Chinese poems.  Instead of stuffed birds, he deals with a more dangerous subject: live specimens.  To extend the metaphor well beyond Lowell’s intention, Pound is assisting foreign birds in their impossible migration across the Pacific Ocean.  His endeavor runs the risk of either killing the birds or upsetting the environment – and either way he draws much more criticism than his ‘taxidermist’ counterpart.

That is to say, because Pound as translator tends to occupy the position of ‘co-author’ rather than ‘copy-editor,’ the margin for error and the potential for success are both amplified greatly. Lowell writes, in “Falling Asleep Over the Aeneid”: “for the dust on the stuffed birds is breathless.” In Lowell’s mind, I might imagine, Cathay would represent not some “breathless” relic of feathers and glue, but instead, a collection of poems, inspired by the themes of ancients like Li Bai,[15] living and interacting with readers in a new and different cultural moment.  And yet, with this claim arise a slew of difficult questions: Who is the ‘author’ of these translations? How are they constructed? And exactly what ‘cultural moment’ are they speaking to?

One of the shortest poems in Cathay, “The Jewel Stairs’ Grievance” taps into the same dense Imagism that had inspired him to write the famous poem, “In a Station of the Metro.”  With a succession of succinct images, tied together with a brief narrative, “The Jewel Stairs’ Grievance” evokes the feeling of “grievance” without ever mentioning it or any other emotional term throughout the body of the poem.  The poem reads as follows:

The Jewel Stairs’ Grievance
The jeweled steps are already quite white with dew,
It is so late that the dew soaks my gauze stockings,
And I let down the crystal curtain
And watch the moon through the clear autumn.

With only four lines and only six distinct images,[16] Pound infuses the poem with subtle hints of lament, without the speaker ever voicing her feelings.  The narrative, too, only spans a few brief moments while the speaker waits for someone presumed to be her lover.  She stands on a jeweled staircase late at night, her stockings wet with dew, and lets down the curtain while watching the moon.  Each of these images bears a subtle suggestion that entices the reader to draw his or her own mental connections about the scene and the feeling it evokes.

I will use my own dilettantish reading as an example of how one might approach these images: in the title of the poem, the possessive “Stairs’ Grievance” leads me to wonder who it is that grieves: Is it the lover on the stairs? Or is it the stairs themselves, expressing their sadness by weeping dewdrops onto the woman’s feet?  This modest ambiguity has already created within my mind both a setting for the poem’s narrative and a vivid image of weeping stairs.

In the body of the poem, the word “already” expresses a sudden onset of this event and emotion, while the word “late” must mean that the woman’s lover was expected back long ago.  Perhaps his absence plagues the speaker with sad insomnia.  The soaked gauze stockings feel heavy in my mind, as if soaked with tears, and uncomfortably cold.  I wonder: why does the woman wait in this uncomfortable position?  Does she expect her lover to return soon? Or is she so disturbed by his absence that she cannot sleep?  In the penultimate line, she lets down the crystal curtain, perhaps expressing resignation that the lover is not with her.  Then, in the concluding line, she stares at the moon through the clear autumn, possibly finding some distant comfort in its presence.  Though not mentioned in the poem, the moonlight most likely bathes the scene in a pale light, adding unspoken solemnity and grief to a scene already imbued with sadness and longing.

Pound achieves all of this with an extreme economy of words.  In fact, the explanation of my own reaction to the poem must triple or quadruple it in length.  Pound’s own ‘interpretation’, printed below the poem, also extends beyond the length of the poem it describes:

Note. – Jewel stairs, therefore a palace.  Grievance, therefore there is something to complain of.  Gauze stockings, therefore a court lady, not a servant who complains.  Clear autumn, therefore he has no excuse on account of weather.  Also she has come early, for the dew has not merely whitened the stairs, but has soaked her stockings.  The poem is especially prized because she utters no direct reproach.

In this strange note, Pound seems to display a complete lack of confidence in the ‘Imagistic’ qualities of such a poem.  Not content to let the poem speak for itself, he provides the (presumably) authoritative opinion on the matter.  Though this gesture may seem puzzling, it cues us in on exactly what Pound thought he was doing with the images he translated.  The first few sentences of the note lack a main verb.  Instead, an observation of a single term (“Jewel stairs” … “Grievance” … “Gauze stockings”) leads to a conclusion (“therefore a palace” … “therefore there is something to complain of” … “therefore a court lady, not a servant who complains”). Pound eliminates typical grammatical structures from his own sentences, in order to mimic the Chinese style of writing – at least in the way he understood it.  In fact, when Pound first noticed and commented upon this ‘malleable grammar’ of Chinese, it sparked one of his and Fenollosa’s longer musings in the essay “The Chinese Written Character as a Medium for poetry.”  They write:  “The eye sees noun and verb as one: things and motion, motion in things, and so the Chinese conception tends to represent them.”[17]  Although their conception reflects an understanding of Chinese as understood by non-native speakers, Pound’s note reflects just this kind of conflation of parts of speech.  Rather than relate the terms to their conclusions via explanatory verbs, Pound simply gives us “therefore;” he draws the connections without explicating them.

John Kim confronts precisely this problem of the ‘untranslatable.’  He spends a great deal of his argument describing those elements of Chinese and English literature that compose the ‘ineffable,’ the ‘vortex,’ or the ‘navel’ of the work – those elements of literature too opaque to be made transparent in translation.  In his conclusion Kim states: “In a sense, our entire discussion is one big paradox: we have managed to talk about, with some degree of transparency, that which is supposed to resist translation and clarity.”[18]  Similarly, Pound discusses, with some degree of transparency, those elements of the poem that he has here translated.  Of course, his translation moved only from Fenollosa’s crib and notes to the final version of the poem, skipping completely the original Chinese and all the opaque elements of language that come with it.

Eric Hayot, on the contrary, remarks that all of the other poems in Cathay adhere to a standard that operates “by choosing to reject explanation as a mode of translation in favor of the aesthetic production of poetic experience.”[19]  By explaining why the poem is ‘especially prized,’ Pound assumes that his readership is estranged enough by foreign elements of the translation that further translation is required – of cultural context and of a demonstrated reading.  As such, the translation breaks apart into fragments outside of the ‘poetic experience.’  Parts of the ‘translation’ of “The Jewel Stairs’ Grievance” cannot be called poetry at all.  Caught between critical expectations of translation and of poetry, Pound has no choice but to try to satisfy both.  In order to examine just what was translated (The ‘navel’? The original poem? A few poetic devices that more easily cross the borders between Chinese and English?), let us move to a discussion of the original Chinese version of the poem, written by Li Bai:


Among the first things to strike a non-Chinese-speaking reader of this poem would be the rigid form that holds the characters in line.  The five character lines of this form would immediately strike the scholar of Chinese poetry as ‘wu yan shi’ [20] –a very typical poetic form.  Although several critics have claimed that Pound’s Chinese translations led him to a vers libre unprecedented in its loose meters and conversational style, the original poem is clearly composed with vers far from libre.  When Pound would claim to find justification for vers libre within Chinese, I suspect he refers more to the experience of translating freely from Fenollosa’s cribs than to an actual re-creation of Chinese ‘meter.’  In addition to a rigid form of five characters per line, the original Chinese also contains lines of parallel grammatical function, proceeding from complement through verb and ending with object.  When Davie claims about the poems of Cathay, “the ear allows itself to be persuaded by the mind into regarding the lines as metrically equal because they are equal syntactically,” the satisfying equality he finds in the syntactical element of the lines is one present in the form of the original Chinese.  It is as though we hear an echo of Li Bai’s form in Pound’s syntax.  Although Pound’s form may at first seem to be an English quatrain, it actually has its origins in the ‘wu yan shi.’

If I read the lines quickly, intentionally eliding metrical feet into one another, I can settle on four hard stresses per line.  Word-by-word scansion would produce anywhere from 4 to 6 stresses, but listening according to Pound’s dictum – “to compose in the sequence of the musical phrase, not in sequence of a metronome”[21] – the composition satisfies some sort of musical phrase rather than the expected ticking of a metronome.  If we are willing to listen through Pound’s framework, we might find the metrical equivalence to compliment the syntactical equivalence that Davie hears.

In another departure from the original, a Chinese reader would notice that no specific pronoun is given for the subject of the poem.  Even the line that Pound has rendered, “And I let down the crystal curtain,” would appear without its subject in a more ‘accurate’ translation.  Francois Cheng gives us the alternative “Nonetheless lower crystal blind.”  As readers of English verse, such a line would just as likely be considered a linguistics experiment as a piece of poetry.  It shows us how the verbs relate the subject to the object without the subject stated, but it does so with syntax that would perplex an English-speaking reader.

Unlike some translators who have used “she”[22] our translator places the voice of the speaker into the diegesis of the poem.  Perhaps owing to Pound’s proclivity for speaking through ‘personae,’ the voice here is not only Pound’s, not only Li Bai’s, not only Fenollosa’s, but also the young woman’s.  Is the longing that of a maiden in Tang Dynasty China now long departed from the world? Or of Li Bai projecting grievance upon her?  Is it Fenollosa’s expression of dislocation as an American living in Japan?  Or is it Pound’s, perhaps lamenting his separation from friends like Gaudier-Brzeska who would be killed before the end of the First World War?

To add another layer of complication to the translation – for those readers who feel they have not already had enough – let us look at a couple of diagrams Francois Cheng has created to describe the complex relationship of images in the poem:

The diagram separates five central images from one another, recombining them via the ‘axis of combination’ that provides the verbs and compliments to link the images together.  Far from a singular metaphor or narrative relationship, the connections often remain unstated.  The beauty of the poem, he argues, lies in the relation of the final image, “moonlight,” to the rest of the poem. By ‘bathing the scene in a pale light’ as I imagined in my reading above, the moon unites the symbols otherwise only linearly connected, creating a circular repetition that carries the reader back from the moon to the other images of the poem.  In Cheng’s words, the “circular movement only underscores the obsessive thought that ceaselessly returns upon itself.”[24]  Does Pound too capture some sense of this circularity?  For that matter, does he capture the complex relations between the indoor/outdoor, human/nature, and tender/hard dichotomies that Cheng suggests in this second diagram?


Perhaps such visual, spatial relations between words are not among those poetic devices and strategies we regularly look for in English verse.[26]  Pound does not seem to be as concerned with these elements and their placement as Cheng does.  The moon, for one, appears in the middle of the final line, shining only through the final image of “the clear autumn.”  That said, I did still imagine the pervading element of the moonlight in my own reading.  Not to mention, the rising meter of the final line, ending with the reversal into trochaic “autumn,” provides a satisfyingly understated close to a poem whose meter has been filled with reversals and feminine endings (3 out of 4 line endings are feminine).  For the reader of English verse, and for the reader of Pound, who believed in ‘absolute rhythm’ reflective of exact emotions,[27] these tones suggest once again ‘solemnity’ or ‘grievance’ without placing those words in the body of the poem.

Furthering the brevity of an already brief poem, Pound uses very little rhetorical play in his grammar and structure.  The title is a sentence fragment.  The first two lines are simple clauses, which rely on the “to be” verb.  The last two lines, though they contain active verbs, do very little to add a dynamic atmosphere to the images; the verbs “let down” and “watch” provide only a modicum of movement to an otherwise static scene.  We hear only a single slant rhyme in ‘curtain/autumn,’ and find little metrical regularity.  As a matter of fact, the only poetic or rhetorical structure I can find is the polysyndeton of the final two lines, both beginning with “and.”  This structure does very little to emphasize the images that already dominate the poem, and instead only slows the pace of the reader, creating an additive effect between the images of the poem, stacking them on top of one another in slow succession.

The repetition of “and” here is not unlike that which Elizabeth Bishop called “everything only connected by ‘and’ and ‘and.’”[28] Without any connective language, we are left with a grouping of images, their links left untied by the poet. We must create connections of our own for this sort of poetic minimalism – imagining a narrative or emotion whose gravitational pull incorporates each detail into a cohesive whole.  In my mind, “The Jewel Stairs’ Grievance” does precisely this.  Whether or not it matches every literary allusion present in the Chinese or accounts for Li Bai’s every brushstroke, it succeeds at “the throwing of an image on the mind’s retina,”[29] as Pound would have wanted it to.

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“Leave-taking Near Shoku”: ‘Translating’ Allusions and Projections of the Western ‘Cultural Moment’ upon Chinese

In another poem, “Leave-taking Near Shoku,” Pound weaves elements of Western literary history into the description of a road in 7th century China.  “Sanso, King of Shoku, built roads,” reads a very bold epigraph at the beginning of the poem.  As if documenting the great works of an ancient king, this line leads the reader to expect some sort of memorial poem for the King of Shoku’s powerful deeds.  Quite the contrary, however, the poem reads thusly:

They say the roads of Sanso are steep,
Sheer as the mountains.
The walls rise in a man’s face,
Clouds grow out of the hill at his horse’s bridle.
Sweet trees are on the paved way of the Shin,
Their trunks burst through the paving,
And freshets are bursting their ice in the midst of Shoku, a proud city.
Men’s fates are already set,
There is no need of asking diviners.

“Leave-taking Near Shoku” bears a striking similarity to a poem that may have informed Pound’s translation. Percy Bysshe Shelley deals with similar themes and images in his poem, “Ozymandias.”  The famous lines of Shelley’s poem, “My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:/ Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!” reflects the bold epigraph of the King of Shoku, above.  Both rulers’ statements of pride and power are mocked by the dilapidation of the man-made monuments of which they boast.  Ozymandias’ statue lies “lifeless” amidst “the decay of that colossal wreck,” mocked by the passage of time.  Similarly, the King of Shoku has built “steep” roads, “sheer as the mountains” around Shoku “a proud city,” but these monuments of his power fall victim to the passage of time, as “tree trunks burst through the paving.” In the line “freshets are bursting their ice in the midst of Shoku,” the poet provides a parallel image, as if equating the passing of civilizations to the passing of seasons.  Though the poem begins with the image of powerful roads and walls that “rise in a man’s face,” the natural growth of trees and the flow of rainwater subtly undermine these symbols of power.

Though the poems of Shelley and Pound resonate with each other in their themes of the passage of time and their images of man-made monuments toppled by decay, they differ significantly in their formal properties.  Shelley’s poem deals in some way with the ephemerality of empire and the destruction of monuments in almost every one of its fourteen lines.  In addition, the passage of time possesses an insidious quality, as the dilapidation “mocked” its creator, and the wreckage lies “lifeless,” “shattered,” “boundless and bare.”  In Pound’s poem, on the other hand, the destruction appears only after the grandiose roads and walls have been described; it arises only as if through an offhand remark of the narrator, who seems more concerned with the scenery around the roads than the destruction that characterizes them.  The narrator observes “clouds” growing “out of the hill” and “sweet trees… on the paved way of the Shin” before he notices the trunks bursting through the pavement and the freshets bursting their ice in the city.  He takes these observations in stride, as if unsurprised and unimpressed.  A far cry from the meditative lament of Shelley, Pound’s tone reflects a greater interest in the environment and a respect for the passage of time that permeates the poem.  When the reader arrives at the final couplet, “Men’s fates are already set, /There is no need of asking diviners,” it strikes him or her more as an admonition against pride than as a fearful description of crumbling empires.  After all, the trees that mock the King of Shoku’s roads are “sweet trees.”  There is nothing insidious about them or the passage of time that they suggest.

A sense of European origins intermingled with Chinese exists not only in this poem, but permeates even the title of Pound’s book of translations.  “Cathay” is the word by which China was known to medieval Europe.  It would have been the name that Marco Polo used to refer to the mythical land that some have argued he never actually visited.  Thus, for Pound, the title “Cathay” has a double significance: First, it reflects a departure from his previous studies of Provencal poets and troubadours into a new study of China – “Cathay” as those poets of Provence may have known it.  And second, “Cathay” represents China from the perspective of a Western audience entrenched in Western culture and history.  His translations come packaged with this implicit acknowledgement of their translator’s bias and the cross-the-pacific location of his audience.  The divide is not only physical; it also denotes a certain amount of cultural baggage that informs the readings of a Western audience.  Pound’s title “Cathay” certainly reflects an awareness of this divide in cultural moments between Li Bai and the average Western reader.

Because of this East/West dichotomy, several critics have given Pound’s translations and dealings with China the pejorative label ‘orientalist.’  In some sense, yes, the poems reflect a Western construction of a Chinese identity.  The poems create an imaginary, aestheticized world that possesses “primitive”[30] knowledge.  Cleverly, however, Pound labels this world “Cathay” and not “China.”  In addition, he never refers to the poems as “translations” per se, and instead claims that they are “taken, for the most part, from the poet Rihaku.”  While this distinction may seem miniscule, it means that Pound may have seen these poems as “re-creations” or “transformations” of Li Bai’s poetry.  As a matter of fact, one critic wittily refers to the poems’ author as “Li Pound.”[31]  The idea is on the surface an absurd one: of course the writing we see on the pages of Cathay was penned by the hand of Ezra Pound.  Behind that writing, though, lie frameworks, ideas, words, and metaphors rooted in Chinese poetry from many centuries ago.  However we attempt to conceptualize the writer of these poems, Pound’s (faulty) conception of China and Chinese resulted in the creation of the poetry at hand.

So, although some creation of the “orient” or “Cathay” or “China” seems to be present in these poems, Pound’s status as an ‘orientalist’ remains uncertain.  I myself wonder: Was he aware that for some readers he might have been inventing a conception of China?  Or was he merely tapping into an ancient culture in the same way he would tap into ancient Greece: in search of a muse, an inspiration or a guiding light for his journeys into Modernism and Imagism?  In “The Chinese Written Character as a Medium for Poetry” Pound seems to make a similar foray into brash ‘orientalizing’ when he describes the grammar of Latin.  He writes in a note added to Fenollosa’s text: “Living Latin had only the feel of the cases: the ablative and dative emotion.”  If we are to accuse Pound of anything, it seems, then perhaps we should choose not ‘orientalism’ but an insistence upon essentializing the cultures, literatures, people, social strata, and even individuals he encountered.  Although Chinese forms one of the most striking examples of this essentialism, we should remember that these problematic tendencies followed Pound outside of Cathay and into the harmful characterizations of Jews, usurers, and other subjects of the Cantos.

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“The Beautiful Toilet”:  Questions of Color, Etymology, and the Translatability of Chinese Forms

In the appendix of his book, Ezra Pound’s Cathay, Wai-lim Yip provides us with a reproduction of the actual crib Pound would have used while writing the poem “The Beautiful Toilet.”  While we cannot know precisely his motivation for including the words, rhythms, and poetic devices he did, this ‘crib’ provides us with an interesting tool with which to reconstruct his writing and thinking process. The first four lines of the crib appear like so:

Sei[32]                 Sei                   Ka                    han                  So
Blue                blue                 river                bank                grass

utsu                 utsu                 en                    chu                  rin[u?]
luxuriantly     luxuriantly     garden                        in                     willow
spread                        spread
the willow      the willow

yei                    yei                    so                     jo                     jo
fill                    fill                    storied            on                    girl
full                   full                   house
(in the first bloom of youth)

Ko                    Ko                    to                     So                    yo
white               white               just                  window          door
brilliant           brilliant           face
luminous        luminous

One can imagine, upon encountering this crib, the kind of excitement that might overcome a serious poet like Pound.  The interplay between words, their meanings, and the conjoining play of verbs, metaphors and placement all invite the enterprising ‘translator’ to engage in those practices most fundamental to the composition of poetry: rearrangement of syntax, creation of a suitable rhythm, clever relations of symbols and metaphors.  If given these words, without the serious duties of a translator, a poet might be tempted to create those unorthodox kinds of translations Robert Lowell spoke of in his introduction to Imitations.  That said, Pound does have some duty to the original voice at work here, insofar as he holds true to his statement at the beginning of Cathay: “For the most part from the Chinese of Rihaku…” (247)

An accurate, literal translation of the poem would produce something like this rendition by Burton Watson:

Green green, river bank grasses,
Thick thick, willows in the garden;
Plump plump, that lady upstairs,
Bright, bright, before the window;
Lovely lovely, her red face-powder;
Slim slim, she puts out a white hand.
Once I was a singing-house girl,
Now the wife of a wanderer,
A wanderer who never comes home—
It’s hard sleeping in an empty bed alone.

Pound’s version, on the other hand, reads thus:

Blue, blue is the grass about the river
And the willows have overfilled the close garden.
And within, the mistress, in the midmost of her youth.
White, white of face, hesitates, passing the door.
Slender, she puts forth a slender hand,
And she was a courtezan in the old days,
And she has married a sot,
Who now goes drunkenly out
And leaves her too much alone.

The first line of Pound’s poem almost directly mirrors both the original Chinese and Fenollosa’s crib.  He inserts a ‘to be’ verb that is not present in the Chinese, but this minor alteration scarcely affects the images and sounds of the poem.  In Burton Watson’s version, the initial clause “green green” is not so related to the rest of the line.  Rather, Watson separates the first two words (reflective of the first two characters) with a comma.  Pound ‘translates’ the subject matter of the ancient Chinese into modern English, eschewing the idiosyncrasies of grammar in order to create a cohesive poem.  Watson, by contrast, attempts to preserve a form reflective of the five-character lines in the original.  Each of the first five lines of his ‘translation’ contains a two-word reduplication and a longer clause without a verb.  These harsh double-worded first lines, each followed by a comma, only cause the reader to stumble, confused about why a single iteration of each word could not suffice to convey its meaning without the burden of a redundant partner.

To the scholar of Chinese, these reduplications would symbolize a sonorous play perhaps most akin to English alliteration and an intensity of description perhaps somewhat akin to stating ‘extremely green,’ ‘extremely full,’ and so on.  His translation maintains fidelity to the original form and grammatical structure in which the first two characters offer a description, and the last three locate that description with a verb, conjunction, object, or some other equivalent.  As a price of this fidelity, though, the translation reads awkwardly.  Without verbs linking together the first five lines, we readers are unsure how to conceptualize the sentences.  As far as I can tell, Watson pays no attention to the meter, either.  For the sinologist or the scholar of Chinese poetry, the lines accurately reflect the original.  For the English reader, by contrast, they require a context (or contextualization) that is not present.

Pound, on the other hand, abandons these constrictions of representing the Chinese language in order to pursue the elements of the original that he finds most freeing or interesting.  Instead of burdening the reader with awkward double-words, he recreates this flourish with a poetic device more familiar in English poetry – resonances in the sounds of the words he uses.[33]  In the second line, the assonance and consonance between “willows” and “overfilled” create a pairing similar to the doubling of the Chinese original.  Likewise, in the third line, the “mistress” in the “midmost” of her youth bears an alliterative pairing reminiscent of the Chinese poetic flourish.  In each of the examples, both “overfilled” and “midmost” recreate the superlative nature of the redundant word doublings.  After all, what could be more “filled” than that already conveyed by the word itself? And what could be more “mid-” than the “middle” of one’s youth?  Whether or not Pound realized that Chinese word doublings often convey a superlative or wide-reaching meaning, his translations capture these possibilities, and do it in a method more artful than the mere transmission of word-meanings from one language to another.

Pound’s poem clearly begins with a translation of words from one language to another. “Blue, Blue” is a direct translation of the Chinese “青青.”  (Though, Wai-lim Yip’s more academically sound version provides us with perhaps the most persuasive ‘literal’ translation: “green beyond green.”[34]) And yet, even this translation has its problems.  The word “青” can also mean “green,” “black,” “young,” “grass,” or “unripe crops.”  No matter what word Pound chooses to begin his translation, it fails to incorporate these important meanings.  After all, the poem discusses a “young” girl that may be “unripe,” a crop reaped by the drunken sot before she should have been.  These intricacies of the original color-word here lose whatever descriptive or metaphorical relations they would have signified within their native language and cultural moment.  Instead, Pound provides us with the subtle “blue,” which carries an emotional connotation of sadness that resurfaces in the poem’s conclusion.  Although he alters a few key elements of the poem,[35] he picks up on an irony that is central to it: despite these images of “youth,” “fullness,” and “beauty,”[36] the central character is plagued with sadness, and removed from her lover.  Even though no other prominent translation of the poem has construed “青” to mean blue, Pound has utilized the flexibility afforded him by Fenollosa’s crib in order to sound an emotional undertone that signals the central irony of the poem.  Not to mention, he does all of this within a cultural moment that is foreign to the original Chinese.

Strangely, but perhaps because he was not yet very familiar with Chinese, Pound does not once focus on the etymology of a Chinese character in this translation.[37]  The word “青” would have been an ideal chance for him to do so; it contains two radicals – “生,” meaning “borne” and “月,” [38]meaning “moon” – to imply that this grass possesses the color of new growth in the light of the moon.  Had he utilized the etymology that so fascinated him in the essay “The Chinese Written Character as a Medium for Poetry,” Pound might have concocted the word “moon-blue” or “moon-green.”  Such etymological translation would come to prominence in Pound’s later dealings with Confucian texts – adding depth to the metaphors inherent in the intricacies of the language, but firmly establishing his reading as that done through the eyes of a foreigner. (Can you imagine a translation of English that gave us ‘leading outward’ instead of ‘education’ or ‘carrying across’ instead of ‘translation’?)  In moderation, and with adequate explanation, such etymological translations could provide interesting information for the reader.  That said, Pound’s renditions often obscure the meanings of the original text by getting so bogged down in the often un-translatable metaphors.  Fortunately for the reader of Cathay, Pound had not yet by 1914 developed the fluency with Chinese to enable him to translate in this way.

In an essay entitled “Colour Terms,” Serena Jin discusses the particular difficulty of translating this very word.  Her analysis brings her to a similar multiplicity of conflicting options.  “Black,” “green,” and “blue” all share the same word, changing its meaning to fit the context.[39]  Thus, when Pound would claim years later, “Undoubtedly pure color is to be found in Chinese poetry,” his statement must arouse our skepticism.  By ‘pure color’ does he mean that words like ‘青’ tend toward purity of representation?  To that claim, one could easily make the counterargument that such words instead tend toward vagueness and abstraction, obscuring the simple color ‘green’ with a host of other possibilities.

*          *          *

“In a Station of the Metro”: The Aftermath of Cathay and the Re-Appropriation of Chinese

Far from a passing interest, the linguistic rulebook that resulted from Pound’s time with the Fenollosa manuscripts would carry him through the ‘aesthetic of glimpses’[40] predominant in Lustra.  Later, it would inform the ‘poetry of jumps’[41] – closely linked to the ‘ideogrammatic method’ – which brings us the infamous Chinese characters of The Cantos.  Somewhat ironically, a similar impetus to reform native language also arose with the ‘Modernist’ authors of China.  Although many Chinese politicians sought to promote national identity through the cohesiveness of a national language (国语), many others were motivated by ‘superiority’ they thought to be inherent in the English language.[42]  In one case, the well-known Chinese essayist, philosopher, and short story writer Hu Shih (1861-1962) created a method for reforming the Chinese language that bears remarkable semblance to Pound’s imagist manifesto.  The rhetoric shared between these authors is so similar it’s uncanny.  In fact, some have argued that Hu Shih based his system upon the tenets of Pound’s ‘imagist manifesto.’[43]  For the sake of comparison, let us look at the two ‘manifestos’ side by side.  Pound’s rubric, written in 1912 and reprinted in 1918 reads:

  1. Direct treatment of the ‘thing’ whether subjective or objective.
  2. To use absolutely no word that does not contribute to the presentation.
  3. As regarding rhythm: to compose in the sequence of the musical phrase, not in sequence of a metronome.[44]

Meanwhile, Hu Shih was formulating a set of eight rules first published in his 1917 essay, “Preliminary views on the reform of literature.”  These three, in particular, complement Pound’s agenda:

  1. 1.  It must have substance.
  2. 5.  Get rid of clichés.
  3. 6.  Avoid literary references or allusions.[45]

Though the actual subject matter of these stylistic rubrics differs greatly between Pound and Hu Shih, their overriding intentions ring remarkably true with one another.  While Pound sought to purify ‘Western’ literature by removing unnecessary words in order to focus on the ‘thing,’  Hu Shih’s outline for reform also incorporates a reduction of those elements – clichés, references, allusions – that obscure the ‘substance’ of the writing.  Interestingly, Pound’s proclivity for allusion and anachronism led him toward writing that differed markedly in style from the barebones vernacular ‘baihua’ (common speech) Hu Shih eventually promoted.  Nevertheless, each cites the ancient literary tradition of the other as the exemplar for modern language.  While Hu Shih cites Dante, Chaucer and Wycliff as great paragons and exemplars of the European heritage, Pound writes in a 1914 essay:

Undoubtedly pure color is to be found in Chinese poetry, when we begin to know enough about it; indeed, a shadow of this perfection is already at hand in translations.  Liu Ch’e, Chu Yuan, Chia I, and the great vers libre writers before the Petrarchan age of Li Po, are a treasury to which the next century may look for as a great a stimulus as the renaissance had from the Greeks.[46]

As we know from our attempt to piece together the actual color of “青” in the poem “The Beautiful Toilet,”  and from our attempts to follow so-called ‘free verse’ between the originals and Pound’s translations, these claims have their obvious counterarguments.  Nevertheless, Pound’s comments explicitly reveal a belief that literature’s future lies in China’s past.  Recall once again Jerry Israel’s claim that Pound and Fenollosa sought an ‘artistic and spiritual open door’ in the ancient writing of the ‘East.’  Such claims become all the more complicated – and perhaps hypocritical – when we see that Chinese scholars and writers too saw their literary future in the tradition of the ‘West.’

In his final section on Cathay in The Pound Era, Hugh Kenner muses about the origins of the Cathay translations and the theories of “The Chinese Written Character as a Medium for Poetry,” tracing Pound’s principles to Fenollosa’s philosophy, following that philosophy through its various permutations in the American transcendentalism of the 19th Century, and tracing it back once again to ‘the East’ when that philosophy arose out of Chinese scholarship.  In his closing reflections on the implications of that inquiry, Kenner writes:

If so, then Fenollosa’s sinological mistakes, rectifying 17th-century sinological mistakes, owed their right intuitions (brought with him from Massachussetts) originally after all to China: as though the east, with centuries-long deliberation, were writing the macro-history of western thought.[47]

Aside from his essentializing the ‘East’ and ‘West’ into monolithic entities that exchanged these momentary cultural epiphanies – and all the problems that interpretation poses – Kenner also cuts the story off early, positioning this East-West flow as that which crystallized in Cathay and Pound’s ideogrammatic philosophy.  On the contrary, these effects became causes of another flow back to the East.  As Hu Shih’s rubric above reflects, Pound’s ‘Eastern’ principles soon became the ‘Western’ principles that spurred attempts at a language revolution in China.  The complexity of relations at hand sheds light on the arbitrariness[48] of ‘linguistic’ and ‘ideogrammatic’ rubrics – the ‘West’ adopts Eastern ideas and the ‘East,’ in turn, adopts them as ‘Western ideas’ to augment progress in the ‘East.’[49]

Attempting to rationalize the ‘right intuitions’ of Pound’s translations as something more than mere ‘interesting mistakes’[50] Kenner makes an interesting mistake of his own: he ascribes agency to vast bodies of people delineated into the ‘East’ and the ‘West’ in order to argue that the eastern contingent of mankind somehow expressed its ideas in the ‘macro-history of western thought.’  If we conceptualize Pound’s Cathay within this vast, fallacious mythology, we lose sight of the matter truly at hand: a man, working with Fenollosa’s cribs, fragmented translations, and manuscripts, turning those barebones materials into finished poems.

Instead of placing them amidst the ‘macro-history of western thought,’ perhaps we should focus on the phenomenon itself.  The linguistic ideas developed in conjunction with Fenollosa’s manuscript led Pound to reform his own poetry, resulting in some of both the best and worst of his oeuvre.  Perhaps only because he failed to understand the allusions latent in a poem like “The Jade Stairs’ Grievance” and because he failed to see the poetic devices inherent in “The Beautiful Toilet” Pound ‘adapted’ those elements he saw most clearly: metaphors based on visual imagery – generally in nature.  This is not to say that Pound’s observation of these metaphors was that of some kind of thickheaded fool.  Quite the contrary, as Francois Cheng writes about the experience of reading Chinese poetry for a ‘Western’ reader, “Among the first things to strike every reader of Chinese poetry is its abundance of metaphors and symbolic images.  The ordinary colloquial language itself possesses a striking number of metaphorical expressions that the Chinese use at will, even for the expression of abstract ideas.  Cheng also acknowledges that “one source of this phenomenon is the nature of the writing system,” but he does not go so far as Pound and Fenollosa did, to claim that the cure for “the anemia of modern speech” lies in the spiritual power of the primal metaphors of the Chinese language. [51] Despite these philosophical and linguistic missteps, Pound found in Chinese the open-ended play with metaphors that would corroborate his budding inclinations about ‘Imagism.’

When the device at hand – the ‘image’ – enters his own poetry, free from the expectations of translation, the results are varied.  Take, as two representative examples, “The New Cake of Soap”(277) and “In a station of the Metro” (287).  When asked about Pound’s Imagism, many high-school students would be able to identify “In a Station of the Metro” as somehow associated with that movement.  Of the other poem, though, I am doubtful.  We will begin with “The New Cake of Soap”:

Lo, how it gleams and glistens in the sun
Like the cheek of a Chesterton.

In a (deservedly) condemnatory review of the poem, Richard Aldington writes that it is ‘trivial beyond belief’ and that:

Almost anybody could have composed that, but most people would have refrained from publishing it, since there would be no motive for publication beyond a faint hope of annoying the two writers.[52]

Indeed, the poem is so needlessly bitter that it automatically strikes the reader with painful awkwardness – unless, that is, he or she shares a similar disdain for this ‘Chesterton.’[53]  Unlike the Cathay poems, which used a faint rising rhythm and relative paucity of identifiable poetic/rhetorical devices to focus on the power of a central metaphor, here we are left with but the uncomfortable spite and disgusting metaphor that likens a rival author’s cheek to a shiny cake.  Does he refer to the glistening sweat on the cheek of this man, glimmering like a wet bar of soap?  Or is the ‘cake of soap’ a reference to something more sinister – a urinal cake, for example?  Both signifier and signified are related to us on terms both difficult and uncomfortable to envision.  The elements of comparison – sights and smells shared symbolically between the cheek and the cake of soap – are, needless to say, not of the kind we readers would like to imagine.  In fact, I should probably move on to a discussion of the next poem before that discomfort grows any further.

“In a Station of the Metro” possesses a similar scarcity of words and images: both contain 20 words with their titles included.  Without the bitterness and disgusting imagery of the former poem, this one melds anonymous faces with ‘petals on a wet, black bough’ through only a semicolon, and does it so satisfyingly that this poem catapulted itself into the Norton Anthology of Poetry.  Not only that, it has become the representative example of Imagism.[54]  In a 1918 article in To-day, Pound summarizes a bit of what he finds so admirable in Chinese poetry.  He writes, “It is because Chinese poetry has certain qualities of vivid presentation; and because certain Chinese poets have been content to set forth their matter without moralizing and without comment that one labors to make a translation.”[55]  Unfortunately, in “The New Cake of Soap” Pound violates all of his own rules (i.e. “Don’t be viewy”) and replaces the free-association “without moralizing” with its precise opposite: he gives us a definite connection with (somewhat abhorrent) moral undertones.  “In a Station of the Metro,” on the other hand, captures all of those ‘Chinese’ qualities he so admired: it provides us with a vivid presentation of a particular sight, and does so without placing any ideological or didactic spin upon that image.

Though primarily visual, the textures and smells of wet bark and flower petals also enter the concoction. Because Pound has eschewed the typical connective tissue of metaphors and similes, the image relates the two items on visual, sensual planes, as well as abstract, symbolic ones.  Pound very well could have linked together the apparitions of the faces to the petals on the bough with any number of standard devices; ‘is,’ ‘seems like,’ ‘looks like,’ ‘smells like,’ or some other metaphor-making verb[56] very well could have linked the poem together.  Instead of any of these alternatives, Pound severs the vehicle from the referent – or conversely the referent from the vehicle – with the dapple of a semicolon.  To travel across it, the reader must design some mental footbridge or another.  In one reader’s mind, the faces might cast a visual image that imports the natural world into this metro station – a paragon of the ‘Modern.’  In another reader’s mind, the comparison might be more ideological: the petals are shed from a dying tree and remain for but a snapshot moment.  Is the image beautiful? Is it disturbing?  These are left for the reader to decide.  Pound is here definitively not “viewy” – without a clear didactic conclusion, how could he be?  Strangely, one of Pound’s greatest achievements lies in a poem that otherwise might be dismissed as laziness: He does not see for us some ‘supreme fiction’ – to use Wallace Stevens’ phrase – but leaves the onus to see in our hands.  The perceptions that arise from “In a Station of the Metro” can be none but our own.

Strangely enough, the ‘Chinese’ rubric that Pound so vehemently championed spurred not one but both of these poems.  Despite their differences, both attempt to distil a metaphor into a single, powerful image according to the style of writing Pound found in and projected upon Chinese poetry.  In one case, we see a low point in Pound’s poetic career.  In the other, we see a highly successful imagist poem.  Already Kenner’s statement about the ‘macro-history of western thought’ has diverged into two very different poems: one quite an ‘interesting mistake,’ the other a very uninteresting mistake – both constructed not out of sloppy writing, but out of the careful deliberation of Pound’s poetic sensibility.

[1] The image at the beginning of my chapters is Ezra Pound’s ‘gadfly’ signature from the 1910’s, as reproduced in Moody’s biography, Ezra Pound: Poet.

[2] Eliot, T.S. Introducion to the 1928 Edition of Pound’s Selected Poems, 14-15; Reprinted in Hayot, Eric. Chinese Dreams: Pound, Brecht, “Tel Quel,” 4.

[3] In 1934, responding to T.S. Eliot’s longtime query about Pound’s beliefs, Pound would reply: “As to what I believe: I believe the Ta Hio.”  This “Ta Hio,” also known as the《大学》 “daxue” (The Great Learning) is the first book of the Confucian Classics. Thus, even Pound’s most personal beliefs would later come under the influence of this budding curiosity in Chinese – albeit a curiosity often shaped by his misconceptions thereof. (Cf. Ezra Pound’s “Date Line,” p.86)

[4] He would eventually disagree with Fenollosa on the particulars of that philosophy; Pound taking a Confucian route in contrast to Fenollosa’s Buddhist one.  Interestingly, both of these views narrow the scholarly perception of Chinese poetry, which unlike much of the English poetic tradition often includes elements of more than one religion in its symbolism – even within a single poem.

[5] “Barbarian,” is Roosevelt’s own word.  Cf. Roosevelt, Theodore.  “Expansion and Peace,” from The Strenuous Life: Essays and Addresses, 34.

[6] Israel, Jerry.  Progressivism and the Open Door, 5.

[7] Brown, Margaret J.B.  “Henry Adams: Passage to Asia” from Critical Essays on Henry Adams, 243-251.

[8] Op. cit. Israel, 7.

[9] Ezra Pound to Homer Pound, Sept. 1, 1928.  Reproduced in: Qian, Zhaoming(ed.). Ezra Pound’s Chinese Friends: Stories in Letters, 17. Spelling and grammar appear here as they do in the original.

[10] Hayot, Eric.  Chinese Dreams: Pound, Brecht, “Tel quel,” 13.

[11] Cf. Kenner, Hugh. The Pound Era, 230: “Is the life of the mind a history of interesting mistakes?”

[12] In fact, Pound has been criticized for ignoring the phonetic properties of Chinese. See Ming, Xie. Ezra Pound and the Appropriation of Chinese Poetry. (Chapter 2)

[13] ‘Melopoeia’ is Pound’s word for what we might call both ‘prosody’ and  ‘musicality.’

[14] Lowell, Robert. Introduction to Imitations, xi.

[15] Alternatively called ‘Li Po’ (Chinese: 李白) and ‘Rihaku’ – a name that came to Pound through Fenollosa’s Japanese scholarship.  Pound would have known that his Chinese name was Li Po, but chose to call him ‘Rihaku’ in Cathay. Kenner argues that this choice reflects his sensitivity to the hybrid transmission of the poems. The Pound Era, 222.

[16] The six I have counted are: steps, dew, stockings, the curtain, the moon, and autumn.

[17] Fenollosa, Ernest and Ezra Pound (ed.) “The Chinese Written Character as a Medium for Poetry,” 46.

[18] Kim, John. And Then Went Down the Navel… – The Opacitization of Language in Chinese and English Poetry and Literature. 2006 Amherst College thesis submitted to the Asian Languages and Civilizations department, 162-3.

[19] Hayot, Eric. Chinese Dreams, 23.

[20] Chinese: 五言诗

[21] Pound, Ezra. “A Retrospect” from Literary Essays of Ezra Pound, 3.

[22] Wai-Lim Yip is one example. Cf. Ezra Pound’s Cathay, 200.

[23] Diagram taken from Cheng, Francois. Chinese Poetic Writing, 94.

[24] Ibid. 94.

[25] Ibid. 95.

[26] A few obvious exceptions come to mind: Enjambments can create visual dislocation between lines, but this dislocation is often lyrical as well.  John Hollander’s poem “Swan and Shadow,” James Merrill’s poem “Christmas Tree,” and Aram Saroyan’s poem “Eyeye” also come to mind. “Eyeye” for one, recreates the mental/visual process of combining two images (from the left and right eyes) into a single image.

[27] Cf. Pound, Ezra. “A Retrospect” in Literary Essays of Ezra Pound. (9): “I believe in an ‘absolute rhythm’, a rhythm, that is, in poetry which corresponds exactly to the emotion or shade of emotion to be expressed.”  If we are willing to brush aside whatever fallacies lie in Pound’s essentializing of ‘rhythm’ we find that he did seek to reflect ‘shades of emotion’ in the qualities of his meters.

[28] Bishop, Elizabeth.  “Over 2,000 Illustrations and a Complete Concordance.”

[29] Pound’s own description of “Phanopoeia,” given on pp.20-21 in Ming, Xie’s Ezra Pound and the Appropriation of Chinese Poetry.

[30] A word that appears several times in Pound’s and Fenollosa’s explanations of Japanese “Noh” drama. (e.g., “A form of drama, as primitive as intense, and almost as beautiful as the ancient Greek drama at Athens, still exists in the world.” Library of America Edition, 389.)

[31] Bush, Ronald. “Pound and Li Po: What Becomes a Man,” 47.

[32] The phonetic transcriptions appear in Japanese, with which Fenollosa would have been more familiar.  The reproduction is taken from Yip, Wai-lim, Ezra Pound’s Cathay, 172-3; reproduced from Kenner, “The Invention of China,” Spectrum, IX.I (Spring 1967), 22.  The poem was originally attributed to Mei Sheng, though scholars seem to have concluded that authorship to be an unlikely one.  It appears in ‘Nineteen Old Poems’ (Eastern Han Dynasty, 25-220 C.E.)

[33] I owe this observation to Wai-lim Yip and his discussion of “The Beautiful Toilet” in Ezra Pound’s “Cathay,” 128-38.

[34] Ibid. 186.

[35] Most notably, Pound’s version fails to characterize the woman’s struggle that Watson has rendered, “It’s hard sleeping in an empty bed alone.”  Pound’s version, unfortunately, minimizes the agency of the female character, placing her instead as an object of neglect.  Perhaps this is my oversensitivity to the characterization of women speaking, but – like in many Pound poems – the female character has here been marginalized.

[36] “Beauty” would be implicit for the Chinese reader in those terms Watson translates “plump plump,” “bright bright,” and “red face-powder.”

[37] To my knowledge, he does not utilize the etymology of an ideogram anywhere in Cathay.

[38] From the 说文解字, via

[39] Jin, Serena. “Colour Terms” via Chan Sin-Wai and Pollard, David E. An Encyclopaedia of Translation: Chinese-English, English-Chinese, 92-3.

[40] Term adopted from Kenner, Hugh, 71.

[41] From Longbaum, Robert. “Pound and Eliot” via Ezra Pound among the Poets, 184.

[42] Cf. DeFrancis, Ch.1-3 for an account of the rhetorical/political discourse over language reform in the decades leading up to the Republican revolution of 1911.

[43] Daniel Fried recounts some of this discourse in “Beijing’s Crypto-Victorian: Traditionalist Influences on Hu Shi’s Poetic Practice.” Although he argues that Pound was not the most significant influence on Hu’s writing, Fried does claim that classical English literature contributed to Hu’s ‘modern’ style.

[44] Pound, Ezra. “A Retrospect” from Literary Essays of Ezra Pound, 3.

[45] Ping Chen.  Modern Chinese: History and Sociolinguistics, 72-3.

[46] Pound, Ezra. “The Renaissance” Literary Essays, 218.

[47] Kenner, Hugh. The Pound Era, 231.

[48] I stand by this word. These rubrics may have had profound and quantifiable effects on Pound’s writing, but their principles are Pound’s projections as often as they are styles inherent in the texts.

[49] And to let this train of thought continue would only augment headaches for me and the reader both.

[50] Cf. Hugh Kenner’s final section of “The Persistent East,” The Pound Era, 229-31: “Is the life of the mind a history of interesting mistakes?”

[51] Fenollosa, Ernest; Pound, Ezra (ed.) “The Chinese Written Character as a Medium for Poetry,” 54-5.

[52] Aldington, Richard. “Ezra Pound and T.S. Eliot,” 10.

[53] G.K. Chesterton (1874-1936).  Pound writes in a letter to John Quinn, “I believe he creates a milieu in which art is impossible. He and his kind.” (via note 277.31 from the Library of America Edition, p.1279)

[54] If a query through the Google search engine for exact matches with “In a Station of the Metro” could be considered any kind of evidence for its position in the literary world, my search produced approximately 500,000 hits.

[55] Yip, Wai-lim. Ezra Pound’s “Cathay,” 34-5.

[56] For example, the petals might ‘cling’ momentarily to the bough, blown away over time as the trains pick them up or they walk away.


About T Anderson

I am a graduate of Amherst College. I taught for a year in Harlem and now teach in Brooklyn.
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