A POET’S ITALIAN:
A Few Remarks on Translating Pound’s Contributions to Broletto
by Claudio Sansone
With the publication of Un poeta Americano sul lago di Como: Ezra Poud, Carlo Peroni e il “Broletto” (reviewed in this issue of MIN), Maurizio Pasquero has collected Ezra Pound’s contributions to the magazine, and placed them in a useful interpretive context. I have translated Pound’s contributions so that they may be of use to scholars who cannot read Italian, even though a lot of the content was either recycled from previous publications in English, or incorporated into later articles. The translations may be of most use to those interested in seeing the development of Pound’s ideas, and to readers who want a detailed (though filtered) perspective into the way Pound expressed himself in Italian.
This topic deserves its own study, but a few observations may help make the translations more readable. First and foremost, Pound’s Italian is not one easily given to objective reportage of the kind we associate with journalism (at least today). It is a more laconic, abstract, and paratactic language—expressive also in its lack of full fluency. Pound sometimes resorts to phrasings that are jarring, but this feature of his Italian writing gives it a peculiar and effective emphatic force, achieved (for example) through an English-like transposition of tense usage and exclamatory formulae. In a number of places, the meaning of the sentence is ambiguous (and where this is a cardinal issue I have tried to supplement the translation through footnotes)—but ultimately this is a small concern. His register is also of great interest, as he often places simple terms in strange contexts, and makes near-fluent use of many idiomatic terms, or indeed of words that are surprising for non-Italians to adopt. This gives me the sense that while Pound’s Italian was not impeccable, it was most certainly carefully cultivated in its own way.
Given the self-admittedly “jumpy” nature of his Italian (and English) prose, Pound is paradoxically at his clearest in his ruminative article “Orientamenti.” The sense that logical connections are to be implied and that the reader is to be given free reign in intuiting them makes a lot of aesthetic sense for those who know and appreciate Pound, but it is not a choice that translates into Italian with unambiguously positive results. The article on Leo Frobenius, whose impetus seems rather more expository, is in fact much harder to comprehend—and it is hard to imagine that many Italian readers would have been moved to explore Frobenius further as a result of Pound’s report. The intermediary article (chronologically speaking), on Binyon’s translation of Dante’s Purgatorio, strikes an interesting middle ground. Pound is able to come across clearly and convincingly because he moves between general statements regarding the condition of art in the twentieth century and an impassioned review of Binyon’s work.
Overall, I have tried to be as conservative a translator as possible—sticking to word-order and rhetorical structure as closely as possible. However, some concessions to readability have been made where the emphatic sense was not quite at risk of being lost. In terms of choosing word-by-word cognates between the languages, I have only done so when it seemed a reasonable reconstruction of Pound’s intention—but I do not claim to have developed a Poundian prose in English, nor to have adopted his method for translation. As a result, these English versions should be taken as service translations—and the more ‘notional’ transferral of Pound’s ideas into English should be sought out in his own works, such as the Guide to Kulchur, and in his reviews of Binyon for the Criterion.
I have supplied words in square brackets to smooth out the reading, where the parataxis of both Pound and his Italian was difficult to translate clearly. I have not reproduced textual issues because they do not affect the sense of the passages.
I’d like to thank Roxana Preda for going over a number of drafts and suggesting many valuable corrections and additions. These I have unashamedly taken on board as often as I have resisted them, but it would have been impossible to bring these translations to completion without her help. Of course, any remaining errors and traces of negligence are entirely of my own doing.
THE SIGNIFICANCE OF LEO FROBENIUS
One can discuss disparate details and passages… but to no purpose. The importance of Leo Frobenius lies in his having proved that when art is sick the sickness is not just there [in the art].
It may well be the revolt of a superior man against certain conditions, it may be the submission of a weaker, or a unconscious man to certain contingencies, but it demonstrates the surrounding and inherent spiritual (and physical) state.
It could be a conscious attack of satire or meditated caricature, for example the “uglinesses” of someone like Grosz on the one hand, or the odious distortions that do not offend the painter who throws them on a canvas, or the man who engraves them.
To attack the symptoms of sickness without seeking out their cause is the procedure of a savage. Symptoms are to be studied. The basic causes of a sickness are cured by confronting or repairing them.
Leo Frobenius was a great master of diagnosis: he created a whole institution, an entire education of perception. For example, an assistant of his, Fox, looks at a knitted tablecloth, strokes it with the tip of his fingers, and is able to comment: Budapest.
In this way a source of miracles is revealed, because the Geheimrat1 Frobenius has performed miracles. Frobenius looks at the shape of two earth-ware pots, and predicts: “Go to such and such a place in Africa, dig and you will find the ruins of a civilization with such and such characteristics.” This was done and it was so.
This, we can see, is the eccelso as opposed to the nadir. In contrast to pre-war German scholarship, according to which a Teutonic archeologist was able to say: “These are only aesthetic data, they don’t present any interest.”
Frobenius truly represented the crisis of the system rather than in the system. And to us, who have not had the direct benefit of his instruction, he provides sidelights for the new totalitarian philosophy. The totalitarian state itself creates these, but in the state there are active elements as well as idle or passive ones (bromides).
Frobenius does not practise archaeology by anatomizing the dead and the past. Nor is he affected by the idolatry of savagery [‘selvaggiatria’]. He studies the primitive races with the same method with which Koch studied the reactions of his Guinea pigs.
Treating history as rather long cycles, Frobenius is able to predict hidden sicknesses: seeing clearly the losses of great “cultures” he may be able to predict and prevent analogous catastrophes in the future.
The drum telegraph is something more than an interesting curiosity. The line of Benin sculpture does not merit idolatry, but study.
Frobenius does not take us back to an authentic idolatry of savages, and at the same time he saves us from the snobbish idolatries of the intellectual “chic.” He disturbs retrospective archaeologists. Frazer and all the others never arrive at a brilliant phrase such as: “Wherever we have found these rock drawings, we have found water at no more than two meters below the surface.”2
This indicates not only the past of the now vanished tribes that lived along no longer existing rivers, but also the directions for the bonifica of tomorrow.
But, to a much greater degree, this practical end of Frobenius is in deep accord with the needs of today, the needs of the totalitarian perception. He offers us the tools for totalitarian research and a great part of a method for the intelligent study of history. Beginning with the primitives, who alone still possess today the keys to the distant past necessary to open up cultural elements preserved in advanced societies, his system would be useful to the study of all of history. For example, in China, for more than twenty centuries, we can observe that a healthy and constructive dynasty has always been founded on the basis of Confucian philosophy.
The decadence of design in European art coincides with the rise of the tolerance of usury. Through obscurantism and obfuscation of the meaning of words, of terminology, there is a decline in the perception of boundaries and limits in plastic form and in the moral domain. The dissociation of ideas is weakened, and this weakness of understanding infects every human manifestation.
I am not repeating the books of Frobenius. The reader can find a great many of them. Few of them are translated into English or Italian - the more available ones being, perhaps, Erlebte Erdteile (VII volumes = Frankfurter Societätsdruckerei), among which volume IV is the most accessible. It is entitled Paideuma, since Frobenius was seeking an unspoiled [‘non sciupata’] word for “culture,” a word not tinged by the associative contingencies of pre-war Germany’s Kultur. He defines it, and I would abbreviate his definition or, possibly and unscrupulously, I would develop it in my own way. I say this because the serious reader will never be content with just a critic’s repetition. He will always want to know if the critic represents, vilifies or develops the idea of the author.
And, at the end of the day, the true critic always inserts something of himself in the matter under discussion.
I would therefore leave it in the form of “I would say”: The Paideuma is the dominant or germinal complex of ideas of a given epoch and of a people. One can die on its account, or one can contribute and add the strength of one’s own will to this complex.
Living in a new Paideuma we cannot die with the faded one of 1913 art, belonging to a dying Europe à la superficial Spengler’s Untergang des Abendlandes [Decline of the West].
I doubt that anyone else felt sooner or more deeply than Mussolini that the crisis was of the system. At least it is from the mouth of the Duce that I first heard this fecund phrase.
But, at the same time, or nearly, the major artists, that is the more sensitive ones, felt the crisis, or the crises, in their scattered and separate arts.
There was a revolt against the weakness of the formal structure of painting and, a little later, of sculpture. Already amongst the impressionists there was a revolt against the falsification of color. But this was not fundamental because the basis of the plastic arts is form. One begins with the line, and proceeds to proportion and masses. One can have all the colors, and all the splendors of the setting sun without arriving at art. Plastic art begins with drawing, with the line scratched by a sharp stone on a surface of stone or bone, with the strength of will and the knowledge acquired by perception.
That the public be unresponsive and unwilling to accept for the moment these explosions or manifestations of will is of little importance. That the battle for a new form in art is, always or nearly always, confused by snobbery and aping [‘scimmiottismi’], Apes of God, etc. is of no great importance. It can be the symptom of the sickness of an age. The Formenlehre [science of forms] survives, in the sense that the study of form subsists. I was not present at the artistic birth of Picasso. It believe he emerges out of Clouet. I believe that he was disgusted by the formal imbecility of the minor impressionists and returned to the sanity of Dürer and of Petrus del Borgo della Francesca.
But in any case I know that Vorticism was born in London from the determination of Wyndham Lewis, Henri Gaudier (a.k.a. Brezska) and myself to plumb the depths, to find the foundations of a healthy art.
I believe that all the propaganda for the Section d’Or was the rule of proportion in Romanesque architecture of analogous inspiration. We did not know at the time Piero della Francesca’s treatise De Prospectiva pingendi but we would have accepted it as sacred writ, just as we honored the studies of Dürer. As a music formed in this spirit was missing in 1913, we omitted music from our manifestations, albeit affirming the need for a new and more detailed study of musical knowledge, and waiting for musicians and composers able to do it.
All this was in contrast to the idiotic and dirty deformations. The “box of chocolates” is not to be condemned because it is too pleasing, but because it is false. But the lies do not end with the form of the “pretty” [‘bellino’] and the “pleasing.” For twenty years the illiterate in art chased innovations without caring for the truth or falsity of their compositions. The sense of truth was neither cultivated nor honored.3
A mercantile atmosphere dominated the market. One even got to a marketable value, Utrillo, Chagall, Dufy went up seventeen points, then fell again eight points, etc. What a pigsty! Disgusting! It was, and now we know it, the end of an era. The end of the mercantilist and usurious stench of the 18th and 19th centuries.
I become aware of the malady not as an economist but as an art critic, observing the putrid decadence of architectural ornament in London. In all that I wrote at that time (and for years I did not seek the economic coefficient), I did not adjust my tastes (that is, my perceptions) along the lines of a “tolerance for usury,” but all I did was seek, as I had done at the time of my first “grand tour,” my first European trip in 1898. [Yes, friends, I was a boy, but I looked at what was displayed in museums and art galleries.]4
The thought of an analysis that would include a correspondence to socio-economic matters came to me much later.
From the perception of a few correspondences one can proceed to the symptomatic nature of certain phenomena and therefore to a predisposition for a totalitarian analysis. And arriving at this predisposition, one finds twenty volumes of Leo Frobenius full of common sense. Volumes that are in part notes on his travels, not yet simplified for grade-school children of the “Fifth Grade,” but filled with nutrition for those who can digest them. They are books to be pondered by whoever prepares a schoolbook or wishes to write serious art criticism. And I do not have the slightest intention to attempt a critique of these in three pages. I indicate a direction.
Note—For those that read German, I recommend the series Erlebte Erdteile. For those who want the latest in English, African Genesis, published by Faber and Faber, 24 Russel Sq., London W.C.I. The latter is a collection of African fables, simpler than those of Aesop, often without an obvious moral, but sometimes including a moral as profound as the process of nature herself.
*Copyright © 1938 by Ezra Pound. Translated by permission.
1. Pasquero 2014 advises that a Geheimrat is a member of the Royal Private Counsel of the Holy Roman Empire.
2. Re-working of a phrase from GK, which reads: “Where we found these rock drawings, there was always water within six feet of the surface” (57).
3. The sentence can be read in two ways, first as above, but also as "one specific sense of truth, amongst possible others, was not cultivated."
4. These square brackets are EP’s.
For a long time we have had translations of the Divine Comedy that were not useful in propagating either its light, or its understanding. With the present version of the Purgatorio, interpreted by LAURENCE BINYON, we come to a new milestone in the spreading of Italian culture.
I can repeat all the praises published in the Criterion that came out when the translation of the Inferno was published; but I have to add some others. Developing his technique further, Binyon’s description of the Earthly Paradise achieves a splendor and clarity never before attained. I think this can be said not only with regard to translations of Dante, but about the corpus1 of translations into English of any author.
I say this without diminishing the glory of such a corpus. We have had magnificent and “opaque” translations. They form a very rich part of our poetry, albeit overlooked by some or even by most historiographers of our literature. Golding translated Ovid’s Metamorphoses, which Shakespeare studied and followed; and when Shakespeare took a passage from it in order to transform it, he did not better it. His transformations did not go beyond Golding’s language. If Gavin Douglas, who signed off as “Bishop of Dunkel and uncle of the Earl of Angus,” had (in the 1500’s) translated Homer instead of Virgil, we would not lack an Odyssey in English worthy of the original Greek.2
But in these masterpieces by Golding and Douglas the creative element is equal to or superior to the interpretative part. The poetry that results no longer needs the original. It forms a whole unto itself, and more than serving as an interpretation of the original, it can work as a commentary, of a special kind. I therefore call them “opaque.”
Binyon triumphs in a different manner, he triumphs by way of a honesty that from time to time attains [the level of] ingenuity. His version of Dante gives me a clearer sense of the original. I say it gives to me3:if you will forgive a personal anecdote. An awakening has occurred in England in the field of translation. W.H.D. Rouse has restored our sensibility regarding the narrative element of Homer. Quite a few others have worked for a wider comprehension of foreign literatures, but Binyon has produced a kind of work special to himself, and to refer to it I use the word “transparent” in its fullest sense. His is a translation that allows for the original to be seen. It’s like a window with panes of glass, so clean that you do not perceive them, to the extent that you get the impression of open air. It has value, it seems to me, not only for the English, but can also serve Italian readers who are too used to certain Dantean phrases and who fall asleep on their texts out of too much familiarity.
My generation in America suffered from the prejudice that in order to understand Dante it was necessary to suffocate in a heap of commentary. For my part, at the age of seventeen I was distracted by the abundance of commentary and notes, and lost altogether the continuity of the poem. Binyon, with a proem of half a page or less per Canto, has demonstrated most firmly the falsity of this prejudice. Sometimes, even without this proem, the Poem comes across clearly and intelligibly in his version.
A photograph betrays a painting, but an X-ray photographic examination reveals secrets of the painting that escape the naked eye. I offer this analogy, which is not exact but suggestive, to indicate the interest that an Italian admirer of the Divine Comedy could find in a foreign translation.
But if the divine Poet owes Binyon his new garment, Binyon owes Dante nothing less than his salvation. Dante has dragged him out of a dark limbo. Let me explain myself. When I arrived in England in 1908, Binyon, not exactly painfully [“precisamente dolente”], was giving himself to a rhetoric encumbered by [“ingombro nella”] the Miltonian Baroque.4 He worked seriously on his verse, but his method offended at least those of us who were at the time quick-thinking young people. The dead dialect of the English poetry of the second half of the 1800s persisted in his poetry. But on the other hand, he was not dazzled by the meretricious fashions of 1890, he had too much good sense to get drunk and as a good pater familias, he did not seek out heaven in Paris barrooms. He entered prosaically into the British Museum where he (officially) curated Chinese and Japanese art. This was good discipline for his eye. He had the frankness to say to me one day, regarding one of my poems, “I could never write something of the sort. I cannot do anything quick.”5 His plays on classical subjects and perhaps even biblical ones, walked with lead feet. But he pronounced, on another day, a maxim that is amazing for a young American: Slowness is beauty.
In the twentieth century? Sky, sea and earth! He, a civil servant, had no need to sell his writings, he was not forced to overproduce in order to fight poverty. He would nearly disappear from literary life, but wrote a valid commentary on Chinese art in his monograph The Flight of the Dragon.
Four years ago, I read in an American magazine an attack so stupid on Binyon’s version of Dante that it made me curious. The Chicago critic displayed such an idiotic ignorance of the nature of the hendecasyllabic verse in Dante that I wanted to know what Binyon had done.
The imitators of the Imagist movement could not comprehend that the “rules” enunciated by my group in 1912 were by necessity general rules, and that it is not always advisable that they be applied to the poetry of 1930; [it was] even less necessary to use them in the presentation of poetry from 1300.
Binyon’s style poses the problem of proportions. His Italian friends say that he found “the tone of the Dantean voice.” It would not be my exact definition, but let it go at that.
Some of his English colleagues say that terza rima “is not English.”
But even though I would not have made use of the phrase “tone of voice,” there is the tone of mind: sobriety, clarity. The Canto XVIII of Purgatorio is not exactly food for children. It is, in fact, incomprehensible for anyone who has not studied at least a little medieval philosophy.
And as for the terza rima, Binyon achieves beauties that he could not have attained without struggling to adopt this form, in which he achieves a most English flavor with words such as coppices, or highlander for montanaro. He does not reach a Homeric simplicity, because Dante does not have this kind of simplicity. He does not achieve the syntactic pace of Maupassant’s French prose, because the criteria of that prose did not exist in Dante’s poetry.
The defects of his version are superficial. I do not see them except in small inversions, which could be most easily be made to disappear in a new revision that the poet already intends to undertake as soon as he will have completed the version of the entire poem. Some defects have already disappeared between the first and final drafts that were sent to the printers.
Certain scholastic words such as intention, essence, remain difficult to digest, that is, they have to remain in English out of necessity, just as in the original, subject to educated commentaries, abbreviations or compendiums of scholastic Christian doctrine, or of the “secret language,” and they will never give up their full meaning on first encounter.
But without doubt Binyon has already achieved a triple strike. First: true poetry, in his happiest pages. Second: a sense of continuity and comprehensibility of the poem. Third: a help to scholars, and I believe we can include Italian scholars amongst these. But in any case I would say that every Dante Society, every class dedicated to the study of Italian poetry in any foreign university should make use of this version to facilitate the comprehension of the Commedia. I wish I had had such a faithful guide in my youthful confusion. How many wasted hours would I have saved!
Each era of great literary re-awakening has or feels the need for a new examination of the classics, and not only those in its own language, but also those of world literature. The Renaissance reexamined Greek poetry. The English Elizabethans translated from Latin. Today we feel the need for such an examination, in the harsh light of our times, with regard to the hierarchies of critical values belonging to other centuries.
Binyon needs to be examined with an eye to proportions, amidst the mannerisms of 1890 and those of our vorticist criticism, applying the criteria of prose.
That is, our demand for a simple and natural ordering of words. But he illuminated critically the position of the volgare or Dantean style with regard to the Petrarchan style, and explains for the first time, perhaps, to many non-Italian readers, why Italy tolerated a general decadence, the total descending curve of poetry in Italy since the century of Dante and Guido Cavalcanti. I remember one of your most distinguished critics, who after three years of struggle, defended Petrarch to me by saying: “sometimes one wishes to eat a cream-filled chocolate.”6 Decadence begins when attention turns to the ornamental element and moves away bit by bit from meaning. In Dante (and in Guido) meaning is most precise; see Canto XVIII of Purgatorio if you are in any doubt.
The idiom of Binyon’s version is the one appropriate to translating a poet to whom meaning mattered much more than ornament. The defects are like the shells of a nut left on the table after a magnificent dinner.
*Copyright © 1938 by Ezra Pound. Translated by permission.
1. E.P. uses the term “complesso,” which can be translated as “complex” in the sense of “whole,” but I have opted for “corpus” to give a clearer sense.
2. Gavin Douglas came from a powerful Scottish family, the Earls of Angus (a region between Perth and Aberdeen). His translation of the Aeneid called Eneados was written in Douglas’s vernacular, Middle Scots and was completed in 1513. Douglas became Bishop of Dunkeld, a small town north of Perth, in 1516.
3. This strange phrase is the “personal anecdote.” I have translated it literally, and it is as obscure in Italian as it is in English. I have inserted italics to emphasize what Pound probably meant to emphasize through an Italian idiom that was here probably too idiosyncratic.
4. This sentence is badly composed in Italian. At the heart of the matter is the imprecision of “non precisamente dolente,” which could be read as “not exactly dolorously” or “not with a precisely dolorous [mentality],” and the strange usage of “ingombro nella,” which I presume Pound is using adverbially as something like “encumbered by,” which is in and of itself an uncomfortable phrasing.
5. Cp. “I cdn’t do that. Never can do anything QUICK” GK 124—rephrased here.
6. Pound had already reported this anecdote, regarding the Italian critic Attilo Momigliani, in his Criterion article (published in April of 1934) on Binyon’s translations of the Inferno.
The slowness, that is, the laziness of “intellectual habits” can be explained, perhaps, in this way. The “private world” of the cerebral person is stronger or more elaborate or interesting than that of the average person, or at least it is more worrying. Therefore, he is less conscious of the exterior world. Hence the monographs titled “genius and madness.”
The madman does not see the exterior world any more. The (so-called) philosopher of a certain kind is “immersed in his thoughts.”
The foundation of my pragmatic idealism is this: when the idea is realized, it enters into action. The imperfect (immature) idea remains in the shell of the “private world.” The great genius does not create an “artificial paradise,” but a world that will come, will exteriorize itself more or less swiftly. The intellectual part of the public (the so-called intellighentia [sic.], as it was called in Russia) was the slowest in recognizing the New Era (E.F.) and in spite of the new cultural agreements, it is still late in recognizing the causes of its own delay. The strength or concentration of the intellectual life does not remain in a given compartment of life, nor in a single geographical center.
The confusion of the literary world of the last twenty years derives from the disintegration of Paris, and the shift of the so-called literary circle’s center of activity. From 1830 to 1917 the literary world looked to Paris. We could say that from 1700, the intellectual world had looked to Paris as its lighthouse and center.
Not for nothing D’Annunzio tried to write in French. I myself tried to write poems in French, having despaired of getting verses of a fresh style (for 1910) published in the United States or in England. Turgenev lived in Paris. Henry James “loved France, as he never loved a woman.”
Today, no more. These attitudes are no longer comprehensible. After the death of Remy de Gourmont I could not find in Paris a writer to whom I could entrust a monthly review of French literature for the Little Review. The Sorbonne decays.
And even now the literary world does not know where to seek out the dawn.
This “going astray” derives in itself from a fixed habit.1 The prestige of Flaubert and co. was and still is so strong that career writers do not understand that the center no longer lies in the novel. With Flaubert and Goncourt the (realist) novel was so much deeper and more serious that historiographic writings, so much more truthful than the kind of superficial history that was then fashionable, that the novel was tagged “histoire morale contemporaine” and became “literature” ensconced in the penumbra of belles lettres. But this is, in reality, only a part of literature. It was the diagnosis. The totality of literature oscillates in a great curve between diagnosis and remedial literature.
This phenomenon is not yet understood or digested. The mercantilist plague gnawed at the world. The great doctors did not know what to do other than observe it, diagnose it. Hippocrates, impotent to cure, watched a phase of civilization die.
Marxist literature attained its apogee in the last page of Madame Bovary… “et l’envoie, pour gagner sa vie, dans un filature de coton.”
Speaking of Mme. Bovary’s daughter ….
Having exposed the nature of the social sickness in this literary form, the serious intellect turned to remedy this sickness. And genius (constituted by individuals) concerned itself with another species of verbal expression. The cultivators of light forms understood that the Laws of Constantine are literature. Stendhal himself, indeed, studied the Napoleonic Code to equip his style.
End of Chapter. Second Chapter, in other words, another component of this ideogram.
Homer differs from Virgil, being concerned about the means for life: how Odysseus can eat on his raft, how his pigs survived.
Dante and Shakespeare are concerned, really very concerned with ethics and economic justice. The purely sensual and amateur writers are not worried about these at all.
All this concern about morality gives a certain dimension to the work of the former. A dimension that distinguishes great literature, deep literature, from the mediocre one.
Third little chapter.
The great springs of millenary civilization are two: Rome and the Chinese empire. Between these poles there has been a disordered zone, a Tartar and barbaric zone; a zone in certain mercantilist eras that, according to certain profound historians, tried to impede the exchange and to block communications between the great civilizing centres of Asia and Europe.
Every time that a durable dynasty was established in China, a dynasty that maintained itself for three of four centuries, it was always founded on certain sanities, on certain honesties, codified and meditated by Confucius, who professed he was doing nothing new. These principles have served the successors. At the centre of each new dynasty one could find a nucleus of Confucians. Japan now enters in an already known cycle, and we have to hope for the re-birth of co-ordination between Tokyo and Pekin.
They scold that I “jump around,” that I don’t indicate the progression from one point to another in my argument. I never felt the right to create useless typographical costs for my editors. Once a reader understands that I don’t want to chew his food, he will take greater pleasure in thinking for himself, meditating for himself the facts and data I present. I do not want to dominate his dissent. I have faith. The reader, once he begins to meditate from the facts or the data shown to him, can easily capture the essential part of my message. In this short article I affirm two simple things. The vortex of thought is no longer concentrated in France. Worried and made lazy by old habits, men of letters continue to seek out the vortex in certain literary forms that were the principal and vital forms eighty years ago, that is in novels, instead of seeking them out in laws, in the lively paragraphs of speeches, or maybe here and there in books that treat economic-historical matters. We have to admit that a history book, even if of second-rank, is worth more than a third-rank novel. An illuminated sentence such as “discipline the economic forces and equate them to the needs of the nation,” is worth more than a flaccid novel, imitating an exotic model or weakly following an imitation of Flaubert, unfortunately already admitted to the catalogue of “indigenous classics.”
Under any verbal form, lively thinking is worth infinitely more than dead or embalmed thought. This is a legal decree of aesthetics.
*Copyright © 1938 by Ezra Pound. Translated by permission.
1. I translate “smarrimento” as “having gone astray” because of a problematic Dantean implication, the import of which should be taken into account given that Pound was interested in translations of Dante in this period. In the opening lines of the Commedia, the Pilgrim is “smarrito,” that is, lost but with the hope of recovering the lost way. However, given this Dantean context, it would be an egregious poetic misdemeanor to translate “smarrimento” as “having been lost,” because in Dante to be lost means to be “perduto” (another word for lost, that is more final). In extremis to be “lost” in the sense of “perduto” would mean to be lost irreparably, having lost the love of God.