Poundian Poetries

Harry Gilonis



To Fracture Syntax, Second Heave

in memoriam Ivan Juritz



This small group of poems needs a small introduction.  They come from North Hills, a collection of 'faithless' versions of Chinese originals; this being an attempt to get closer, paradoxically, to the spirit of their originals than traditional translations can.  Pleasingly, Pound himself provides a clear precedent, in the end-note to the first edition of Cathay in which, referring to Ernest Fenollosa's papers, he says: "I find [here] a perfect speech in a literality which will be to many most unacceptable. The couplet is as follows: 'Drawing sword, cut into water, water again flows: / Raise cup, quench sorrow, sorrow again sorry.'"1 

Despite unremitting Sinological critique, in some regards (note this qualifier!) both Fenollosa and Pound were on the right track.  High-classical poetic Chinese often suppresses many of the parts of speech which modify by adding specificities (number, gender, tense, mood); the poems are thus 'lattices' which a competent reader would fill out as they read; possibly, licitly, quite differently on each re-reading. 

I should footnote that, to some, quite radical assertion.  Wai-Lim Yip, in his book on Cathay, writes of "the special mode of representation of reality constituted or made possible by the peculiarity of the Chinese language itself."2

What I have tried to do with the North Hills material is to enact some of these (traditionally untranslatable) features of the Chinese originals; so fidelity isn't appropriate in this context.3

I should perhaps say that there is a direct parallel with Pound, in that these poems come out of a close and long-standing engagement with Chinese poetry, but not out of Sinological expertise.4

My poems herein have widely-differing ways and degrees to which they modulate both their responses to the Chinese originals and to versions of those made by Ezra Pound.5

But that is a matter for readers, or even for critics, not for their author; here I step aside to make way for them.

Thanks to Richard Parker for asking for these; and (again) for his patience.




1. Pound, Cathay 32 - cited here from Ahearn 34.

2.: Wai-Lim Yip, Cathay 12. See also (e.g.) Way-Lim Yip, Chinese Poetry xiii and Hinton xx-xxi.

3. Pound wasn't invariably detained by it either; hence his use of 'Brer Rabbit' in translating one of the Confucian Odes (no. 70).  [Other translators tend to say 'hare', but Pound is at least lexicographically correct - see Mathews M.6534.]

4. By the time Pound came to translate the “Confucian Odes,” he had considerable competence, conducting correspondence on lexicographical technicalities with Chinese friends - as any reader of Zhaoming Qian's Ezra Pound's Chinese Friends will know.)

5. Two poems here (1 and 3) come from Cathay. Pound made the others using the Fenollosa materials separately from, or perhaps later than, Cathay; their bibliography is complex, but they are all conveniently gathered in Weinberger, The New Directions Anthology of Classical Chinese Poetry.




Ahearn, Barry. “Cathay: What sort of Translation?” Ezra Pound and China. Ed. Zhaoming Qian. Ann Arbor: Michigan UP, 2003. 31-48. Print.

Hinton, David. Classical Chinese Poetry: An Anthology. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2008. Print.

Mathews, R. H. Mathews’ Chinese-English Dictionary. Revised American Edition. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard UP, 1943. Print.

Pound, Ezra. Cathay. London: Elkin Matthews, 1915. Print.

Pound, Ezra The Confucian Odes. The Classic Anthology Defined by Confucius. New York: New Directions, 1954.

Qian, Zhaoming. Ezra Pound's Chinese Friends. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2008. Print.

Wai-Lim Yip, Ezra Pound's Cathay. Princeton, NJ: Princeton UP, 1969. Print.

Way-Lim Yip. Chinese Poetry. Durham, NC: Duke UP, 1997. Print.

Weinberger, Eliot, ed. The New Directions Anthology of Classical Chinese Poetry. New York: New Directions, 2003. Print.