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.



from North Hills


attrib. by Pound (after Fenollosa) in Cathay to a 4th century BC ‘Kutsugen’;
actually anon.;
quite a way after
Shih Ching II. 1. (167) (poems therein variously 11th-7th century BC)




Shu’s bowmen


                   gather bracken

                   when it’s ready

                   O to return

                   (year’s waning)

                   no house, no home,

                   it's those damned Huns

                   no rest nohow

                   it’s those damned Huns


                   gather bracken

                   when it’s tender

                   O to return

                   (hearts and minds sad)

                   – minds, hearts, broken

                   going hungry

                   war’s not over,

                   there’s no home leave


                   gather bracken

                   when it’s sturdy

                   O to return

                   (year’s ending)


                   no rest, nohow

                   (hearts and minds ill)

                   there’s no return


                   what can that be?

                   flowering cherry!

                   what goes so far?

                   high-up’s staff-car!

                   such horsepower –

                   an armoured car…

                   now they tell us:

                   VICTORY’S CERTAIN!


                   what horsepower!

                   roaring roaring…

                   the General,

                   he’s done for us…

                   winged-horse’d bonnet,

                   soft leather trim…

                   Daily Alert:

                   Here Come The Hun!


when we set out

                   willows blossomed

                   now we go back

                   willows weeping…

                   Slog to the Lo

                   - hungry going -

                   hearts, minds wounded

                   – back home don’t know.



i.m. Guy Davenport




from North Hills

quite a way after Ancient Poems no. 10 (Han Dynasty, 206 BC - 220 AD)



old poem 10


                      afar, afar              drifting herd-boy star

                  bright, bright        star-river’s lady  at night

                  fine, fine                        her pale hand works fine

                  click-clack, click-clack              looms    fore 'n' back

                  day is ended; her work . . . not

                  fall like rain  of her sad tears     (and snot)

                  star-river’s shallow, it’s clear

                  yet not crossable, save once a year

                  brimfull, brimfull           water separates

                  look, look    they meet for one night (early to late



from North Hills

attrib. by Pound (after Fenollosa) in Cathay (in the enlarged reprint in Lustra) to ‘Kakuhaku’; 

quite a way after Kuo P’u (276-324 AD)



eternally moved


         jade flash :: ruddy kingfisher


         shimmer-sheen in trumpet vines


         green lianas tie forest down


         canopy on mountain’s side


         amidst all this, one meditative:



         silent out-breath, scarce a sound



         heart set free to climb the sky



         …dining on foliage, sipping from streams…


         like red pine    s l o w    t o    a s c e n d



         flight of geese through dun hill smoke


  hills float extensive at left hand


  shouldering aside great cliff to right


  ask those, ephemeral as mayflies,



  if they know half as much as a turtle or crane





from North Hills

quite a way after Wang Wei ( c.700-760 AD)


bamboo hut


zen-sitting hidden (heart) ’f bamboos

zither tones (held) long notes

deep in woods     not known

comes the moon   to enlighten


(from the Wheel River Poems, 17)



from North Hills

quite a way after Li Po (701-762 AD)



                                 night thoughts


clarity     moon pool     bright clarity

thought: it’s frost already (adverbially)

head lifted sufficiently:  pooled moon

head lowered (thoughts of home, of old)