Timothy Billings (ed.). Cathay: A Critical Edition. New York: Fordham University Press, 2019. $34.95. ISBN 9780832381060.
review by Andrew Houwen
‘Many hands were involved’ in the production of Cathay, as Haun Saussy’s foreword to this indispensable critical edition rightly observes. Its thorough and detailed examination not only of Ernest Fenollosa’s notebooks, out of which Pound created one of the most distinguished poetry collections of the twentieth century, but also of their Chinese and Japanese contexts, reveals like no edition has before the extent to which Cathay is, as Saussy aptly puts it, a co-creation spanning vast distances of space and time.
Two important examples of this new focus on the Fenollosa notebooks’ and Cathay’s Chinese and Japanese contexts can be seen in the attention paid to those ‘Professors Mori and Ariga’ in the 1915 collection’s frontispiece. Christopher Bush’s introduction provides a discussion of Mori Kainan (1863-1911) as an important and active co-creator of Cathay: as Bush notes, he was himself a highly reputable kanshi poet (a Japanese writer of classical Chinese poetry), ‘the major figure in kanshi from around 1890 until his death in 1911, having edited a major annotated edition on Tang poetry, Tōshisen hyōshaku 唐詩選評釈, based on the Tangshi xuan 唐詩選 of Li Panlong (1514-1570)’. As Bush tells us, he rose to high political positions and was traveling with Itō Hirobumi, previously the prime minister and at that time the resident-general of Korea, ‘when the latter was assassinated by a Korean nationalist’ in 1909; indeed, he even composed a kanshi on the subject. In the editor’s introduction, Billings also remarks how he was ‘celebrated in Japan for his own compositions of poetry in classical Chinese’, unlike early translators such as Herbert Giles and Arthur Waley, ‘who could barely write poetry in English’, never mind classical Chinese.
Billings is similarly right to point out how, ‘instead of referring loosely to Mori when quoting the cribs – as scholars have typically done when they are not ignoring Mori altogether – we should acknowledge Ariga’s collaborative role as well’. Ariga Nagao (1860-1921), as Bush’s introduction informs us, studied international law abroad and became ‘such a prominent legal scholar that he was invited to Beijing by Yuan Shikai to help draft a new constitution for China’. Billings carefully traces the extent of Ariga’s influence on the English of Fenollosa’s notebooks:
It has never been observed before, but there is substantial evidence that Fenollosa was often taking down dictation so quickly that he apparently wrote exactly what Ariga said to him while translating for Mori, sometimes without fully understanding what he was writing at the moment, which partly explains why Fenollosa’s notes are sometimes slightly unidiomatic.
Like Saussy, Billings justly concludes that ‘Pound’s poems from Li Bo [...] are textual collaborations not only with the original author [...] but also with Fenollosa, Mori, and even Ariga’. In demonstrating the role of the latter two in particular, Billings’s edition marks a moment of significant progress in calling attention to the ‘right names’, as Pound might have put it, behind Cathay.
In the spirit of calling things by their ‘right names’, though, it is perhaps worth pointing out some of the edition’s shortcomings in this regard, such as ‘Mori’s’ own name to begin with. ‘Mori’ is indeed his family name; but Kainan is his gō 号, a traditional literary or artistic pseudonym often used in Japan until around the Second World War. A cursory examination of Japanese-language literary scholarship shows that, after first mention, he is always referred to as ‘Kainan’, just as we say ‘Bashō’, not ‘Matsuo’, and ‘Shiki’, not ‘Masaoka’. It is perhaps defensible to maintain the use of ‘Mori’ because Fenollosa always refers to him as such, but at the very least a note acknowledging this issue would be helpful in explaining such basic information regarding the Japanese context of Cathay’s development. Perhaps less defensible, though, is the repeated Japanese transcription of Qu Yuan, to whom authorship of Cathay’s ‘Song of the Bowmen of Shu’ is attributed, as ‘Katsugen’ instead of Fenollosa’s and Pound’s (correct) ‘Kutsugen’. Even more puzzling are the references to the influential translator of Chinese poetry, Herbert Giles, as ‘Giles Herbert’ and, later, ‘Herbert’.
Although Kainan is rightly given more prominence than in previous English-language discussions of Cathay, he is also the victim of unjustified criticism regarding his interpretations of the Chinese poems. Billings claims, for instance, that it is the ‘Japanese linguistic prejudice’ of ‘Mori &/or Ariga’ that causes the translation of 青(qing in modern Mandarin, ao or sei in Japanese), which describes the ‘grass’ in ‘The Beautiful Toilet’, to be rendered as ‘blue’ because this character is ‘almost always “blue” in Japanese’. In fact, 青 frequently refers in Japanese to what English speakers would consider to be ‘green’ or ‘fresh’, such as 青信号(ao shingō, a green traffic light), 青年 (seinen, a standard term for ‘young person’), 青梅 (aoume or ōme, green ume fruit widely sold in Japan), the common female name 青葉 (Aoba, lit. ‘green leaf’, several of whom I teach, all in no doubt it means ‘green’), or indeed 青青 (aoao, ‘lush green’, as in 青青とした草原, aoao to shita kusahara, a ‘lush green field of grass’), the very term used in ‘The Beautiful Toilet’. Countless other examples could be added.
To any Japanese speaker, let alone a renowned scholar and practitioner of classical Chinese poetry such as Kainan, it would therefore be an absurd mistake to think that the青青 in ‘The Beautiful Toilet’ means what Fenollosa’s notebooks interpret as ‘blue blue’. The error must therefore have occurred in the translation into English (and thus to be attributed to Ariga or another Japanese translating for Fenollosa) rather than between the Chinese and Japanese. Billings is right, though, in ‘wondering’ whether the misreading of 竹馬 (takeuma, or zhuma in modern Mandarin) as ‘bamboo stilts’ in ‘The River Merchant’s Wife: A Letter’ is ‘Ariga’s “English” error alone’: Kainan’s Rishi kōgi (‘Lectures on Li Bai’s Poetry’), published two years after his death, analyses this poem at length, including the depiction of the ‘bamboo horse’.
Billings’s edition does not mention Kainan’s Rishi kōgi, however, despite the clearly important role that published lectures by Kainan on Li Bai’s poetry ought to play in an understanding of Cathay, given that eleven of the first edition’s fourteen poems are attributed to Li Bai. Bush, Billings, and the bibliography draw attention to Kainan’s Tōshisen hyōshaku, though the book does not directly cite it, or any other Japanese-language source for that matter. The Tōshisen hyōshaku would not be a particularly helpful source for a critical edition of Cathay: out of more than four hundred poems, only three appear in Cathay. Kainan’s Rishi kōgi, by contrast, which are freely available in digital form via the National Diet Library’s online catalogue, examine in much greater detail what Pound would translate as ‘The River-Merchant’s Wife: A Letter’, ‘The Jewel Stairs’ Grievance’, ‘The River Song’, and ‘Poem by the Bridge at Ten-Shin’. An examination of Kainan’s extensive commentary on these poems would provide valuable points of comparison with Fenollosa’s notebooks.
Another surprising absence in the bibliography is that of Yamaguchi Seiichi’s two-volume Fenorosa: Nihon bunka no senyō ni sasageta isshō (‘Fenollosa: A Life Dedicated to the Advocacy of Japanese Culture’), published in 1982, which remains the most authoritative biography of Fenollosa in any language, as David Ewick has observed. Unlike the English-language biographies published by Van Wyck Brooks in 1962 and Lawrence W. Chisholm the following year, Yamaguchi’s makes use of a broad range of Japanese-language sources. One of these includes the recollections of Fenollosa’s nō translator, Hirata Kiichi, who remembers that he and Okakura Kakuzō, Fenollosa’s former student and later a prominent writer on Japanese culture, also regularly attended Kainan’s lectures on Chinese poetry with Fenollosa and Ariga. Such tantalising details, known to Japanese scholars since 1924, give some indication of just how much the Japanese contribution to Cathay’s development remains unexplored in Anglophone scholarship.
Such quibbles aside, Billings’s critical edition of Cathay represents an important step in understanding the transcultural collaboration of this brilliant book of poetry, especially in its calling of attention to the Japanese context of Fenollosa’s notebooks, which has previously been all too frequently passed over in favour of direct comparisons between Pound and the Chinese poets reinvented in Cathay, despite the crucial interpretive role figures such as Kainan played in its production. So much more remains to be said about this context, though, as well as about the Chinese scholarship on which Kainan drew.
Pierre Rival, Ezra Pound en enfer. Paris: L’Herne, 2019. €15. ISBN: 979-1031902401, pp. 253.
review by Ryan Johnson
A book aiming to make us understand Ezra Pound’s full-throated support of fascism between 1940 and 1945 will come with a host of problems. Though Pound remains one of the most influential poets of the twentieth century, his politics, his belligerence, and his anti-Semitism prevent him, understandably, from the enjoying the academic favor of other “difficult” modernists such as James Joyce and Samuel Beckett. Because Pound’s politics are explicit not only in his biography but also his work, passing over his less salubrious aspects in silence is not as viable an option for Pound scholars as it is for scholars of W.B. Yeats or T.S. Eliot, poets with ideas not terribly dissimilar to Pound’s but without works such as Jefferson and/or Mussolini and The Pisan Cantos looming over their legacy.
So the impetus for Pierre Rival’s Ezra Pound en Enfer. Framed as a “romantic biography,” and with liberal use of free-indirect style to take us into Pound’s mind, Rival’s book wants us to understand what made Pound’s aesthetics turn to totalitarian politics. We are introduced to the Pound of Ente Italiana Audizione Radio, the station in Rome from which Pound broadcasted pro-Axis, anti-Semitic, and anti-American addresses from 1941 until the end of the war. The image of “l’homme plein de rage” (27), furious at “usurers,” Jews and Anglo-Saxons (28-9), gives way to a more multifaced image of an artist whose unorthodox readings in Chinese, French, Greek, Latin, and English literatures led him to support the Axis. The result is a text that tries to be as wide-ranging and multilingual as Pound’s poetry:
On ne pourra pas dire qu’ils n’ont pas été prévenus, les citoyens américains qui partent se faire tuer à la guerre :
—Ezra Pound speakin’
Car tel est le rôle de l’homme juste, l’homme qui possède le Virtù, le Rén [Zhě], 仁者, dont Confucius nous apprend dans ses Analectes que Wéi rén zhě néng hào rén néng wù rén, 唯仁者能好人，能惡人, « Seul l’homme juste peut vraiment aimer et seul l’homme juste peut vraiment haïr ». (33)
It is in the attempt to recreate this multilingual and multi-traditional background that Rival’s book has its greatest merit. As Christopher Bush has recently reminded us, Pound’s interactions with East Asia, though eclectic and contentious, were not lacking in sensitivity, and were, in many ways, similar to approaches we would hold in esteem today. Rival’s method may force us to confront unexpected mixtures, blends of Confucianism and Dante with Mussolini and Hitler (135-145), and to ask how such a concoction could ever be produced. This is the intention Rival signals in his postface, as he sends us back to the present:
Cinq mois plus tard, Donald Trump est élu Président des États-Unis sur un programme isolationniste et populiste qui aurait sans doute séduit le poète, comme l’aurait séduit le « style » du candidat, à la fois patricien et vulgaire. Et le 4 mars 2018, les élections générales italiennes porte au pouvoir une coalition de la droite extrême et du mouvement antiparlementaire « 5 étoiles », reprenant certaines des propositions sociales avancées par Casa Pound.
Le prophète Ezra a-t-il eu raison trop tôt ? (217)
How convincing you find this sudden presentism depends on how plausible you believe it that a modernist poet’s turn to fascism could foreshadow, and help us to understand, current politics.
The emphasis on the “use” of understanding Pound’s fascism is perhaps this book’s weakest point. For all the reasons listed above, any attempt to explain Pound’s fascism, which will necessarily make him appear more sympathetic, will meet with raised eyebrows, if not outright resistance. And the defensive marketing does this project no favors. The editor’s note asks that readers “se faire librement leur proper opinion,” and praises Rival’s work for breaking “enfin une longue conspiration du silence à propos d’un auteur qui incarne fortement dans son oeuvre le lien entre avant-garde esthétique et régime totalitaire” (9). Yet, as Claude Grimal’s excoriating review of the book has already pointed out, several works in both French and English have already traced this same trajectory, and in a considerably more scholarly way. All the same, the editor feels the need to reassure the public that no one involved in the production of the book agrees with Pound’s opinions, a move that might make too obvious of a point, as Grimal notes, and make us wonder about the publishing house’s own confidence in both its work and its readers. Socialist philosopher Michel Onfray’s preface does not help matters:
Il est vrai que si j’avais préfacé un ouvrage sur Éluard ou Aragon , qui ont célébré Lenine et Staline, la Guépéou, autrement dit la police politique marxiste-léniniste, celle qui conduisait au Goulag, ou sur Sollers qui a estimé que Mao Tsé-Tung, le boucher sanguinaire de la Grande Révolution dite culturelle, était le plus grand poète du XXe siècle, on m’aurait consacré un portrait apologétique en dernière page de Libération, ce qui aurait déclenché une « Une » élogieuse du Monde le lendemain, avant de générer des revues de presse sirupeuses et toutes de guimauve sur France Inter ou France Culture, etc. (11-12)
This stance, alternating between defensive and aggressive, will probably not aid in winning over the general public, who may not be filled with interest just by knowing that a book on Pound’s politics is fine because books on writers with similarly abhorrent views have been published and lauded. Though the anxiety is understandable, the press does seem to be overplaying both the danger and innovation of Rival’s book, and that will likely limit the reception it finds among non-specialists.
Specialists themselves might not find much new here. We hear, among many other things, about how Gaudier-Brezka’s death and the general mayhem of the Great War propelled Pound towards fascism (55-57), about Pound’s efforts to restore Vivaldi to his rightful place in classical music (58), about how Pound gave a copy of Catullus to James Joyce in Paris in 1920 (117-119), and, throughout, about the tensions, and art, produced by Pound’s division between the two women in his life, Dorothy Shakespear and Olga Rudge. Pound scholars may find it interesting to revisit these details in Rival’s unorthodox book, with its novelistic style and snippets of imagined conversation, conversations over breakfast (68-69) and in the streets of Rome during the final days before Pound’s imprisonment (167), painting a more intimate portrait of Pound than usually available. But some might wish that Rival had put his considerable research and passion to work on a slightly more scholarly though still engaging biography on Pound in Italy, much, say, as Michel Wasserman has done on Paul Claudel in Japan.
What we have is an interesting book, not as scandalous as its frontmatter suggests, but not as groundbreaking either. Specialists may refer to the book as a curiosity, and more general readers may be scared off by the odd framing. The rest of us in search of an intimate glimpse into Pound’s unstable mind in the 1940s might be best served turning to the Cantos themselves.
 There’s an extra “ě” here in the book. Such typographical faults appear a few times in the text, as do incorrect transcriptions, such as when the pinyin for 悪 in the next line is given as “wù” rather than “è,” but are generally few.
 “Perhaps there is something instructive in the ways his work eludes our current dichotomies: anticapitalist, philological, and generously cosmopolitan, but also fascist, appropriative, and frequently racist. If nothing else, Pound’s work recalls the central ambiguities of fascism, the reasons it appealed to so many people whom we today otherwise admire or would admire.” Christopher Bush, “‘I am all for the triangle’: The Geopolitical Aesthetic of Pound’s Japan,” in Ezra Pound in the Present, eds. Paul Stasi and Josephine Park, London: Bloomsbury, 2016, 105.
 Claude Grimal, “Ezra Pound en surface,” En attendant Nadeu: Journal de la littérature, des idées et des arts, 12 February 2019. https://www.en-attendant-nadeau.fr/2019/02/12/ezra-pound-surface. Grimal’s list, though extensive, is not exhaustive. He misses, for instance, Tim Redman’s Ezra Pound and Italian Fascism, Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2009.
 Michel Wasserman, Claudel Danse Japon, Paris, Classiques Garnier, coll. « Études de littérature des xxe et xxie siècles », 23, 2011.
“Antreten gegen die Welt”: Ezra Pounds Erbe, eds. Theresia Prammer & Christine Vescoli. Lana, Südtirol, 2018.
review by Walter Baumann
This publication contains the proceedings of the 32nd Literaturtage Lana 2017. In their foreword the two editors give their reason for staging this symposium entirely devoted to Ezra Pound, 45 years after his death. Pound’s daughter, Mary de Rachewiltz, and Pound’s grandson, Siegfried de Rachewiltz, attended as honoured guests.
Under the title “Hier spricht Pound,” the German poet Marcel Beyer, winner, among other prizes, of the Georg Büchner Preis in 2016, begins his presentation not with Pound and the radio, but with a paraphrase from a passage in White Album by the famous Californian author Joan Didion. In it she tells the reader that when travelling from Sacramento to San Francisco she “kept the radio on very loud not to find out what time it was but in an effort to erase six words from my mind, six words which had no significance for me but which seemed that year to signal the onset of anxiety or fright. The words, a line from Ezra Pound’s 'In a Station of the Metro,' were these: Petals on a wet black bough."
What Beyer intends by starting with the Didion story seems to be to show the contrast between Didion’s radio culture and Pound’s book culture. To this end he gives the beginning of Pound’s Radio Speech of 6 July 1942 in German. Here is the original text:
Had I the tongue of men and angels I should be unable to make sure that even the most faithful listeners would be able to hear and grasp the whole of a series of my talks. That is the disadvantage of the radio form, and heaven knows when I shall be able to print these texts in book or books available to the American and English public. Books implying that [the] reader CAN, when he wishes, look back, take up the statement of the preface, see where Chapter X hitches onto Chapter I.
Beyer’s conclusion is that, after providing ample details of Pound’s failure to adapt to radio, Pound, the great conqueror, did not conquer the radio, since he was firmly stuck in the world of books.
The East German-born poet, Durs Grünbein, also the winner of the Georg Büchner Preis (in 1995) frames the story of his getting to know Ezra Pound by a visit to his grave in Venice, on St. Michele. It was in Dresden’s main Library that he first came across the book published by Verlag der Arche in Zurich: Ezra Pound: Cantos I – XXX, bilingual, with Eva Hesse’s translation. Shortly afterwards a colleague made him a present of Ezra Pound: Cantos 1916 – 1962 (dtv, also 1964). The opening lines of Canto 3:
I sat on the Dogana’s steps
For the gondolas cost too much, that year
made him fall in love with Pound as well as Venice.
Quite a large section of his essay deals with Cantos 72 and 73, the Italian ones. While he considers them powerful poetry, he explicitly dissociates himself from their glaring fascism.
James Dowthwaite, at the time visiting professor at Göttingen University, deals with Pound’s search for “a language to think in,” which, he says, led to Pound’s “abandonment of philology.” So “Poetry thus becomes, in Pound’s words, an attempt to throw off the ‘crust of dead English’ and, according to Hulme, the way it does this is with visual, concrete images.” Dowthwaite emphasizes that “contrary to Hulme, who argues that language is flawed, Pound discerns that it is not language itself which is flawed, but the use to which it is put.” Having given T. E. Hulme more importance that Pound did, he passes on to Fenollosa’s claim “that the Chinese written character is a medium for poetry specifically, that is for those poetic aspects that differentiate it from ordinary language.” And “Poetry’s affinity with music, according to Pound, relies upon the cadences of words.” Dowthwaite also deals briefly with Pound’s adoption of the term Paideuma (to replace “Zeitgeist”) and the fact that Pound’s notions about language do in no way tally with those of De Saussure, Wittgenstein, Jakobson and Derrida.
The only essay in Italian is by film maker, translator, professor at Genoa University, and native of Rapallo, Massimo Bacigalupo, whose knowledge of Pound’s life and work is second to none. It is an invitation to an exploration of The Cantos. Detailed instructions are given for undertaking this Odyssey, which starts with the descent to Tiresias and becomes more and more Ezra Pound’s own journey, especially in The Pisan Cantos, where the poet likens the conditions of the military prison to Circe’s swine-sty. The love of Rapallo and environs is particularly stressed by Bacigalupo, as well as Pound’s late appreciation of “Rock’s world,” of the Naxi people living surrounded by the snow-capped mountains of the Himalayas.
In the dialogue between Elmar Locher, literary scholar, formerly at Verona University, and Joseph Vogl, philosopher, literary and cultural scholar at Humbold University in Berlin, the topic is money, interest and usury in Ezra Pound, with the line from Canto 45 as motto: “With usura hath no man a painted paradise.”
The first and simple question Locher poses is: What is money? Vogl admits that he is afraid of simple questions like this, as it isn’t enough to say that money is a measure of values, a medium of exchange and a means to store values. Money circulates and is unstoppable. With the emergence of Central Banks and credit money, etc., it is no longer clear to anyone how much money is in circulation.
In answer to Locher’s question about money in Ezra Pound, Vogl claims that it is impossible to separate his work from the topic of money. The term “usura” is simply the cipher for it. The two things that were important to Pound, and to us, were the trauma of World War One in which war profiteers and financiers were heavily involved, and the wild capitalism at the end of the 19th century in America, of the Robber Barons. There follows a wide-ranging discussion of the foundation of banks as private rather than government institutions, of Pound’s adherence to the theories of C. H. Douglas and Silvio Gesell, and other interesting things like Pound’s debts to Aristotle’s analysis of the nature of money.
The last item in this brochure is the transcript of the broadcast recorded at Lana, featuring Beyer, Grünbein, Vogl and Pound’s grandson, Siegfried de Rachewiltz, with Nina Schröder as moderator. Beyer stresses the impossibility of dealing with Pound without reservations; Grünbein maintains that since words entered the political sphere, literature could not be separated from politics. Vogl thinks that Pound was a puzzle to himself and placed far too much importance on USURA. Siegfried de Rachewiltz points out that Pound was in contact with Lady Balfour’s Good Earth Movement and wanted to establish at Brunenburg a self-sufficient community, of “Selbstversorger.” Quoting “Learn of the green world” from Canto 81, he suggests that Pound might well support Greenpeace, if he were alive today.
The Russian Pound: The First Publication of the Complete Cantos in Russia
review by V. M. Tolmatchoff (review translated by Karina Ibragimova)
Ezra Pound. Cantos. Tr. into Russian by A.V. Bronnikov. Introduction, commentaries by A.V. Bronnikov. Saint-Petersburg: Nauka, 2018. LX, 881 pp.
[This review evaluates the first Russian translation of Ezra Pound’s complete Cantos in the context of Anglo-American, as well as Western, modernism. In his review, Professor V.M. Tolmatchoff also provides a short history of Pound’s reception in the West, and in Russian literary criticism, and summarizes the difficulties of translating Pound. After details about A.V.Bronnikov, the translator, Tolmatchoff compares his translation to Pound’s 1970 New Directions text of The Cantos and offers a critical evaluation of the composition of the volume, which consists of the following: «Introduction» (an interpretation of Pound’s creative biography), «The Cantos of 1930-1959», and “Supplements” which include «Principles of the translation,” «Commentaries» (to each canto), «Translation into Russian of Pound’s drafts and fragments of the 1960s,” «Annotated index» and «Table of the meaning of hieroglyphs».]
The Cantos of Ezra Pound – Pound’s will specifies that there is to be no separation of the title and the author’s name – has appeared in print serially since 1925 in volumes culminating in the present edition of CXVII cantos. It has now been published in its entirety in Russian for the first time. The length of this poem is almost equal to the artistic life of Pound (1885-1972) who, save for his imprisonment in the US (1945-1958), lived mainly in Europe: in London from 1908, in Paris from 1921, in Rapallo from 1924 and, until his death in 1972, in Brunnenburg in northern Italy as well as Venice. The first three cantos were published in 1917 in the Chicago avant-garde magazine Poetry; the last canto, a fragment, appeared in 1966.
This new translation is unquestionably significant, especially because even as a legendary modernist text The Cantos is still relatively unknown in Russia. But now, it has finally and fully been presented and available to a Russian audience. To be more precise, Pound is the last outstanding figure of the modernist era unread in Russia, and until this translation, the overall Russian understanding of his work and of modernism has been incomplete. I have in view not only the different versions of Anglo-American modernism from roughly 1910 to the 1940s as seen in James Joyce, D.H. Lawrence, T.S. Eliot, Virginia Woolf, Wyndham Lewis, Aldous Huxley, Ernest Hemingway, William Faulkner and Wallace Stevens but also a broader, transnational modernism represented by writers from Europe, South America and, of course, Eastern Europe (in Russia until the mid-twenties) who belonged to three or four literary generations between the 1910s and 1950s marked by Post-symbolism, Expressionism, Surrealism, Existentialism and Absurdism.
Episodes 1-10 of Joyce’s Ulysses (1922) were published in the Internatsionalnaya Literatura (International Literature) literary magazine in 1935-1936 (the full translation by Viktor Hinkis and Sergey Horouzhy only appeared in 1989; corrected edition – 1993), and works by Marcel Proust, André Gide, André Malraux, Louis-Ferdinand Céline, John Dos Passos, Ernest Hemingway and Alfred Döblin were released in Russian in the 1930s. Yet T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land did not appear until 1972 in Andrey Sergeev’s translation, and the academic, bilingual edition of the text with its drafts, implemented by V.M. Tolmatchoff (Moscow: Ladomir-Nauka) was not published until 2014. Pound’s path to his Russian readers has been much longer and more circuitous.
The erasure of Pound in the USSR was strongly dictated by Soviet ideology which labeled him a dedicated modernist in the most undesirable meaning of the word. This implied the absence of any “realism” in his work in the Soviet understanding of the term (defined in 1934 at the first Soviet Writers Congress and then used until the late 1980s). Secondly, unlike Hemingway, for example, Pound had not shown any intention to establish any political or pragmatic contacts with the Soviets. Even more disturbing was Pound’s reputation as a fascist and follower of Mussolini, who appears in Pound’s poem. It was also known to American and Allied authorities that from January 1941 to the spring of 1945, Pound delivered one hundred-and-twenty-five propaganda broadcasts on Rome Radio addressed to the Anglo-American troops and, via short-wave, to the U.S. Such action and political reputation made his acceptance and/or study in post-World War II Soviet Russia impossible.
Only in the 1970s (after a visit of President Nixon to Moscow) was there an end to the almost complete Soviet censorship of Pound. The appearance of Alexey Zverev’s monograph Modernism v literature SShA: Formirovanie. Evolutsia. Krizis (Modernism in Literature of the USA: Emergence, Evolution, Crisis), with one chapter devoted to the American poet, seemed to initiate the change. However, it did not allow one to form an opinion of The Cantos, unlike evaluations of Pound’s Imagist poems and works of the 1910s insightfully analyzed in the monograph. But through the 1990s, resistance towards Pound as a fascist continued to impede the publication of The Cantos in Russian, although his fascism – it has become clearer over time – became understood as more of a poetic rather than political project, an extension of his interest in the “mythology of leadership” rather than direct loyalty to a fascist ideology.
But many still refused to publish Pound. The academician Nikolay Balashov, for example, scientific secretary of a prestigious academic series «Literaturnye pamyatniki» (Literary Landmarks), would not even hear about the possibility of publishing The Cantos. Moreover, even Joseph Brodsky’s essay «Naberezhnaya neistselimykh» (Quay of the Incurable) (1989), where the attitude of the Nobel laureate towards Pound (whose anti-Semitism came into sharp view) was revealed via the description of Brodsky’s visit to Pound’s widow, Olga Rudge, in Venice (translated into Russian in 1992). This publication did not add any credit to Pound’s Russian reputation. But Brodsky’s visit to the Venetian home of Pound was inspired by both his genuine interest in Pound as a legendary master of modernism, а contemporary of Joyce and Eliot, and by respect for Pound as a poet and as an iconoclastic influence upon such poets as Louis Zukofsky, Charles Olson, Allen Ginsberg, and other late modernist writers. It should be acknowledged, however, that Pound’s anti-Semitism was understood as not racial in origin but closer to something Nietzscheian and anti-liberal (shared with T.S. Eliot and even W.B.Yeats) targeting not the Jews per se (Pound had several Jewish poets in his inner circle whom he promoted). He did, however, strongly oppose the capitalist principle of “usury” (“usura” in The Cantos) which he associated with the banking system, dominated he thought by Jews, and which he believed led the Western world to the major catastrophes of the XXth century.
Because of his mix of poetry and politics, it is no wonder that in the second half of the XXth century the attitude towards Pound in the US remained skeptical, underscored by the furor of his winning the Bollingen Prize for The Pisan Cantos in 1948. Pound had been arrested by several Italian Communist guerillas in May 1945 and handed over to the American Army, eventually spending nearly six months in the Disciplinary Training Center just outside of Pisa; then, in November, he was unexpectedly transferred to Washington, D.C. where he underwent a mental exam and was determined to be mentally incompetent and unable to stand trial. This meant he avoided possible execution for treason if found guilty (an idea strongly supported, by the way, by Arthur Miller and Lion Feuchtwanger). Pound was committed to St. Elizabeths, a Washington psychiatric hospital, until his release in 1958 following pressure by Robert Frost, T.S. Eliot, Ernest Hemingway, Archibald MacLeish, James Laughlin and others. He returned to Italy where he died in 1972.
Pound’s Cantos gradually found a readership in American universities, assisted in part by the work of Hugh Kenner, especially his The Pound Era (1971), a comprehensive analysis of Pound’s writing in relation to the modernist project. The close reading of texts (the so-called New Criticism) was the preferred practice of literary study in university at the time and Pound’s work with its sprawling ideas and form, seemed to resist such study (although outstanding scholars like Cleanth Brooks, whom I had the privilege to meet and talk with several times in 1991, never said anything critical about Pound). But Pound’s politics were still considered objectionable in contrast to such seemingly apolitical, formalist writers like Wallace Stevens, e.e. cummings or John Ashbery. The postmodernists, however, also promoted a lingering suspicion that Eliot, Yeats and, of course, Pound were directly or indirectly anti-Semitic, a view expressed by the poet Karl Shapiro, the critic Harold Bloom and others. However, interest in Pound in the US gradually expanded as his profile as a modernist grew through study of his editing, critical essays, letters and reviews. And his texts remained in print through the efforts of James Laughlin’s New Directions Publishing, originating in 1936 at Pound’s suggestion.
Biographical and critical studies by Humphrey Carpenter, Noel Stock, Hugh Kenner, William Cookson, Carroll Terrell, David Moody, Ira Nadel, Tim Redman, Demetres Tryphonopoulos, Massimo Bacigalupo and others soon provided more balanced assessments of Pound’s poetic achievements and contributions to modernism, whether through readings of his poetry, essays, letters or manifestoes, revealing him to be one of the key figures not only of Anglo-American but transnational modernism.
Among his achievements, Pound launched Joyce into the orbit of a new literary culture created partially by himself. He played a decisive part in the publication of A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, Dubliners, and Ulysses. The same happened with T.S. Eliot: Pound was instrumental in the publication of his early poetry, essays and editing of The Waste Land. Pound also assisted Robert Frost with the publication of his first two books. Additionally, Pound provided valuable artistic advice to Hemingway (see the detailed comments on the Parisian contacts between the two in Hemingway’s memoir A Moveable Feast), made a decisive contribution to the dissemination of the French symbolist aesthetic in England, and to the creation and promotion of Imagism and Vorticism.
Pound also contributed poetry and prose to the Egoist, Poetry, and The Dial, while establishing a modernist technique for the application of myth (projecting classical myth upon modern situations), rare poetic forms (such as the sestina and canzone), medieval poetry ranging from Dante to Provençal poets and Guido Cavalcanti, Orientalism (with original translations of Chinese poets, Japanese haiku, Japanese Noh theatre), and, occasionally, even medieval heresies such as the Cathars. He constantly explored the intersections of poetry, prose, cultural studies, painting, music, journalism, political activism, and the transformation of personal experience into myth, all contributing to defining and shaping modernism.
Pound also regularly communicated with the most prominent representatives of the European avant-garde whether in Paris, London or Rome, including the surrealists as well as Cocteau, Picasso and even Gertrude Stein. Most importantly, he created The Cantos – an unquestionable modernist epic – a lyrical poem almost as long as Pound’s creative life, a universe formed by a musical succession of fragments, specific “leaves of art.”
Gradually, the facets of Pound's artistic works became known in Russia because of the critical publications of V.V. Malyavin (1982), Keti Chukhrukidze (1997), Yan Probstein (2003), I. Garin (2005), and V.M. Tolmatchoff – whose detailed article about Pound's literary works can be found in the academic study “Istorija Literaturi SShA” (History of the Literature of the USA) [Moscow: Nauka, 2013. Vol.6, Book 2].
However, without the publication of a full translation of The Cantos, his work still remained unknown. The Cantos demonstrates what Paul Valéery called a radical “totalization of poetry” by fusing various, sometimes competing poetics. In his constant search for the new, Pound made a curious transition from the Romantic stylistics of Walt Whitman and Robert Browning to the symbolism of Mallarmé, H. de Régnier, W.B. Yeats and avant-garde, modernist poets. But this new translation presents the breadth of Pound’s poetic approach relying on masks, historical texts, poetic allusions and lyricism, as well as individual experimental forms. The essential question, however, remains “what is Pound saying?” The original text of The Cantos included nine books of variations and divagations, or demonstrations, using his own words, of “the ideogrammic method,” and one fragment dedicated to Olga Rudge and dated 1966. They are A Draft of XXX Cantos, 1930; Eleven New Cantos XXX-XLI, 1934; The Fifth Decad of the Cantos XLII–LI, 1937; Cantos LII–LXXI, 1940; Cantos LII–LXXI, 1944; The Pisan Cantos [LXXIV-LXXXIV], 1948; Section: Rock-Drill, 85–95 de los Cantares, 1955; Thrones: 96–109 de los Cantares, 1959; Drafts and Fragments of Cantos CX–CXVII, 1968 and have a complicated history of publication (here, the first book editions of The Cantos should be mentioned: A Draft of XVI Cantos, Paris, 1925; A Draft of the Cantos 17-27, London, 1928).
These difficulties, apart from the peculiarities of Pound’s individual free verse, involve almost the complete absence of plot and narrative (except for “Canto I”); the removal of logical and semantic transitions and consistently structured images; the prevalence of multiple poetic “voices,” not descriptions; the coexistence of a multitude of contemporary and dead languages (used without translation); presence of direct and indirect quotations; insertion of documents, glosses, hieroglyphs, musical symbols and pictures within the text; effects of the anti-syntactic accentual verse based on long lines (the number of syllables between the stresses vary from 1 to 3; the lyricism is built upon the effects of “reverberation,” specific intonation, forcing the tempo) and lengthy poetic paragraphs. But the ideal reader of Pound needs to be aware of the poet’s biography, his inner circle, his travels, his literary, intellectual and love interests, besides having a deep knowledge of world culture, history (including the history of Ancient Egypt, Rome, China), and politics.
In other words, a meaningful as well as inevitably slow “eye-oriented” reading of Pound’s poem (if it can be read in this way) is impossible without an impressive referential background which was often not provided by American editions of Pound. Two exceptions are Richard Sieburth’s edition of The Pisan Cantos (New York: New Directions, 2003) and his edition of Pound’s poetry entitled Poems and Translations in the Library of America series (New York: Library of America, 2003).
However, there is another strategy of perception of The Cantos — let me call it an attempt to out-Joyce Joyce – plus an unstated artistic competition with Eliot (The Waste Land) in the symbolist-modernist text reflecting the decline of the West, the crisis of the Western word, and the individual understanding of life in modern Hell (as being devoid of true culture). Although Pound became an expatriate (in this way his paradise is lost and he becomes a modern seafarer, an Odysseus plunging into the dark waters of the new Middle Ages), America was of constant artistic importance for him. His view of history, however, meant a confrontation with the idea of the modern as vulgar, ugly, and driven by capitalist profit, all to be opposed. But this “imperialist” genius, including his absorption of the worldwide pretensions of the American poetical language, and transmitter of the historical “imperialism” of leaders, whether Pharaoh-Caesar-Confucius-Mussolini or Pound himself, turned decay, chaos, darkness, and a critique of money into poetic Gold, Light, order, imaginative statement.
The strategy of reading Pound’s “epic” aloud is also effective, providing the experience of listening to the inner music of his poetic world. Pound compressed his poem into metaphors of sound: the endless clashes and combinations of everything – important and trivial, high and low, cultural and daily life, history and modernity, his own words and quotations, myth and time – occur in this musical “fourth dimension.” Hence we find an attitude towards The Cantos as the wavering sea – a kind of non-classic polyphony which, occasionally overcoming the resistance of the poem’s non-musical material, generating clusters of musically penetrating but occasionally visually challenging images.
All of the above highlights the complexity of translating The Cantos, if the poem is translatable into any language different from Pound’s own language – both as a whole or a constellation of discreet sequences.
Attempts to translate The Cantos into Russian have been made before. In “Palomnichestvo volhvov. Izbrannoe” (Adoration of the Magi. Collected Works) (2005) compiled by Keti Chukhrukidze, 7 cantos of 117 were interpreted by Lev Gunin and K.S. Farai, who in their choice paid special attention to a theme of usura (only 4 of the first 50 cantos were published: I, XXXV, XLV, XLVII) but unfortunately there were some inaccuracies in their commentaries to the text. In my opinion, there were both advantages (a stress of Pound’s gift for parody and satire) and disadvantages (rigidity and unnatural prosody of a Russian text, due to insufficient attention to Pound’s intonations; as well as inaccuracies in translating of some names) in this translation.
In 2003, Ian Probstein (a translator and an enthusiast of Pound’s work living in the US) announced the publication of a collection of cantos in his edition (“Stihotvoreniya i izbrannye Kantos,” [Poems and Selected Cantos], Sankt-Petersburg: Vladimir Dal) which became two volumes, although the second of which (containing The Cantos) was unfortunately not published. The first volume was over-saturated with Pound’s early poems (T.S. Eliot, who in 1928 compiled Pound’s Selected Poems, the most popular early anthology of Pound’s poetry, included only few of these works) but also included an essay on Pound based, as it seems, mostly on the readable but not always scholarly biography by John Tytell, Ezra Pound: The Solitary Volcano (1987). By 2014 or even earlier Ian Probstein had translated a complete set of The Cantos, but its publication in “Literaturnye pamyatniki” series is still delayed by the editors who are unsatisfied with the commentaries. As a result, the translation by A.V. Bronnikov under review is the first complete Russian edition of The Cantos.
Andrey Bronnikov was born in Novosibirsk (1963), where he graduated from Novosibirsk University and received his PhD in Physical and Mathematical Sciences in 1999 for his thesis “Algorithms for Solving Nonlinear Inverse Problems of Physical Optics.” Since January 1993 he has been living in the Netherlands where he is known as an author of patents on mathematical methods of computer tomography. Since the 2000s Bronnikov has turned to poetry – «Elegii dzen» (Zen Elegies), «Korni vremeni» (Roots of Time), and «Ischezayushchij vid» (Endangered Species), 2009-2015 – as well as to the study of Platonism. As he told me, he was translating The Cantos almost without interruption – day after day – between 2014-2017, which led to health problems when he was finishing. The St. Petersburg office of the publishing house «Nauka» (editor M.S. Sludnova), to its credit, released this thick book with a circulation of 500 copies printed on high quality paper without any delay. By the time of writing this review, almost all of the copies have been sold, in spite of the extraordinary price of the book (more than 6000 rubles or about $100 dollars).
The Russian edition of The Cantos is a well-bound volume in a readable format designed by P. Palei. Pound’s face, taken from a drawing by Gaudier-Brzeska, is embossed on the burgundy hardcover, as well as the title «Кантос» (the literal Russian transliteration of the English word “Cantos”); this title is also present in the publication data given on reverse of the title page. It seems that the latter fact should confuse the Poundian scholar, because the rendering of the original title either using this method or another one (Cantos by Ian Probstein is in his Russian text), is based on a mistake which is very common in this country. For some reason, there exists a view that the word Pound takes as his poem’s title is of a foreign origin (possibly Italian, but the plural of this Italian word is “canti”), while it is obvious that Pound, extravagant in many other linguistic respects, preferred the traditional term in its exact English spelling. Poems by Dante, Pope, Byron, and other poets have been divided into “cantos.” And if there is a need of a calque, according to British or American pronunciation, the title should be transliterated into Russian as «Кэнтос.” But this strategy is irrational. According to the author’s will, the entire collection of cantos has to be named «Песни Эзры Паунда» («Pesni Ezry Paunda», The Cantos of Ezra Pound) in Russian. The title also accurately summaries the full text: a collection of individual long poems that appear thematically or historical connected.
However, the confusion of the title does not impede the excellence of the edition and its organization: after the translator’s Introduction “Ezra Paund i ego ‘Kantos’” (“Ezra Pound and His Cantos”) (pp. I-LX) is the main text, “The Cantos” (pp. 7-694) which include seven – but not nine – of the previously published editions from 1930 to1959. Next are the “Supplements” consisting of “Principles of the translation” written by A.V. Bronnikov (pp. 697-701), “Commentaries” (pp.702-775), and the section “Drafts and Fragments.” This includes translations of canto fragments written between 1962-1967 and collected in the 1968 American edition Drafts and Fragments. These were not approved by the poet at first, but were released afterwards in the last edition to appear in Pound’s lifetime: the 1970 New Directions text. “Supplements” end with an “Annotated Index” (pp. 802-866), and “Table of the meaning of hieroglyphs” (pp. 867-880).
The format of this review, however, limits the opportunity to comment on these sections. The lengthy “Introduction” provides all important but mostly well-known, general information – Bronnikov does not go into details and does not, unfortunately, provide his readers with footnotes (which raises questions as to the intent of the “Nauka” edition) in order to create a general image of the poet as an ingenious exile, a kind of “eternal wanderer.” Bronnikov then offers an empathic apology for Pound (in some sense it is inevitable in Russia because of Pound’s reputation as a fascist) who, in fact, needs no apology. However, in the essay and commentaries there is a general lack of commentary and review material by Pound’s contemporaries. There is also little attention to details of the psychology of the man and poet, nor to his literary interests, or voluminous correspondence (especially his letters to his parents, or the long-time exchange of letters with T.S. Eliot and Joyce). There is also a neglect of Pound’s diverse essays with little attention to such books as his Guide to Kulchur (1938). However, a good deal of this material has been collected in recent American editions of Pound’s work, along with his numerous reviews.
None the less, let me highlight Bronnikov’s idea of Pound as a conservative modernist, the idea of Pound as embodying the spirit of poetic revolution now outdated. The majority of the great modernists reconciled the conflicting elements of apostasy and a search for God, the abandonment of tradition and creation of a canon, revolutionary and reactionary ideas, totalization of poetry and art for art’s sake. They further integrated a lack of criteria in understanding and evaluating art with establishing the new good taste, and balancing national (if not nationalist) with transnational aesthetics.
In contrast to the “Introduction,” the reference section of the book will be of great use to scholars (especially PhD students) as well as the general public who might be interested in studying The Cantos line-by-line. One of the greatest advantages of Bronnikov’s edition is the fact that he, following the example of Sergey Horouzhy (the Russian commentator of Ulysses), first gives a general outline of each canto’s main idea and then explains detailed references, plus largely accurate translations from nineteen languages. Nevertheless, the commentaries are not overloaded with information because various names that one meets in the text in a direct form are moved to the “Annotated Index” (although it would be certainly better if well-known characters like “Tristan and Iseult – legendary characters of a medieval chivalric romance of XII century” would be minimized). Another value of the book is, in my estimation, Bronnikov’s professional work with Chinese and Japanese script and the presence of a table with their meanings.
Let me now turn to the most important issue – the composition of The Cantos and the anticipated principles of their translation. If the composition of The Cantos given by A.V. Bronnikov raises questions, the translation itself – its close reading requires much time – provides a genuine sense of satisfaction, if not delight.
But there are disruptions: the cantos and fragments of cantos written in 1960s are extracted from the main body of the text and moved to a section labeled “Supplements.” And I do not agree with the absolute omission of cantos LXXII-LXXIII written in Italian and dealing with the war: without them it is impossible to understand Pound the propagandist, as well as the autobiographical figure who speaks in The Pisan Cantos.
But importantly, the translation was performed by a well-read, educated poet with his own lyrical voice which combines the “neoclassical” and the “aesthetic.” There is no place for tasteless ornamental phrasings or manufactured words (although Pound sometimes provokes them), or vulgar inlays of contemporary Russian slang. Here (where possible) a sort of “word by word translation” prevails which remains problematic for the majority of contemporary Russian translators who prefer to create images parallel to the source text. It is true that Pound the satirist and parodist is not seen as clearly as Pound the Francophile (a true “Mediterranean” in this sense) or a creator of modernist modulations, built on variations of what is essentially iambic, two and three syllable feet. But it is one thing to capture Pound’s rhythm by trial and error, and another to listen to the audio recordings of his readings of individual “Cantos,” where the tonic accents, often separated from semantic stresses, form a system and remind one of either Ovid or the author of “The Seafarer.”
A.V. Bronnikov also believes that everything in Pound’s poem has sense which needs to be conveyed in Russian one way or another. This belief, which is not clear to all readers of Pound, shapes the translation (although the original text lacks such a consistent purpose) and makes it readable without damaging its melody.
However, before reprinting this translation of The Cantos, further work needs to be done to avoid misprints and inaccuracies (in “Canto I” Argicida is replaced by “Агрицидa” (Agricida), and at the very beginning of “Principles of the translation,” the edition of 1930 is dated 1933. But this does not reduce the most important thing, as I see it: we have a complete translation of The Cantos in Russian and Pound in Russia is no longer terra incognita.