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POUND NOTE
two

continued from pound note one: here
followed by pound note three: here
followed by pound note four: here

On the Fly-Leaf of Pound's Cantos

There are the Alps. What is there to say about them?
They don't make sense............

  Basil Bunting (1900-1985)

Those Alps are more like mountains of horse manure:
It makes a lot of sense to skirt them.

Translation à la Ezra. NB: the word "lofty" illustrates the poet's skilful use of poetic licence.
See The Poet as Translator, in The Times Literary Supplement, Sept. 18, 1953.

Vere novo,
gelidus canis,
sub montibus liquitur,
umor.
Strange yet how true,
the dog with chills and fevers,
makes water at the lofty mountain's foot,
for a mere jest.

These pictures below, by Bacon, remind me of Pound's poetry. Both men have their fans, but I include myself out.


Francis Bacon 1909-1992

November 2006. An essay by Lee Garver, Assistant Professor of English at Butler University, has appeared in Journal of Modern Literature, Summer 2006, entitled Seafarer Socialism: Pound, the New Age and Anglo-Medieval Radicalism.

Change of mind. Let's skip the Seafarer Socialism of the Anglo-Medieval Radicals. Could anything be more un-historical? Why not simply put it about that Jesus Christ was a red-flag-waving, card-carrying Socialist? Since the Anglo-Saxon language is so imperfectly appreciated by Anglo-Americans, and since their sensitivity to the exact shades of meaning in Anglo-Saxon word-use is so blunted, do their comments about the content of Anglo-Saxon writings have any validity?


I can only raise minimal enthusiasm for further dissection of the works of Ezra Pound. There was "always something deeply bogus" about him, as was recently (Feb 1, 2004) commented by David Gates in the New York Times (see here); and as even some of his most dedicated bootlickers understood. ''I knew too little about so many things,'' he once told his friend Daniel Cory. ''I picked out this and that thing that interested me, then jumbled them into a bag. But that's not the way . . . to make a work of art.'' The quote by David Gates says much. On the other hand, see below. Duchamp's artwork "reflects the dynamic nature of art today and the idea that the creative process that goes into a work of art is the most important thing --- the work itself can be made of anything and can take any form." Con-art, in other words.

While conceding that Pound was granted the occasional insight, his major flaw was a serious attention-deficit disorder. He does seem to have had a gift for friendship, in some circles.

January 2007. Another essay, by Dr Chris Jones, Lecturer in English Poetry at the University of St Andrews, has been noted. This is entitled 'Ear for the sea-surge': Pound's Uses of Old English. I learn that it features in a largish book, recently published, which I have ordered.

The topic of Pound's demonstrably pitiful grasp of Anglo-Saxon came up in the correspondence section of The Times Literary Supplement not long ago (Summer, 2007). The editor was kind enough to print two of my letters, and although the text of the first one lost something in its editorial translation to the printed page, the second, after a re-write, managed to put the case against Pound's thievery mildly, but fairly succinctly. However, after the rejection of my last letter, which was a response to an ill-considered imputation against me by Clive Wilmer; as well as a comment on the terminology he used in an article discussed below, I feel almost too exhausted to continue exposing the frightful old fraud. Perhaps a sudden sea-surge of renewed interest will persuade me to tackle the matter again at some later date.

September, 2007. Hold on. Given the limited time left to me, I may as well return to my beginnings, and address these learned scholar-critics once again. My copy of Dr Jones's Strange Likeness has not arrived yet; so we'll start with the remarks and comments published by Wilmer and Jones in the TLS. Clive before Chris.

In Ted Hughes and translation, a TLS review of Selected Translations, by Ted Hughes, published 2007, Wilmer made two statements which excited notice. First was the assertion that Ezra Pound was "the greatest translator of modern times" and that he "looked for the method appropriate to the case". Since Pound had precious little perception of the languages he was translating from, then --- if words have any meaning --- he was not a translator of any kind at all --- let alone the greatest. Something, he certainly was, but what? A manipulator of alien speech-rhythms to his own purposes? But, without understanding the sense of the original, how would he know what those speech-rhythms actually were? Praise was bestowed upon his "versions" by those whose linguistic ignorance matched his own, eg G.S.Fraser ("one's ignorance of foreign languages", Ezra Pound, 1961, p.71); and withheld by those who actually understood the original language, eg Robert Graves.

Wilmer's second interesting remark was that in the case of his "translations" from Homer "the metre was chosen as appropriate to his meaning: one that evoked an aspect of Homer which he shares with the author of Beowulf, a sort of barbaric fatalism." Post-Christian fatalism has a tendency to run concurrently with Puritanism: presumably a fatalistic creed, such as Islam, could also be categorized as "barbaric". The word was coined by the Ancient Greeks to describe any people whose language they couldn't understand, or couldn't be bothered to understand. Since, although I try, I can't understand a lot of his writings, I tend to think of Pound, naturally, as "barbaric". His devotees might well consider me "barbaric", if they paid me any attention at all.

Intrigued to discover just what Pound had done with Homer, I bought The Translations of Ezra Pound, 1953, introduced (natch) by Hugh Kenner. Between 1953 and 1972 somebody must have whispered to Kenner that he was possibly going slightly overboard in his enthusiasm for Pound's Seafarer. Many of Kenner's introductory remarks now seem to me irresistibly amusing: eg "The labour that precedes translation is therefore first critical in the Poundian sense of critical, an intense penetration of the author's sense". My italics. By hardly anyone was the sense of the Seafarer less well penetrated than by EP. But there were no anglifications of Homer among The Translations; and that's enough of Kenner, who, in The Pound Era, 1972, was either being hideously sloppy, or deliberately misleading.

In a letter which was also published in the TLS, Clive Wilmer then remarked: "I am reminded of what Charles Harrison Wallace recently had to say about Ezra Pound's version of "The Seafarer" (Letters, April 20). Wallace was so preoccupied with plagiarism and the odd mistranslation that he failed to notice he was talking about a masterpiece of imaginative sympathy."

This is quite a fair example of a long-established debating technique, more often used by politicians than by scholars of intellectual integrity. First you mis-represent your opponent's position; then you sledge what you have mis-represented. Pound's "plagiarism" (not a word I would use) is of quite secondary interest to me, and in no sense a preoccupation of mine. I only discovered what Pound had done to Iddings after many months spent actually seeking to penetrate the linguistic sense of the Anglo-Saxon author. However, Pound's alleged mastery of "imaginative sympathy" is indeed something I have totally failed to discover. The phrase is academic fudge-speak, whatever it intends to mean. Pound's Seafarer could perhaps be described as "imaginative", at a stretch, but sympathetic it definitely is not. His mistranslations are odd, yes, but also legion.

Actually, Wilmer's web summary of Pound's life and career strikes me as reasonably objective, and I suppose he spent more time on it than on his letter to the TLS. This page is growing unduly long, so I'll move on to another, where Dr Jones and Strange Likeness can be discussed in splendid isolation.

on to pound note three
back to pound note

*** *** ***

"I confess that I am seldom interested in what he is saying, but only in the way he says it." T.S.Eliot on Pound, quoted by F.R.Leavis, in New Bearings in English Poetry, Chatto 1959, p.136.

Quite right, TSE. You may have been as much of an anti-semite as Ezra; but you were, in spite of this cultural idiocy, a genuine and original poet, quite well-read and fairly learned, with something to say, and had a remarkably memorable way with words. Pound, semi-scholarly, and apparently a congenital monoglot, a sort of spiritual dyslexic, and a hick, had almost nothing to say: succeeding perhaps once in his ceaseless outpourings --- with Cathay. Even these works, as Gates points out, "weren't originally his".

Da dum di da dum di da hoo
Was told that his verse wouldn't do.
He said: "I'll dispense
With rhyme, metre and sense."
So he did; and he's now in Who's Who.


Works consulted

Dr Chris Jones
Clive Wilmer on Pound's Life & Career
Pass the Peanuts

see here

At least Ezra called the language Anglo-Saxon, instead of that grotesque misnomer Old English.

Judging by the inability of increasingly large numbers of Americans to understand the speech of Shakespeare, which I call Modern English, the language of the Elizabethans appears to be well on its way to becoming "Old American".

Several large chunks of Pound's Seafarer are completely incomprehensible, apparently expressing his "imaginative" interpretation of a "barbaric" language. To anyone who troubles to recognize that Anglo-Saxon literature contains some of the most highly sophisticated compositions of any culture in the Europe of their age, Pound's gibberish exhibits no "sympathy" whatsoever. It has an impact, no doubt, on those civilized individuals whose instinctive belief is that languages other than their own are, alas, constitutionally "barbaric".

Vladimir Nabokov's cries of distress at the travesties perpetrated by those failing to convey the masterpieces of Russian writing to an Anglo-American readership are sufficient witness to the exquisite torture suffered by anyone who actually understands Russian, or experiences the mangling of any other source language, be it Swedish, Chinese, Latin or Anglo-Saxon.

*** *** ***

 

Not any protector
May make merry man faring needy,
This he little believes, who aye in winsome life
Abides 'mid burghers some heavy business

For this there's no mood-lofty man over earth's midst,
Not though he be given his good, but will have in his youth greed;
Nor his deed to the daring, nor his king to the faithful

My lord deems to me this dead life
On loan and on land, I believe not
That on earth-weal eternal standeth
Save there be somewhat calamitous

Nor may he then the flesh-cover, whose life ceaseth,
Nor eat the sweet nor feel the sorry,
Nor stir hand nor think in mid heart,
And though he strew the grave with gold,
His born brothers, their buried bodies
Be an unlikely treasure hoard


*** *** ***

"Fountain"
by
Marcel Duchamp, 1917

voted the most influential artwork
of the 20th Century, in 2004
 

These be your Gods, O Israel!


 

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