the confucian confusions of ezra pound

PoundEric Ormsby at The New Criterion:

It was a sad day for poetry when Ezra Pound discovered Confucius. Like some latter-day Don Quixote addled by tales of chivalry, Pound became enthralled by Confucian precepts, and though they never had any appreciable influence on his own thoughts or actions—he was the least Confucian of men—those precepts, or his version of them, scrambled his brains for the next sixty years. As A. David Moody tells it in the opening volume of his magisterial biography, the third and final volume of which has now appeared, the encounter came about in October 1913 when Pound first read theAnalects in French translation.1 He then moved on to Allen Upward’sThe Sayings of Confucius of 1904 and the die was cast. In China Pound believed he had found his “new Greece.” Of course, Pound’s discovery of China led to two of his finest—and most idiosyncratic—achievements as a translator: Cathay of 1915 and The Classic Anthology Defined by Confucius of 1954, the 305 odes he translated during his confinements at St. Elizabeth’s hopsital. These utterly original re-creations of ancient Chinese lyrics, in a manner and idiom all his own, are probably what he will best be remembered for in future years, and rightly so. As the late Simon Leys remarked,

Pound had a mistaken idea of the Chinese language, but his mistake was remarkably stimulating and fecund as it was based on one important and accurate intuition. Pound correctly observed that a Chinese poem is not articulated upon a continuous, discursive thread, but that it flashes discontinuous series of images (not unlike the successive frames of a film).

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