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Tuesday, 16 March 2010

Ezra Pound: Separation on the River Kiang



Ko-Jin goes west from Ko-kaku-ro,

The smoke-flowers are blurred over the river,

His lone sail blots the far sky.

And now I see only the river,

The long Kiang, reaching heaven.


Separation on the River Kiang: Ezra Pound, from Four Poems of Departure in Cathay (1915): original by Li Bai (701-762): translated by E. P. from the notes of Ernest Fenollosa

The first turn of the Yangtze (Changjiang = Yangzi Kiang), at Shigu, Yunnan Province: photo by Jialiang Gao, 2003


Marcia said...


You have placed just the right images to accompany EP's touching translations. Lovely in their sadness.

TC said...

Thanks, Marcia. Yes, I was searching for pictures to embody the images of absence and distance. The expanse of space as melancholy, friendships receding, yet affections lingering. "Lovely in their sadness" says it perfectly. (Of course there was for a time much bickering over the "errors" in the translations, though I find it hard to grasp the idea of such perfect rightness being regarded as in any way an error.)

I love the idea of the Yangzi making a 180 degree turn from south- to north-bound, literally in mid-stream.

It's been pointed out that EP's "west" in the first line here is actually "east" in the original.

Picky, picky, picky.


what a pleasure to arrive over here at Mills and find these! -- EP Cathay poems and amazing pictures (look at those mountains!) .... and out the third floor window freeway traffic sounds like waves ---


pale pink line of cloud above blackness

of ridge, silhouette of leaves in left

foreground, sound of waves in channel

ordinary, conceive of space-

time continuum itself

as “relative,” made in many

ways, of acceleration

silver of sunlight reflected in channel,

white cloud in pale blue sky on horizon

TC said...


white cloud in pale blue sky on horizon

space-time continuum itself


from Oakland to the Yangzi?

human being said...


topography of love

is it
the ups
the downs
of the land
that decide
the course of a river
should change?

the pojections
or rejections?

is it me
or you?

or the river decides
for herself?


Anonymous said...

Two things since I must get these children out the door (and this is so much more fun!)
A discussion of this translation and one by David Hinton, which I came upon trying to decide if smokeflowers were fireworks:

as TC says, there must have been bickering. but on the lone sail, all agree. magical.

TC said...


I have thought all night about your question, and put an answer here.


Interesting, this comparison of the Pound and Hinton versions.

Not that the Hinton lacks its own merits, but the elegiac mood created by that "styleless style" Pound developed in these poems is to my ear something unique in poetic history -- produced, perhaps, by a deliberate restraint shored up much as a retaining wall against the pressures of that other kind of history that would force its way in.

In any case, as I say, interesting indeed, and we thank you for it.

human being said...

you are a gem!
wrote for you there...

Anonymous said...

I spent today studying this:
"that other kind of history that would force itself in."
What an incredible thought. So I went to Pound to see what you meant by deliberate restraint. And that's exactly what it was.

Perhaps there is trust when we read Pound's Kiang. That retaining wall you speak of engenders trust: somehow, that he has bridged the separations, all of them: the river, the translation, the reader, us. And the long Kiang...reaching heaven.
Heavenly. Thank you.

TC said...

Thanks, Anonymous.

It's good to think the river gets to heaven, even if we don't.

And speaking of trust: I am grateful for your presence here.

Issa's Untidy Hut said...

I see what you mean, Tom, though unfamiliar with the Fennollosa notes.

Thanks for pointing me back.