modern version

Click for Pound & WWII

a charitable judgement

This is Pound Note Four
continued from pound note three: here
start from pound note: here

In The oral text of Ezra Pound's "The Seafarer", in the Quarterly Journal of Speech, 47:2, 173-177, 1961, J.B.Bessinger concludes by noting that Ezra's "poem has survived on merits that have little to do with those of an accurate translation".

Speak the truth and a base man will ignore you.   William Blake
Feed him a lot of lies, and he'll adore you.   Adolf Hitler

What is Truth? One is reminded of what, if I remember rightly, Dr Johnson once said, when likening poetry to light: "It is easier to say what it is not, than to say what it is." Not his exact words. Whatever truth is, however, it is not a commodity of overriding interest to historians, critics or aesthetes, in spite of Keats. Which is to say that Truth is not Beauty, nor vice versa. Historians select the facts they fancy best, then change, omit, or distort any other facts they find unfit for their purposes, or the theories they propose. Boets, bainters, and the rest are only entertainers and/or flatterers, or, in the words of was it Cocteau ? --- astonishers. No, "astonish" was the word of Diaghilev --- or maybe Cocteau made the story up.

Albert Einstein is reported to have said: "All religions, arts and sciences are branches of the same tree. All these aspirations are directed toward ennobling man's life, lifting it from the sphere of mere physical existence ......" He is then supposed to have said that the facts may be altered if they don't fit the theory. I don't believe it. Besides, he is also said to have recommended "striving after rational knowledge". It is, of course, only in history, religion and the arts, that the facts can be fiddled to fit the theory. Fudge the facts in practical science, or technology, and the result is fail. As has been said: garbage in, garbage out. When scientific reasoning is rational, it predicts the future, and can be tested and its truths can be demonstrated and repeated.

Given the contrast between science and the arts, including poetry, here is an interesting read: Ezra Pound and the Rhetoric of Science, 1901 - 1922, by Kimberly Kyle Howey, of University College, London: "A Thesis submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of doctor of philosophy in European Studies, January 2009." Try also here, for the abstract. Opening sentence: "This thesis identifies science as Ezra Pound's first extended extra-poetic interest."

Skip to the section of the thesis headed "Translation Methods", p 85.

In the battle for freedom, integrity and common sense, I am, so far, on the side of the good guys, joined by Dr J.S.Beard, Mr David Burns, and, surprise, James Fenton, Oxford Professor of Poetry in 1994. So let's be Spartan even if we can't quite muster 300. Another welcome earlier recruit to the last stand against the Philistines who champion "Old English" is Kenneth Hopkins, in A Short History of English Poetry, 1962. Hopkins, 1914-1988, a "famous English poet" (look him up --- you could have fooled me), writes as follows:

Kenneth Hopkins

Pictured visiting Winston-Salem State College, 1967-68. Opinionated ? Dogmatic ? Truthful ? A sample of his words is certainly worth repeating:

Quote: ... some language other than English ... for the most part Latin ... whom we term loosely the Anglo-Saxons ... There was poetry ... but it was not poetry in English ... The language is not English in any common usage ... only the specialist can read it ... letting conjecture replace certainty ... opposing scholars who interpret another way ... poetry in a strange tongue ... brought here ... from the Scandinavian countries ...

It does seem a pity, however, that Hopkins is under the delusion that Beowulf tells the story of a Danish hero. See page 11 of his Short History. Perhaps he is underlining his inability to read Anglo-Saxon.

E.Bruce Brooks. "Much of the literature of translation is not about errors in translation; it is about errors in understanding the original." Very few so-called translators manage to "penetrate", in Arngart's word, the structure, form and content of The Seafarer. The original Anglo-Saxon is such a perfect, succinct composition, almost anyone can piggy-back on it into something reasonably interesting; but few seem able to penetrate its fairly simple meaning. In an earlier essay, here, I tried to suggest that the finest interpretation of the Anglo-Saxon poem is Tennyson's Crossing the Bar, followed fairly closely by Masefield's Sea Fever, and rather more remotely by Kipling's Harp Song of the Dane Women. In England, the first two are among the best-loved poems known to the general public. Earlier English poets with a genuine feel for pre-Norman poetry might include Thomas Gray, Coleridge (perhaps) and Hopkins (Gerard Manley), as well as Tennyson. Pound's more direct nineteenth century precursor appears to me to be Lewis Carroll.

That thief-guest was no wiser for having swallowed words.
Stlgiest ne ws wihte y gleawra, e he am wordum swealg. Click.

Works consulted

Alexander, Michael       The Poetic Achievement of Ezra Pound (1979)
Brooker, Peter       A Student's Guide to the Selected Poems of Ezra Pound (1979)
Eliot, T.S. (Introduction)       Selected Poems of Ezra Pound (1928)
Fenton, James       An Introduction to English Poetry (2002)
Fraser, G.S.       Ezra Pound (1960)
Fraser, G.S.       The Modern Writer and His World (1964)
Goodwin, G.L.       The Influence of Ezra Pound (1966)
Graves, Robert       The Crowning Privilege (1955)
Hellquist, Elof       Etymologisk Ordbok (1922)
Homberger, Eric (Ed.)       Ezra Pound: The Critical Heritage (1972)
Hopkins, Kenneth       English Poetry: A Short History (1962)
Howey, K.K.       Ezra Pound and the rhetoric of science, 1901-1922 (2009)
Jones, Chris       Strange Likeness: The use of Old English in twentieth-century poetry (2006)
Jones, Peter (Ed.)       Imagiste Poetry (1972)
Kenner, Hugh (Introduction)       The Translations of Ezra Pound (1953)
Kenner, Hugh       The Pound Era (1972)
Leavis, F.R.       New Bearings in English Poetry (1950)
Morgan, Edwin       Collected Translations (1996)
Orage, A.R.       Selected Essays & Critical Writings (1935)
Pound, Ezra       ABC of Reading (1934)
Pound, Ezra       Guide to Kulchur (1938/1952)
Raffel, Burton       The Art of Translating Poetry (1988)
Robinson, Fred C.       The Tomb of Beowulf (1993)

& many others

A poet, and his acolytes. See what comforting words Mr Gilleland, and Mr Young, have to say, here:
"Is it possible that the Emperor has no clothes, or at least a rip in the seat of his pants?" Pants? What pants?
A kulchur crowns the poets it desires.

*** *** ***

"There is of course nothing 'Old English' about Beowulf, and that includes the language,
which is immeasurably closer to modern Swedish than it is to modern English.
Use of the term 'Old English' as replacement for 'Anglo-Saxon' is profoundly misleading."
From an email posted to, 10/09/2007.


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