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Tuesday, 16 March 2010

Ezra Pound: Taking Leave of a Friend


File:Yangzi River gorge.jpg

Blue mountains to the north of the walls,

White river winding about them;

Here we must make separation

And go out through a thousand miles of dead grass.

Mind like a floating white cloud,

Sunset like the parting of old acquaintances

Who bow over their clasped hands at a distance.

Our horses neigh to each other

as we are departing.

Taking Leave of a Friend: 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

Afternoon light on the gorge of the Yangzi River, Yunnan Province: photo by Peter Morgan, 2005


human being said...

heartrending and beautiful!

mountains are always blue...

J said...

sublime--as is the photo.

Perhaps...too much (Anything by EP outranks the usual media chitchat, though--whether Leno routine, preacher-speak, or Katie Couric routines, for that matter...).

TC said...


The heartrending aspect of the subject matter in these Chinese poems was of course what drew the poet to translate them, freely as he did, at that particular time and place.

The expanse of space as a condition of loss: this was Pound's theme in London in 1915, during the first winter of the War, as he watched the troop trains depart, taking away a generation of young men to die for nothing at all. The experience was wrenching for him.

He never got over it.

Here the mediation of the Chinese style has a distancing effect. Later of course the tones with which EP wrote of the waste and loss of the War included fury and rage.

These fought in any case,
and some believing,
pro domo, in any case...

Some quick to arm,
some for adventure,
some from fear of weakness,
some from fear of censure,
some for love of slaughter, in imagination,
learning later...
some in fear, learning love of slaughter;

Died some, pro patria,
non 'dulce' non 'et decor'...
walked eye-deep in hell
beieving old men's lies, then unbelieving
came home, home to a lie,
home to many deceits,
home to old lies and new infamy; usury age-old and age-thick
and liars in public places.

Daring as never before, wastage as never before.
Young blood and high blood,
fair cheeks and fine bodies;

fortitude as never before

frankness as never before
disillusions as never told in the old days,
hysterias, trench confessions,
laughter out of dead bellies.

There died a myriad,
And of the best, among them,
For an old bitch gone in the teeth,
For a botched civilization,

Charm, smiling at the good mouth,
Quick eyes gone under earth's lid,

For two gross of broken statues,
For a few thousand battered books.


J, I don't understand "too much".

The Yangzi can't help having big gorges.

Who's Katie Couric? Who's Leno? Do they have something to do with American network tv? I'd thought that bloated fish was found dead on a beach long, long ago.

Curtis Roberts said...


Regarding the three Pound poems/translations and the illustrations you selected to accompany them, this is a little personal and off-point, I guess, but my daughter Jane, who is 12 now, is Chinese (we adopted Jane when she was just shy of one year old in Wuhan; she actually hails from Wuxue in Hubei Province). Sharing these with her was really great.

It's never terribly easy to induce your child to follow your interests, even when you think they're relevant and would benefit both of you, when she's pursuing whatever is currently on her mind, but it's worth persisting in the effort, and making the effort in this case was definitely warranted.

Jane attends what is considered to be a superb school in Bryn Mawr, PA, but in English classes essentially they assign her junk, and her computer and other interests (including lots of excellent sports activity) dominate her life. She's naturally math/science oriented and very sensitive and acute in visual arts appreciation and execution, but in terms of reading, her recent tackling of the Twilight saga pleased us enormously since these novels were the first LONG books she wanted to read and read enthusiastically, as you wish your children to do.

Anyway, these poems cut through very nicely (not because of subject matter or origin; that was incidental) and that was great and what poetry has the power to do. Cut through.

Interestingly, Janie won a prize several years ago in a national haiku writing contest run by some educational organization or another and her poem was printed in an attractive, impressive hardcover tome. For some reason, though, they added a word in the printing (I'm not saying her haiku was that great, but it was correctly formed), and wrecked the poem, sentiment and structure. I imagine we're the only ones who will ever notice and it was very, very funny.

Spring's finally arriving it seems, thank heaven. We have some excellent local ice cream places in the Philadelphia area (Bassett's in Reading Terminal Market is really superb), but it's feels a little more appropriate to indulge when green grass is visible.

J said...

frankness as never before
disillusions as never told in the old days,
hysterias, trench confessions,
laughter out of dead bellies.

Ah yess definitely in the Best of Ez.

That said, at times Pound seems a bit too...sincere or something (nearly proto-confessional hisself)--not that I object to honest writing per se, or some rage, but compare this to say...Hemingway's best WWI stories, such as Soldier's Home (or for that matter, an objective account of Verdun itself--).

Hem.'s compressed, minimalistic style produces an effect quite more powerful, even 'more sublime" than doth EP's war poesy, I believe...hard to describe, but sort of know it when you feel it (and similar for great musick or poesy ...including EP's)...Tim O'Brien's "The Things they Carried" also in that tradition of war writing...maybe a few Carver tales.

TC said...


Lovely that Janie has enjoyed these poems. They are, of course, in some real sense, hers.

(Your comment, I think, is very much on-point.)


To each her/his own sublimity.

I grew up in a town where the Hemingways ran the real estate market. Ernie's father suicided. Like father, like son. A serpent chasing its tale, always very much inside the box. Kill that lion, land that tarpon. Shotgun always a ready solution.

At least EP got out.

I find his late silence even more eloquent than minimalism.

human being said...


war separates me from me

the big brothers need money:
this part of the world yields honey
peace is forbidden!
in war,
lots of money
is hidden

call in
the monkeys
and the fools
help them
establish a religious rule

they can make wars
they can build lots of walls
they can close all the doors
they can suppress cries and uproars
they can kill all the values that people adore
to forget love and learn to abhor

a masked genocide
business is the one that decides

they know the rules of slavery
war gainst another counrty
war gainst people of their own country
war against beauty
war against unity

they separate the cournty from the world
the people from their own souls
and all the poets
form their words


think i know how EP might have felt about war... and separation...

thanks for sharing... thanks for flowing like a river... nourishing our souls with your words... and choices...

TC said...


Yes, business is the one decides. If there is a contemporary human tragedy, that must be it. And the decisions business has made have been to the detriment of everything living. But this death machine judders on into eternal night.

The river must flow around it, but yes, it separates us. That is its way and purpose. We huddle apart in the darkness of its kingdom.

J said...

Yes, TC, EP escaped--and what a charmed life he led, and at times his poetry-product has a tremendous beauty (as with the translation above--tho' me mandarin limited to a few characters I recognize on signs or menus), yet...I feel his war poem's a bit too ...notebookish, or summarized, ne sais quoi...slightly narcissistic, tho' certainly pro-level work. Maybe it's more like a beef with...poesy itself, TC (even the greats, or supposedly great)--

Hem's Soldier's Home and other war writings mow you down, however, as does other great fiction--Dostoyevsky, Conrad, Melville, the best of Steven Crane (including his poesy...). It's a different effect, expressionist for lack of a better term, not so much, perhaps. Reading modernist poets seems a bit like sauntering through an art gallery. Reading of Ishmael in the crow's nest, on the other hand---not sure of analogy--like yr in church, or very stoned

TC said...

Well, I think the opposition of Pound (poetry, beauty) vs. prose is largely a straw combat. We should remember Pound's great admiration for Ford Madox Ford, and his salient dictum, certainly meant as an antidote to the dilettantish confabulations of poetasters, that "poetry should be at least as well written as prose". He was hard-headed enough in following that out, or so his contemporaries certainly thought.

"Narcissistic," perhaps a bit excessive, cheap shot, David hammering a little too hard on the toe of Goliath?

The traditional stable of writing-school draft horses, nothing against it.

The presentation of laurels to Hemingway as the thoroughbred of the bunch, though... well... I was greatly impressed by him, until about my junior year in high school.

Now I cannot turn a page without the phrase "faux naif" echoing somewhere in the back of my head.

The fish and hunt and drink till you do or don't pass out school of literature bores me. Carver (whom you have ranked earlier) I cannot read. The others you name, masters certainly.

As for the rest of what appears to be up for discussion here, I would hardly apologize for beauty in any context. It is rare enough at any time or in any place.

(This is after all and in the end what I think is called a "poetry blog".)

J said...

OK. Yes, poetry blog--no problemos. My point wasn't contra- Pound's lovely chinese poems, but addressed to the Mauberly piece really, and the literature of battle, for lack of a better term. In regards to WWI (not literature as a whole), I feel Hem. howver macho-naif sort of out-dukes 'em, that's all. Then I generally prefer reading the history itself (even say Toland or Tuchman's somewhat popularized WWI history...) to the literary accounts...However exquisite or moving a poem may be, it's not quite the same as being in a trench as the guns blast and Ludendorff sends waves of hamburger at ya...(the old expressionist ahhtists, who was it Grosz, saw it...and those grainy front-line photos, tho' they are sort of boreeng--one pile of a few dozen stiffs being gnawed on by rats, you've seen em all..Ez ascends parnassus with ancient chinese, rivers and mountains, flower petals and farewells..not sure he could deal with stiffs and rats, or trench warfare)

TC said...

Well, I strongly recommend that you curl up with Canto XVI. Much of which is reportage from the front lines, as passed on to EP by several survivors.

In that Canto, which begins in the Purgatorio, the poet's sleep is troubled by voices recalling the horror of recent history: the confused blur of speakers includes Victor Plarr, Richard Aldington, Ferdinand Leger, Lincoln Steffens et al...

"They put him on Hill 70, in a trench
dug through corpses
With a lot of kids of sixteen,
Howling and crying for their mamas..."

"And Ernie Hemingway went to it,
too much in a hurry,
And they buried him for four days..."

He did, I think, know whereof he spoke, as well as a second hand witness can.

The problem with any general statement about Pound, e.g. yours re. flower petals, is that actual time spent reading the work often often maddeningly complicates matters...

Not that instant opinion is not the currency of the 'net & c.

(By the way, in Paris EP and Hemingway laced 'em up and boxed in a ring, regularly, for the sport of it...)

J said...

I have read a good bit of the Cantos (including the one you quote here), and I don't doubt Pound's stature as a great poet, and as a second hand witness, quite authentic. Hemingway was a first hand witness, at least on Italian front, as Farewell to Arms, and other stories show. In some situations the prose packs a punch the poetics don't--sort of a verisimilitude thing.

Hem. follows from Stendhal, french realists, Steven Crane, journalism, even photography, I believe. He knows the military technology, a bit of the engineering, etc. Pound follows from...well, like Aristotle, Dante, troubadours, Herrick/Marvell, etc. Does Purgatorio exist, TC? Not for Hem.

At times Pound may have wanted to reincarnate Jefferson, yet he generally affirms his scholastic roots (as Santayana had asked him to, probably). EP vs EH--the scholastic spars with the...existentialist (even if a drunken, macho sort). I suspect EH had a better jab.

OK, back to trabajo

TC said...

Well J, from what I have been able to make out, neither of them was quite in this weight class.

J said...

True, dat.

Tho' this bloke was.

Happy St. Paddy's day. TC

Issa's Untidy Hut said...

What a fantastic rendering of one of the truly great, great poems of all time.

It has been a real joy reading these, Tom. I'm thrilled to say it is keeping me from the work I'm supposed to be doing on my day off.