Title: Life-powered poetry
Full Citation
Permanent Link: http://ufdc.ufl.edu/UF00098922/00001
 Material Information
Title: Life-powered poetry the narration of perceptual processes in the early poetry of Ezra Pound and Wallace Stevens
Physical Description: ix, 199 leaves : ; 28 cm.
Language: English
Creator: Nims, Bruce Gladden, 1949-
Publication Date: 1977
Copyright Date: 1977
Subject: American poetry -- History and criticism -- 20th century   ( lcsh )
English thesis Ph. D
Dissertations, Academic -- English -- UF
Genre: bibliography   ( marcgt )
non-fiction   ( marcgt )
Thesis: Thesis--University of Florida.
Bibliography: Bibliography: leaves 194-198.
Statement of Responsibility: Bruce Gladden Nims.
General Note: Typescript.
General Note: Vita.
 Record Information
Bibliographic ID: UF00098922
Volume ID: VID00001
Source Institution: University of Florida
Holding Location: University of Florida
Rights Management: All rights reserved by the source institution and holding location.
Resource Identifier: alephbibnum - 000063591
oclc - 04213411
notis - AAG8790


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Copyright by
Bruce Gladden Nims

For my wife, Patricia
Our son, Joshua
My parents, Mr. and Mrs. K. G. Nims

Your love keeps me possible.


I would first of all like to thank my dissertation

director, Professor William Robinson, who has the strength

to inspire and the patience and decency necessary to bring

that inspiration to fruition. Professor Robinson is also

responsible for my initial instruction on the true value

of Wallace Stevens. I would also like to thank my

undergraduate mentor, Professor Vincent Miller of Wofford

College, who brought me not only to Ezra Pound, but to

his personal vision of integrity as well.

Professor Carl Bredahl is a man unafraid of challenges,

either in seminar discussion or dissertation reading. I

deeply appreciate his conscientious help. Chinese under

Professor Chauncey Chu was certainly more than just a

language requirement, and I am honored by The continuing

interest that he has shown in my work. I would like to

thank Professor William Childers for reading this manuscript

and also for helping me to stay academically steady while

Joshua was being born. Finally, let me thank Professor

Walter Herbert, who helped me get here in the first place,

and whose rigorous concern for clarity has provided some

counterweight for my potentially unruly speculations.

My sister, Nancy, and my brother Fred have given me

more affection than I deserve; and I have gotten more

insights from them than they know.

Thanks to Miss Anne Nims' patience and love, the

Nims Family Library is a never-failing source of joy

and refreshment.

Mrs. Maude Gladden, my grandmother, is my spiritual


My Wofford friends Billy, Larry and Cathy, Allen,

and Mike are more than just college buddies.

My gratitude to all Hardliners everywhere: especially

Kim, John, Concetta, Oscar, David, Paul, Laura, Jim, and

Suzanne and Karen.

In addition to her other beauties, my wife Patricia

is also an indefatigable typist. She has been a true

partner in this enterprise from beginning to end.



ABSTRACT . . . . . . . . .

INTRODUCTION . . . . . . . .

NOTES . . . . . . . . .

CHAPTER ONE . . . . . . . .

NOTES . . . . . . . .

CHAPTER TWO . . . . . . . .

NOTES . . . . . . . . .


NOTES . . . . . . . . .

CHAPTER FOUR . . . . . . . .

NOTES . . . . . . . . .

APPENDIX . . . . . . . . .

WORKS CITED . . . . . . . . .


. . 42

. 45

. . 85

. . 89

. . .133

. . .136

. . .182

. .185

. .194

. .199



. vii


. 17

. 19

Abstract of Dissertation Presented to the
Graduate Council of the University of Florida in
Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the
Degree of Doctor of Philosophy




August, 1977

Chairman: William R. Robinson
Major Department: English

This study of Ezra Pound's and Wallace Stevens'

first major collections of poetry is based upon the fact

that the Twentieth century is a century of possibilities.

In terms of literary evaluations, the emphasis recently

has been on choosing between possible traditions. This

evaluative process is the logical outcome of the wealth

of historical information presently available. It also

partakes of the admirable organization of concepts this

century has achieved. However, simply advocating Wallace

Stevens as a member of the native American tradition or

Ezra Pound as a member of the expatriate American tradition

tends to obscure the common concern of both poets with a

more concretely traditional problem--the problem of


As nature reveals more and more of its inherent

power in the activities of the physical environment,

this problem of perception must become central. The

guiding insight of this study is that Ezra Pound and

Wallace Stevens are poets who both can tell the story

of their attempts to establish contact with a stubbornly

alive and mobile nature. They do this by turning outward

from an internal system of categories and symbols that

attempts to manipulate the world toward an external

pattern of images that attempts to participate with the

living world.

The first chapter of this study attempts to sketch

the recent evolution of this problematic relationship

with nature and introduces several of Pound's and Stevens'

characteristic poetic methods with explicationsof Pound's

"In a Station of the Metro" and "A Song of the Degrees"

and Stevens' "The Snow Man."

The second chapter focuses on Pound, showing how he

discovers in Ernest Fenollosa's vision of the Chinese

ideogram a means of concretely organizing his attempts to

merge his poetic rhythms with the larger rhythms of

concrete natural phenomena. He does this in his Cathay

translations by means of a synthesis between the audible

rhythms of classical Western poetry and the visible

harmonics of active process in Fenollosa's version of the



The third chapter focuses on Stevens, showing how

he moves out from a poetic perception organized around

symbolic associations in "Domination of Black" to a

poetic perception organized around concrete images in

"Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird" and "Six

Significant Landscapes." This chapter also shows the

congeniality of Stevens' poetic method in the Harmonium

poems with the natural philosophy of Alfred North Whitehead,

demonstrating how some of that philosopher's terminology

is particularly applicable in documenting Stevens'

transition into a poet of images.

The fourth chapter brings Pound and Stevens together

to show how they both describe the development of a new

type of narrative persona that discovers himself through

his participation with living reality. In Pound's

Hugh Selwyn Mauberley and Stevens' "The Comedian as the

Letter C" the protagonists of the narratives, "E. P. -

Mauberley" and Crispin, express their personalities as

ranges of degree in intensity of contact with reality,

not as observers or survivors of that reality.


This study of the contributions of Ezra Pound and

Wallace Stevens to the art of modern poetry is an unusual

but necessary project. It is necessary because an arbitrary

distinction between the works of these two poets--a

distinction basically the product of academic schematizing--

stands in the way of a more concrete means of evaluating

them. That is, both Ezra Pound and Wallace Stevens can

be evaluated in terms of their mutual contributions to

a genuine tradition--the tradition of concern for physical

perception as a basis for art.

Simply stated, the standard critical distinction

between these two poets' creative efforts has been based

upon each man's choice of working environment. Should the

American poet, like Stevens, remain at home and develop

his native perceptions? Or should he, like Pound, return

to his cultural roots and work with the perceptions and

resources available in Europe in order to confirm his

American universality? As long as the debate revolves

around the influence of the physical environment, it is

completely legitimate and quite valuable, as a study of the

lively disagreements between Ezra Pound and William Carlos

Williams will reveal.

When they issue from the pens of such influential

literary critics as Harold Bloom, Roy Harvey Pearce, and

Hugh Kenner, however, the ripostes are great deal more

heavy-handed. While prefacing his book on Yeats, Harold

Bloom has this to say about Pound:

Yeats, Hardy, and Wallace Stevens
seem to me to be the poets writing in
English in our century whose work most
merits sustained comparison with the major
poets of the Nineteenth century. .
the phenomenon of high contemporary
reputations dying away permanently has
occurred before, and will again. Donne
and Shelley vanished for generations and
are then revived, but Eliot and Pound may
prove to be the Cowley and Cleveland of
this age and a puzzle to future historians
of our sensibilities.

According to Bloom, Wallace Stevens is a member of the

"right tradition." Pound and Eliot, however, have joined

the losing side in a game where he, the critic, makes the

rules. Roy Harvey Pearce, who wrote his celebration of

the native American tradition of poetry, The Continuity

of American Poetry, at a time when the ugly quarrel between

Pound and his native country was still generating bitter

aftertaste, has the following negative criticism of Pound:

The question of who betrayed whom
remains an open one. Perhaps Pound's
achievement is to have forced it. Perhaps
he will turn out to be the Ossian of the
Twentieth century. ..
As Whitman's love for himself would
drive him to transforming all other selves
into aspects of himself in order that he

might love them, Pound's love for himself
would drive him to destroy all other selves
whose existence his idea2of love will
prevent him from loving.

Pearce's criticism is more concrete than Bloom's, but the

general direction of the criticism is the same. Deprived

of its roots in the American poetic tradition Pearce sees

being established in the Nineteenth century, Pound's

poetic ambition becomes violently egotistic, in contrast

to the native Whitman's benign egotism. Pound thus

petulantly leaves the American poetic palm lying in the

dust for the more decorous and provincial Wallace SLevens

to pick up: a triumph Pearce describes in the last chapters

of his book.3 Pound's critical advocates, though, have

blows for the opposition as well. Hugh Kenner, writing

in A Homemade World, the American Modernist Writers, turns

Stevens' domestic nature to his disadvantage:

Stevens took the dissolution of Christianity
in Reading, Pa., for a summons to a new
humanism, a life's work. But his work
illustrates more interestingly a phase in
the history of poetry, to which he seems to
have given little explicit attention, than
in the history of philosophy and religion,4
concerning which he ruminates a good deal.

Interestingly enough, all of the participants in the

debate cited above do have one concern in common. Both

sides of the argument make a strong appeal to the

judgment of history. Bloom, Pearce, and Kenner all

declare that "history" will show the true weakness of

a Pound or a Stevens. The "history" these critics

invoke is more of a succession of intellectual and

academic abstractions than a concrete accumulation of

knowledge and experience. In his excellent book, Time

in Literature, Hans Meyerhoff calls this abstraction of

historical process historicismm," and gives the follovwifl

account of its rise in the Nineteenth century as a method

of evaluation:

When historicism reached its climax
in the last century, human history came
to be explored and recorded on a scale and
depth never attempted before. . The
total effect of this development was to
provide, on the intellectual, theoretical
level, a reconstruction of the direction
of time within the life of mankind (cr
before the origin of man) never encountered
before in history. Moreover, it was an
intellectual model, disclosing a coherent
structure and an inherent rationality
within the infinite chaos and succession
of historical phenomena. History was the
march of reason through the world of man
from Pithecanthropus Erectus to Hegel. And
it was inherently rational, not only as an
object of science, but also as a moral
agent. For the history of the world was
also the world's court of justice.5

But, as the Twentieth century has come to discover, this

tremendous volume of historical awareness is a double-edged

knife. As long as Western men could empirically discover

evidence that this "history" was indeed progressive, moving

toward some ultimate and positive goal, historicism, Meyerhoff

observes, could provide a substitute for the loss of

religious belief brought on by the power of the new

developments in scientific method to make large-scale

explanations. Unfortunately, the wars, economic

upheavals, and ecological blight of this century have done

little to confirm that the "march of history" is necessarily

progressive. Historical success is not inevitable, even

when it is predicted by the best authorities. It is

rather, as Darwin revealed amidst the scandalized reactions

of his contemporaries, a small and problematic part of a

great mass of failure.

Despite the proven limitations of historicism, it

lives on in somewhat diminished form in the writings of

those whom Harold Bloom calls "historians of our sensi-

bilities," of whom he is one. These critics recognize the

problematic nature of historical success, but they believe

that if we arrange cultural information into patterns,

which they usually term "traditions" and "schools," then

we may discern a central or dominant "tradition." This

method is by no means ineffective if the cultural information

is of sufficient age to reveal an unequivocally dominant

pattern. However, the closer one approaches to the present,

this method becomes more and more arbitrary and self-

conscious. With so much access to times sufficiently old

to be evaluated by this method of organizing history, it

becomes tempting to speculate about what place in history

modern events will occupy. It becomes tempting to

pretend that the present time is already "history" and

make critical evaluations from such an abstract perspective.

From this perspective, the future is not a fund of fresh

possibilities. It is, rather, a projected justification

for the critic's proposed "tradition." Naturally, this

method requires that one affect a certain amount of

omniscience. Unfortunately, though, this omniscience has

to be exercised in an artificially projected "historical"

environment, isolated from the contingencies of actual


We should note carefully that this phenomenon of

creating "instant" traditions out of terminology can only

occur in an atmosphere where information can be produced

for its own sake and terminology can beget more terminology.

Only in the modern world has it become possible to use the

consistencies of verbal activity so efficiently as to

isolate ourselves from the processes of the physical

environment.7 In such a verbal environment, a "tradition"

becomes simply a way of postulating a cultural pattern.

"History" is no longer the knowledge necessary for survival,

but a controversy of competing explanations. The historical

evaluation, then, as used by Bloom, Pearce, and Kenner in

the passages cited above, employs only the abstract

"history" that is a function of the modern powers of
information accumulation and storage. The abstractness

of this "history" is a symptom of the modern loss of

decisive contact with physical reality.

There exists a more concrete tradition in terms of

which we may evaluate the poetry of Ezra Pound and Wallace

Stevens, however; and it is a tradition in which they are

conjoined rather than disjunct. This tradition is the

ongoing attempt throughout Western history to understand

the relationship between physical perception and symbolic

language. In Plato's Phaedrus, Socrates tells a fable

that summarizes the problem as the ancients saw it. In

the fable, the chief Egyptian god, Thamus, addresses the

god Thoth upon being presented with the latter god's

invention of written language:

0 most ingenious Thoth, one man has
the ability to develop a new skill,
but another to judge whether it be a
curse or a blessing to its users. Now
you, the father of letters, through your
affection see in them the opposite of
their true power. For this invention
will cause those who use it to lose the
learning in their minds by neglecting
their memories; since, through this
reliance on letters which are external
and alien to the mind, they will lose
the ability to recall things within
themselves. You have invented not a
medicine to strengthen memory but an
inferior substitute for it.

In this passage, the obvious implication of Thamus'

statement is that the basis for the mind's power of

memory, the power of memory that gives humans their

particularly effective ability to adapt to their environment,

must be based upon physical perception rather than verbal

categories. The traditional problem, simply stated, is

this: how can men derive the immense benefits for social

organization afforded by written symbols without a

corresponding loss in the ability of the individual person

to remember and appreciate his sensory link with nature?

The traditional answer to this question, of course,

is by means of art. Of the arts, poetry is particularly

successful at this enterprise; since poetry is made of

words, it can use those words to show how the abstractions

of words are grounded in living experience. This need

for the grounding of verbal categories is remembered by

Aristotle, for instance, in the first pages of his


All men naturally have an impulse
to get knowledge. A sign of this is the
way we prize our senses; for even apart
from their utility, they are prized on
their own account, especially sensing with
the eyes. . .
From memory men can get experience;
for by often remembering the same thing
they acquire the power of unified exper-
ience . Art is born when out of the
many bits of information derived from
experience there emerges a grasp of those
similarities in view of which they are a
unified whole.

For Aristotle, art expresses a physical wholeness that is

the basis for categorical distinctions. As long as this

reverence for perception as the ground of knowledge

remained in force, art as a document of unified perception

could be considered the most profound of teaching vehicles.

As late as the Sixteenth century, Sir Philip Sidney could

confidently claim in his "Apology for Poetry" that the

poet could combine the teaching roles of philosopher and


Now doth the peerless poet perform
both: for whatsoever the philosopher
saith should be done, he giveth a perfect
picture of it in someone by whom he presup-
poseth it was done; so he coupleth the
general notion with the particular example.
A perfect picture, I say, for he yieldeth
to the powers of mind an image of that
whereof the philosopher bestoweth but a
wordish description: which doth neither
strike, pierce, nor possess the right of the
soul so much as that other doth.

For Sidney, the mind's powers of organization and perception

are still in vital contact with one another. The poet

"yieldeth to the powers of mind an image" and can "possess

the sight of the soul."

In the Seventeenth century, however, the development

of modern scientific thought, propelled by the work of

Galileo, Descartes, and Newton, created a conception of

perception, particularly of motion, that greatly changed

the character and importance of concrete individual

perception. In his article, "Galileo and the Scientific

Revolution," Alexandre Koyre brings out the assumptions

that governed the new conception of matter and its


Thus, in order to appear evident,
the principle of inertial motion presup-
poses (a) the possibility of isolating
a given body from all its physical
environment, (b) the conception of space
which identifies it with the homogenous,
infinite space of Euclidean geometry,
and (c) a conception of movement--and of
rest--which considers them as states and
places thF on the same ontological level
of being.

The effect of these new assumptions has been, of course,

enormous. This viewing of the bodies of the physical

world as states rather than processes has given Western

man the power to radically alter his environment and

enhance the quality and complexity of the human experience.

On the negative side, though, the Newtonian outlook has

tended to diminish the quality and complexity originally

inherent in man's physical environment. According to the

Newtonian view, the universe consists mostly of non-living

particles of matter distributed through space. This

matter depends upon external force rather than inherent

design for its organization and activity. Knowledge is

thus grounded in abstract laws of cause and effect rather

than in concrete perception. The human powers of understanding

move out of participation with nature and station themselves

in the detached observation of nature. This outlook tends

to deprive art of its powers to physically stimulate the

memory and concretely unify knowledge because perception

is relegated to the passive role of receiving disparate

sense impressions. It had taken several thousand years,

but the fears of the ancients were now realized: purely

abstract concepts and terminology developed unimpeded.

The determinate link between intellect and sense was

broken and men could start forgetting their physical

contact with the environment.

Hence, when the dominant literary figure of the latter

part of the Eighteenth century, Samuel Johnson, stated that

the foundation of art was a "general nature"13 that

included both the human mind and its physical environment,

he was working against, not with, the most powerful philo-

sophical influences of his day. For both David Hume and

Bishop Berkeley who,following Locke, were systematically

developing the philosophical implications of Newton's

cosmology, there was no inherent unity in the physical

environment for art to draw upon. For Berkeley, physical

nature was mere appearance that could be unified only in

the mind of God. For Hume, physical nature was a welter

of disparate sense impressions subject only to the precise

discrimination of taste. Johnson was defending more than

just "common sense" when he kicked the stone after one

of Berkeley's sermons; he was defending the sense of the

physical basic to art as well.14

This subversive concern with perception continued

into the Nineteenth century with the work of the Romantics.

Coleridge, in particular, felt he had to face Hume's and

Berkeley's criticisms of the power of perception to garner

unity from physical nature. Following Kant, Coleridge

gave the name "imagination" to the process by which nature

as sensory reality infuses the categories of the mind

with form. The highest expression of this creative

process is what Coleridge called the Primary Imagination,

or the "eternal I AM."15 Coleridge was able to convincingly

assert that nature was an external force capable of having

a strong effect upon human conceptions, even though he

did not succeed in systematically refuting Hume's

skepticism. Coleridge's formulation has had two major

implications for the role of perception in poetry. First

of all, by his successful assertion of the external force

of nature, he assured that future poets would have to deal

with perception no matter what the prevailing philosophical

or scientific views. Secondly, he realized that the

problem of perception in art is integral to an artistic

perception of human identity.

During the course of the Nineteenth century, though,

the conception of nature as powerful external force gave

it the power to exert widely varying effects upon literary

efforts. For some writers, particularly the American

Transcendentalists, physical nature could exemplify an

ideal order, a pure alternative to human desires and

aspirations disorganized by the upheaval of the Industrial

Revolution. On the other hand, physical nature could

also be seen as essentially alien to man and implacably

opposed to his concerns. This more problematic sense of

nature, no matter how it was subjectively interpreted,

now had an inherent power. Nature could now take on a

"character" that matched the author's disposition toward

the physical environment. Nature became less of a concept

and more ofa physical presence. As such a presence, nature

manifested itself more as a living thing than as a stage

By the end of the Nineteenth century, important

artistic movements such as realism, impressionism, and

naturalism all expressed the need of the artist to

respect the reality that he perceived rather than to sift

his perception through human laws or intellectual

assumptions. This attitude toward physical nature

allowed it an autonomy that made a fresh interaction

between man and his environment seem quite possible.

At the turn into the Twentieth century, both literary and

visual artists began to demonstrate to Western man that

wholeness need not exist purely within man or within

nature, but in an interactive process between them.

It was this awareness of interactive processes that

electrified the world during the early poetic careers of

Ezra Pound and Wallace Stevens. They both began their

poetic efforts at a crucial juncture in the history of

Western artistic and scientific perception. Just as the

Newtonian hypothesis was showing its greatest material

success in terms of invention and industry, the powers

of perception made a startling comeback in the relativity

physics of Albert Einstein. Einstein's Special Theory

of Relativity verified the intuition of artists who

had been following their perceptual inclinations during

the Nineteenth century. Einstein built his physics

around the speed of light as a constant of change. Thus,

the change inherent to physical perception was no longer

a deficiency, but its greatest asset. Perception was

now a matter of participation rather than observation.

For Ezra Pound and Wallace Stevens, this new perceptual

environment was an impetus for their artistic development.

One of the chief concerns for both of them as poets was

the fact that this new emphasis on sensory perception

tended to undermine the power of words to enforce pattern

upon sensory experience. The verbal symbol no longer had

an assumed equality to a given perception. In the Newtonian

world, there could be a distinction between terminology

that described the immediate environment, the concrete

term, and terminology that described more enduring

states of being, the abstract term. Both Pound and Stevens

realized, though, that in a world of perceptual primacy,

all verbal symbols are to some degree abstract. This

fundamental abstraction of language posed a poetic problem

for both of them.

In the creative work of Ezra Pound and Wallace

Stevens, then, the traditional problem of the relationship

between language and perception comes to the fore again

as a central poetic concern. Each of these two poets

attempts to find a method of re-harmonizing the verbal

world with the perceptual world. To do this, both

poets attempt to view language as a process, focusing not

so much upon the individual symbols, but on the way in

which those symbols are connected with each other. Thus

Pound and Stevens do not compose their poems by stringing

together isolated words, they compose their poems

syntactically. They compose with units of change rather

than units of stasis. Pound and Stevens both attempt to

make the change that occurs within a poem harmonize with

a change that occurs in concrete perception. Each change

that they bring into action verifies the existence of a

process that is a clue to a larger whole of process, an

"image" of that larger process.

This systematic emphasis upon change in the poetry

of Ezra Pound and Wallace Stevens is ultimately an

emphasis upon living process. Life is the primal act

of creative change that their poems feed upon. No

matter what the ostensible subject matter of a particular

poem, the creative effort is energized by images from the

living system of change that characterizes the concrete

reality of the Twentieth century. Pound and Stevens are

poets who reach out to the physical world to confirm a

value for perception that is both new and old, that is

not dependent upon an intellectually posited pattern for

culture but upon the rhythms and images of living reality.

"To have gathered from the air a live tradition/ or from

a fine old eye the unconquered flame/ This is not vanity."17


1Harold Bloom, Yeats (New York: Oxford University
Press, 1970), p. v.

Roy Harvey Pearce, The Continuity of American
Poetry (Princeton, N. J.: Princeton University Press,
1961), pp. 100-101.

3Pearce, pp. 376-434.

Hugh Kenner, A Homemade World, the American Modernist
Writers (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1975), p. 72.

5Hans Meyerhoff, Time in Literature (Berkeley, Calif.:
University of California Press, 1955), P. 97.

6See Meyerhoff, pp. 100-103.

7Alfred North Whitehead, Science and the Modern
World (New York: The Free Press, 1967, pp. 50-59.
This is Whitehead's well-known discussion of what he
calls "The Fallacy of Misplaced Concreteness." His
remarks are basic to my analysis in the text.

8See Meyerhoff, p. 103.

9Plato, Phaedrus, trans. Robert Scholes and Robert
Kellogg in The Nature of Narrative by Robert Scholes
and Robert Kellogg (New York: Oxford University Press,
1966), p. 19.

10Aristotle, Metaphysics, trans. Richard Hope (Ann
Arbor, Mich.: University of Michigan Press, 1960),
pp. 3-4.

1Sir Philip Sidney, "An Apology for Poetry," in Critical
Theory Since Plato, ed. Hazard Adams (New York: Harcourt,
Brace, Jovanovich, 1971), pp. 160-161.

12Alexandre Koyre, "Galileo and the Scientific
Revolution," Philosophical Review, 52(1943), 377.

13Samuel Johnson, "Prefaces to Shakespeare," in
Rasselas, Poems, and Selected Prose, ed. Bertrand
Bronson, 3rd ed. (New York: Holt, Rhinehart and Winston,
1971), p. 263.

1See F. S. C. Northrop, The Meeting of East and
West (New York: Macmillan, 1960), pp. 84-115, for a
good summation of the development of English thought
from Newton and Locke through Hume. Northrop is
particularly conscientious about bringing out the
practical consequences of this line of thought.

15Samuel T. Coleridge,"From Chapter XIII of Biographia
Literaria," in Critical Theory Since Plato, ed. Hazard
Adams (New York: Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich, 1971)
pp. 470-471.

16The greatest account of this rising physical
reality is Herman Melville's Moby Dick.

17Ezra Pound, The Cantos of Ezra Pound (New York:
New Directions, 196~47 P. 577.




Writing to his son, recently enrolled at Harvard

in 1897, Wallace Stevens' father had these words of

encouragement for a decent young man with poetic


You will see about Cambridge some nook
perhaps seen by the eyes of those to
whose greatness the world yielded niggardly
homage then and who moved on to describe
some other cloister in the words that
never die. And who knows but bringing to
its description your power of painting
pictures in words (emphasis added) you
make it famous--and some Yankee old
maid will say--it was here that Stevens
stood and saw the road to distinction.1

Stevens' father's evaluation of his son's talents is both

accurate and prophetic. But, as a perusal of Stevens'

early journals and letters will show, his father made

his observation from a great mass of evidence. Long

before he was a mature poet, Stevens was a young man

vividly interested in perception; and this love of perception

is the vital fuel that drives his life-long poetic work.

Ezra Pound's early correspondence from London some

ten years later, addressed to his college friend

William Carlos Williams, shows that Pound's poetic credo,

even though it was developing under much different

circumstances from Stevens', was taking a similar


I wish, no fooling, that you would define
your ultimate attainments of poesy. Of
course we won't agree. That would be too
uninteresting. I don't know that I can
make much of a list.
1. To paint the thing as I see it.
2. Beauty
3. Freedom from didacticism
4. It is only good manners if you
repeat a few other men to at least
do it better or more briefly.2

The item that Pound places at the top of his list is also

prophetic of a life-long attempt to make contact with his

perceptions. No matter what their differences in material

circumstance or intellectual inclination, from the beginning

of their poetic careers, both Pound and Stevens demonstrate

a systematic awareness of the ancient problem of relating

language and perception.


After several years in London and numerous contacts

with other potential poetical innovators, Ezra Pound's

interest in the relationship of poetry to perception

found well-publicized expression in his Imagist program.

The central tenets of the movement are straightforward


1. Direct treatment of the 'thing' whether
subjective or objective.
2. To use absolutely no word that does not
contribute to the presentation.
3. As regarding rhythm: to compose in the
sequence of the musical phrase, not in
sequence of a metronome.3

The strongest implication of Imagist theory is the assertion

of the primacy of perception. Perception does not exist

for the benefit of poetry; poetry exists for the benefit

of perception. Artificiality or affectation stands in the

way of the poetic act of seeing. The imagist method, when

used successfully, can reveal the potential for movement

in an image quite clearly, as an analysis of Pound's most

well-known Imagist poem, "In a Station of the Metro," will


In a Station of the Metro

The apparition of these faces in the crowd;
Petals on a wet, black bough.4

It is immediately obvious that the perceiver is not the

subject of this poem: there is no "I see." Therefore,

whatever movement the poem demonstrates cannot be ordered

according to any system outside the perception itself.

Yet, despite this limitation, there is a real movement

within the poem. This movement takes form in the transition

from the abstractness and vagueness of "apparition" to the

concreteness and solidity of "bough." That is, there is

a perceptual process that definitely occurs between the

image of seemingly disembodied faces in the steam and

smoke of a railway station and the image of the petals

on a bough. "Apparition" captures the initial vagueness

of the perception in a properly lively and emotionally

connotative way, avoiding the blandness and philosophical

implication of its close relative "appearance." "Bough"

effectively solidifies the vagueness of the initial

"apparition" and expresses the cleared vision in terms

of a concrete and sensible manifestation that still

maintains a number of radiant extensions from its main

body. We should note, though, that the poem does not

relate its nominal components by the standard comparative

means of metaphor or simile. To do so using a form of

the verb "to be" would indicate that "apparition," "faces

in the crowd," "petals," and "bough" occur simultaneously

as facts in the perception, when they actually do not.

Instead, the poem is revealing the process by which a

single perception can form out of its constituent elements.

Rather than establish a metaphor, the poem attempts to

establish a tension between extremes of possibility in a

whole situation--the vagueness of the apparition and the

concreteness of the bouth mentioned above. By evoking

the tension between these two experiential extremes, the

poem demonstrates the temporal process inherent in the

scene that it documents. The vagueness of the opening

"apparition" exists as an indeterminately extended

perceptual field which is then discriminated into parti-

culars which finally coalesce into the concreteness of

the "bough." The two extremes of "apparition" and "bough,"

then, are boundaries of a perceptual process rather than

definitions. The action of the poem is the action of an

image revealing itself in both its spatial and temporal


Pound is quite critically precise in rendering this

activity of the image when he defines the image as "that

which presents an intellectual and emotional complex in

an instant of time."5 A "complex," as Pound uses it, is

a whole that clearly reveals the multiple relations of

its parts. Such a "complex" cannot be an homogenous and

independent object located by chronological time. Instead,

it must be the emergent product of a relational process.

In such an emerging image, time is an internal constituent

rather than an external measure. That is to say, one of

the essential features of an image is that it "takes time."

It "takes time" in order for its pattern to take form.

The time necessary may be only "an instant," but that

initial instant is extended insofar as the possible rela-

tionships in the complex reveal themselves individually.

The image thus occurs at the focus of a web of action.

As Pound develops it, the image in many ways resembles

a living cell. It can be part of a larger process, but

it is itself a process; and a good imagist poem can

narrate this process taking form. Pound's imagist poems

are compact and distinctive, to be sure, but by appre-

ciating their living energy we can better understand the

intensity of Pound's concern with perception. In the

imagist exercises, Pound is able to hone the technique

of perception that makes it possible to keep his more

ambitious works concrete.

The importance of intensity, activity, and concreteness

for Pound's poetic perceptions cannot be overemphasized.

Pound is determined that poetry engage the senses.

Herbert Schneidau has aptly pointed out the significance

of the verb in the statement that "an Image is that which

presents (emphasis added) an intellectual and emotional

complex in an instant of time." Schneidau believes that

what Pound asks for in the statement is not just description:

"Once again the idea of visualization can be misleading:

it was not 'pictures in verse' that Pound wanted, but

something with the hard-edged quality, the sharp defin-

ition, that the visual sense furnishes." Pound believes

that the poem should "present" something that can be felt.

For Pound, the poem must participate in the sensory world.

He insists that poetic style be a means of contacting the

world rather than a means of self-conscious decoration.

Few activities are more useless for him than the poetic

confection of mundane ideas that could be more directly

stated in prose. In good prose, in fact, Pound finds a

great deal of value that he feels poets could do well to

emulate. "Poetry," he says, in a phrase borrowed from

Ford Madox Ford, "should be at least as well written as

prose." Thus Pound does not hesitate to acknowledge

the benefits for poetry as well as prose in the clarity

of writing produced by the French novelists Flaubert and

Stendahl. These men had the ability to narrate processes

by means of significant detail, what Flaubert called le

mot juste. This emphasis on precision rather than

stylistic convention is an innovation that Pound feels

has the power to liberate poetry from fastidiousness and

allow it to return to direct perception of living action.

The correct word is the correct word whether or not it

stretches the pentameter or gives a socially indecorous

image. Pound is quite uncompromising about this notion

of detailed interaction of writing style and concrete

experience; and he does not hesitate to take major literary

figures to task for what he feels are their failures in

this respect:

S We are tired of men upon perches.
Virgil is a man upon a perch. All
these writers of pseudo-epopee are people
on perches. Homer and the author of the
Poema del Cid are keen on their stories.

Milton and Virgil are concerned with
decoration and trappings, and they muck
about with a moral. Dante is concerned
with a senso morale, which is a totally
different matter. He breeds discontentments.
Milton does not breed discontentments, he
only sets the neophyte trying to pile up
noise and adjectives . 8

Pound believes that only the poems that participate in

the processes of life are what he calls poems of "the

first intensity."9 Poetry of the "second intensity,"

on the other hand, tends to attempt to operate as a

common denominator. Such poetry tries to reclaim the

potentially fresh aesthetic experience for civilized

society by means of standardized tropes. In Pound's

eyes, successful poetry revels in the immediacy of the

poet's contact with the world, unafraid of the "discon-

tentments" that often accompany this intense interaction

of the perceiving poet with the concrete environment.

Such poetry may or may not be socially acceptable. Very

often it is not. But this is a chance that Pound is

perfectly willing to take; for interaction, change, and

motion lie near the heart of his poetic vision. Uprooting

and discontentments are a part of life; and so they are a

part of Pound's poetry as well.

No matter how much action and change poetry may

attempt to narrate, the poet's raw materials are still

words. Verbal abstractions tend to stabilize the general

form of an action. Yet insofar as they emphasize this

stability, they are likely to build patterns upon patterns

and lose their essential contact with the particular

processes they symbolize. Poets who "muck about with a

moral" reinforce this alienation of the verbal symbol

from the energy that it is dependent upon.0 This problem

is an unavoidable one for anyone who wishes to use an

abstract Western language to express a vision of perceptual

immediacy. The first group of writers to attempt to

consciously face the problem of how to deal with the

inherent distance of language from sensory reality were

the French Symbolists of the Nineteenth century. Therefore,

Ezra Pound, like a number of other young writers seeking

fame and fortune in turn-of-the-century London, certainly

must have been influenced by the first theoretical study

of symbolism to appear in England, Arthur Symons' The

Symbolist Movement in Literature, first published in 1899.

Although Symons' approach is primarily impressionistic,

he occasionally cuts to the heart of his matter, as

in the following statement about Paul Verlaine:

French poetry, before Verlaine,
was an admirable vehicle for a really
fine, a really poetical, kind of rhetoric
. But with Victor Hugo, with Baudelaire,
we are still under the dominion of rhetoric.
"Take eloquence, and wring its neck!" said
Verlaine in his Ars Poetigue; and he showed,
by writing it, that French verse could be
written without rhetoric . "Lart, mes

enfants, c'est d'etre absolument soi-meme."
he tells us in one of his later poems .
For, consider the natural qualities
which this man had for the creation of a
new poetry . Take, then, his suscept-
ibility of his senses, an emotional suscept-
ibility not less delicate, a life sufficiently
troubled to draw out every motion of which
he was capable, and with it, that absorption
in the moment, that inability to look before
or after.ll

Such a strong statement concerning a necessary and poten-

tially dangerous sincerity for the artist that must

override all other considerations must have struck a

responsive chord in a young poet determined that poetry

should directly challenge all laxness of mind and

comfortable assumption. The symbolists discovered that

the aggressively creative poet could isolate a series of

associations between words that were capable of breaking

out of familiar verbal patterns without becoming entirely

unintelligible. Such poetry recognizes the power of

language to enforce a kind of order upon experience; yet,

it also recognizes that this order need not be born of

standard rhetorical patterns. In its emphasis upon the

unfamiliar patterns of expression, symbolism could attempt

to recapture a respect for the subtlety and complexity of

perceptual contact with the physical environment. One of

the effects accruing from this fresh focus upon the

complexity of contact between the sense and the environment

is the demonstration of the emotional nature of this contact.

When poetic experience is civilized and standardized, it

is more likely to produce scholarly research than emotional

excitement. However, when poetic experience loses some

of its predictability, then each expression of contact

between sense and environment expresses a distinct change.

It is no surprise, then, that the poetic activities of the

symbolists were paralleled and followed by studies in

"cultural relativism" such as Spengler's Decline of the

West, and studies of the continuities in ancient myths,

such as Frazer's Golden Bough. The virtues of Western

civilization were no longer taken for granted. There was

a distinct inclination toward an attempt to rediscover

original values, values that took their form in primal

emotional response rather than in carefully grammatical

civilized expression.

In a poem from his Lustra collection, "A Song of the

Degrees," Pound succeeds in combining the sensory accuracy

of imagism with a symbolist awareness of the strengths

and limitations of abstract language. In this poem,

Pound is able to capture the potential for emotion in

perception and set it off against a satiric demonstration

of the deficiencies of standard, pseudo-classic poetic


A Song of the Degrees


Rest me with the Chinese colours
For I think the glass is evil


The wind moves above the wheat
With a silver crashing,
A thin war of metal.

I have known the golden disc,
I have seen it melting above me.
I have known the stone-bright place.
The hall of clear colours.


0 glass subtly evil, 0 confusion of colours!
0 light bound and bent in, 0 soul of the captive,
Why am I warned? Why am I sent away?
Why is your glitter full of curious mistrust?
0 glass subtle and cunning, 0 powdery gold!
0 filaments of amber, two-faced iridescence!
(EPP, p. 95)

The first section of the poem, consisting of only

two lines, is a distillation of its "argument": the next

two sections of the poem each expand upon the individual

assertions contained in the first two lines. It is

transparent from the beginning of this poem that Pound

is attempting a study in fairly exact contrasts. The

first section of the poem contrasts the "Chinese colours"

with "the glass." "Chinese colours" are fresh colors,

unimpugned by Western cultural traditions. "The glass

is evil," on the other hand, because it reproduces reality

second-hand, imitating familiar objects two-dimensionally.

The two following sections develop each of these two

statements respectively; however, they clarify the initial

statements stylistically rather than argumentatively.

Section II offers an extreme use of symbolist style.

Section III offers an extreme use of conventional

Nineteenth century "pseudo-classic" style.

In the second section of the poem Pound attempts to

express the emotional possibilities of the fresh, yet

exact, visual imagery summarized in the first line of the

first section. He conveys these possibilities by means

of a series of associations that create rather than

illustrate a relationship between "The wind moves about

the wheat" and ". . the stone-bright place,/ the hall

of clear colours." The first in the series of associations

Pound effects is to move from "The wind moves about the

wheat" to "A thin war of metal." He does this by means

of the intermediate image of "With a silver crashing."

"Crashing" is an amplification of the noise the wheat

makes instigated by the wind. "Silver" is a bit more

far-fetched, but it captures a subtle coloration of the

wheat and achieves a greater individuation of the sound

of the wheat stalks striking one another. The third line,

"A thin war of metal," then generalizes "silver crashing."

This focus upon metallic imagery is extended into the next

two lines, "I have known the golden disc,/ I have seen it

melting above me." The metal, however, is further

transformed by "melting" into the heat and light of the

sun necessary to illuminate ". . the hall of clear

colours." By a series of subtle, yet defensible, asso-

ciations between images, Pound is able to celebrate the

powers of direct illumination without recourse to either

simile or metaphor.

The third section of the poem, though, is almost

entirely rhetorical, both in its diction and its metrics.

It elaborates upon the phrase, "For I think the glass is

evil," in such a heavy-handed manner that its satiric

impact is nothing short of blatant. The most overtly

artificial literary devices are the copious "0's" which

add nothing more than seven useless unstressed syllables,

seriously muddling the scansion of the lines. Furthermore,

there are the rhetorical questions and the exclamation

points, which add nothing to the argument but an arti-

ficial aura of emotion. Metrically, the third section

also attempts to affect the passion of the classical dactyl.

But again, the needless unstressed "O's" undermine the

naturalness of the rhythm and reduce the sound of the

poem to a turgid gallop. All of this seems quite deli-

berate on Pound's part. For instance, in his essay,

"A Retrospect," Pounds states unequivocally, "If you are

using a symmetrical form, don't put in what you want to

say and then fill in the remaining vacuums with slush."12

Pound systematically violates his own attitude toward

good style to display various kinds of poetic inadequacy.

Moreover, the image in the mirror limits and distorts the

true active potential of the visual image much as arti-

ficial rhetoric distorts verbal truth.

The tension that Pound creates between the verbal

symbol as active participation in the physical environment

and the verbal symbol as enduring category is one of the

keys to Pound's poetic efforts. This is a necessary

tension, because symbolism as a purely intellectual

exercise can lead to an atmosphere of sterility and elitism

that is as unacceptable as unimaginative parroting of

conventions. In "A Retrospect," Pound is very clear about

this: ". . if a man uses 'symbols' he must use them so

that their symbolic function does not obtrude; so that a

sense, and the poetic quality of the passage, is not lost

to those who do not understand the symbol as such, to

whom, for instance, a hawk is a hawk."13 Practically

speaking, the value of symbolism as Pound reveals it in

"A Song of the Degrees" is that its unfamiliar patterns

of image and logic transitions can break the easy flow

of rhetoric. This use of symbolist technique can encourage

the influence of rhythmic and associative subtitles that

seem spontaneous and give a touch of creativity to the

reading of the poem as well as the writing of it. This

effort amounts to a conscious "return to the origins"l

that attempts to recover the inevitable difficulty of the

relationship between the world of reality and the world

of symbols--a sense of difficulty seemingly lost over

the centuries through the development of linguistic



To keep his aggressive program for the improvement

of poetry consistent, Pound has to deny a great deal of

the Western cultural and scientific mainstream. His call

for a return to the origins, powerful though it is, must

perforce ignore the expansion of perceptual boundaries

made possible by the "openness" of a modern scientific

language. Wallace Stevens, however, is perfectly willing

to attempt to bring the built-in ambiguities and general-

ities of such a language under artistic control and

organization. His approach to the problem of perception

in poetry also orients itself around the image; but

Stevens' images tend to emphasize the spatial element of

the image, whereas Pound's tend to emphasize the temporal

element. Both poets, though, are concerned with capturing

the immediacy of experience necessary to strike an

imaginative spark between perception and poetic expression.

An excellent example of Wallace Stevens' general

approach to the problem of perception in his early poetry

is his poem "The Snow Man":

The Snow Man

One must have a mind of winter
To regard the frost and the boughs
Of the pine-trees crusted with snow;

And have been cold a long time
To behold the junipers shagged with ice,
The spruces rough in the distant glitter

Of the January sun; and not to think
Of any misery in the sound of the wind
In the sound of a few leaves.

Which is the sound of the land
Full of the same wind
That is blowing in the same bare place

For the listener, who listens in the snow,
And, nothing himself, beholds
Nothing that is not there and the nothing that is.

The process of perception that occurs in this poem is the

inverse of the one that occurs in Ezra Pound's poem,

"In a Station of the Metro." It is not a process of

perceptual contraction that Stevens' poem narrates. It is,

rather, a process of perceptual expansion that begins with

the solidity of "To regard the frost and the boughs" and

ends in the generality and abstractness of "Nothing that

is not there and the nothing that is."

The specific perceptual problem that "The Snow Man"

faces is that problem of how the mind can both perceive

and generalize. The horns of the problem are well

expressed by the poem's carefully balanced ambiguity of

tone. If the poem is an assertion of the categorically

oriented mind, then the poem is negative in tone. If the

poem is an assertion of the perceptually oriented mind,

then it is positive in tone.

If the "mind of winter" in the first line is simply

a metaphor for the mind's capacity to become so purely

concerned with categorizing its environment that it loses

its ability to feel the "misery of the sound of the wind,"

the physical environment is thereby reduced to a pure

"nothing," an empty medium for the mind's projections.

This negative interpretation is a standard critical

approach to the poem. This approach is particularly

well articulated by Richard Macksey in his article, "The

Climates of Wallace Stevens":

The empty place where the "same" wind
blows is unaltered by any human conceits,
by any human "misery," and yet it is
completely realized by the human consci-
ousness. There are two "empty places,"
the one without and the one within, and
yet they are mirror images--"the same
place." The bareness through which the
wind blows is the bareness of the perceiver
(who has evolved in stanza three from
viewer to listener, becoming even more
passive before the landscape as the poem
moves from a spatial to a temporal

dimension). The poverty of the scene and
the purity of the observer achieve that
algebraic "zero" which Valery in his "Lettre-
Preface" to Pere Emile Rideau reserves for
his reflexive consciousness . .16

Macksey goes on to quote the phenomenological philosopher

Merleau-Ponty to preface his summary of the significance

of the poem: "'La denomination des objets me vient pas

apres la reconnaissance, elle est las reconnaissance meme.'

It is in ambiguous space that 'the snow man' finally

takes shape, not as an object in the world but as a

creation of the poet."17 This view of the poem is

plausible, but it places too heavy a burden upon the

rhetorical power of Stevens' language to assert a parti-

cular order upon experience, thus reducing the poem to

pure symbolism. This attempt to extend the basically

null content of the verbal category onto the expressions

of life is an unfortunately weak reversal of the

basically honest principles of scientific observation and

speculation originally advocated by Aristotle. There is

no interaction with the environment in this reading, only


To attempt to see the poem as an assertion of the

mind as an instrument of perception, however, is a more

positive alternative reading. In this more positive

reading the "mind" of the first line asserts no categor-

ical transcendency. Rather, it enters into the activity

of winter so cleanly that it is freed from the ordinary

anthropomorphic association of "misery" with bare winter

scenes. However, while a "mind of winter" in this sense

has surrendered its transcendency and the attendant

solipsism, it still maintains the power to extend and

generalize. This generalizing process manifests itself

in the poem as a gradual transition from nouns that denote

fairly specific categories modified by concrete participles,

such as "pine-trees crusted with snow," to nouns that

denote far more general categories, such as "same place."

In much the same manner, the formal but personal pronoun

"one" becomes distanced as a "listener" whose identity

is a product of his activity of listening. "Distanced"

here means that the initial assumed identity of the "one"

in the first line of the poem is gradually transformed

into a concept of activity that as the object of the

preposition "for" is a product of the generalizing action

described by the poem. If "the listener" is such a product

of winter rather than its source, he is not necessarily

passive. He has, instead, a mind transformed by parti-

cipation with the physical process of winter documented

by the poem's concrete visual images. If "the listener"

is such a product of interaction with winter rather than

the categorical source of a metaphorical winter, then

the two "nothings" in the last line of the poem are

fundamentally different. Instead of identifying the

null categories of the mind with a nullity in the

environment, the two "nothings" are able to express a

vital dialogue between the nominal and revelatory

activities of language. From this view, then, the

"Nothing that is not there" is merely a tautological

and purely nominal means of saying "everything that is

there" in a world of words isolated from the physical

environment. "The nothing that is," on the other hand,

announces itself with its definite article as simply

"not a thing." The only entity in the poem that is "not

a thing" is the "mind of winter"; thus it "is," it exists

within the being of the environment, and, as such a

being, aims toward concretion. There is no paradox,

then, in the listener being nothing himself if the listener

loses his separateness from the event of winter and

participates as the mind's ability to "behold" the scene

as an image extending within the physical environment.

Such a "mind of winter" can partake of the mind's reflexive

and generalizing powers without sacrificing the revelatory

power of perceptual images.

A key to this process is the verb "behold." As

Stevens employs it in the poem, "behold" expresses a

generalized, yet concrete awareness which combines the

senses of seeing and hearing. In the first half of the

poem, "behold" is juxtaposed with "regard," a primarily

visual verb. In the second half of the poem, though,

"behold" is juxtaposed with "listen," which is of course

an aural verb. In "behold," then, these two sense acti-

vities flow together in an expression that is more

general than either but by no means transcendentally

abstract. The percipient in the poem is synthesized

out of his activity from the vague "one" at the beginning.

Likewise the environment as "the sound of a few leaves"

which make "the sound of the land" for the listener is

the unifying contact between the wind and the land.

At the highest level of contact, the contact between

the percipient and his environment is expressed as the

necessary "mind of winter," a hub of activity that

organizes its components without attempting an intellectual

decision between them. By energizing a constructive

dialectical interchange within the confines of an English

sentence, a basic rhetorical unit, Stevens is able to

capture the tension and change upon which narration

thrives so that he may use the categorical language of

the Western scientific tradition to demonstrate a process

of perception.

Both Ezra Pound and Wallace Stevens are challenging

poets, but neither pursues the incomprehensible for its

own sake. They simply believe that the problem of

perception is a difficult one for poetry, and their

work reflects this difficulty. The poetry of Pound and

Stevens seeks a poetic experience of perception made

constantly new by appropriating the flux between

language and perception to the inevitable flux and

evolution of life. Such an enterprise seeks as its

unity a living balance capable of envisioning pattern

as a process of growth rather than a simple repetition

of static form. The primal movement of this living

balance is the movement from concentration to expansion

and back again, the expansive and contractive continuum

of the living breath organized around a creative center

toward whose constancy of change the art of perception

inevitably inclines.


Wallace Stevens, Letters of Wallace Stevens, ed.
Holly Stevens (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1972 p. 14.

Ezra Pound, The Letters of Ezra Pound, ed. D. D.
Paige (New York: Harcourt, Brace and World, 1950), p. 6.

3Ezra Pound, Literary Essays of Ezra Pound (New York:
New Directions, 1968), p. 3.

Ezra Pound, Personae, the Collected Poems of Ezra
Pound (New York: New Directions, 1926), p. 109. All
further references to Personae will be given as page
numbers in parentheses and marked EPP.

5Ezra Pound, Literary Essays, p. 4.

Herbert Schneidau, Ezra Pound, the Image and the
Real (Baton Rouge, La.: Louisiana State University Press,
1969), p. 22.

7Ezra Pound, The Letters of Ezra Pound, p. 48.

Ezra Pound, Literary Essays, p. 217.

'Ezra Pound, Gaudier-Brzeska, a Memoir (New York:
New Directions, 1970 p. 84.

A recently published philosophical article by Robert
Bolton, "Essentialism and Semantic Theory in Aristotle,"
Philosophical Review, 85(1976), 528, gives some detailed
background for This problem. In his article, Bolton shows
how Aristotle is able to dispense with the Platonic
insistence upon a fundamental difference between a thing
as it is an a thing as it is represented:

To help us understand Aristotle's
doctrine of signification here it will be
helpful to compare his theory of definition
briefly with Plato's. Plato makes no

distinction between nominal and real
definition. Genuine kind-terms signify
kinds by connoting or revealing those
kinds. So, for Plato, there is no
explaining what a kind-term signifies,
giving a nominal definition, without
displaying the kind which it does
signify, giving a real definition.
This requires that we understand the
correct account of the nature of a given
kind as soon as we understand the signi-
ficance of its name, and those who do
not know what some kind is cannot in any
reliable way identify the kind or any
of its instances (Republic, 476 c-d).
Aristotle denies this doctrine, however,
and holds that one can reliably identify
a given kind and instances of it without
knowing, even implicitly, what the
structure of the kind is. This moves
him to split the signifying and revealing
functions of kind-terms. (emphasis added)

It is clear from Bolton's analysis that the distancing of
language from the complexities of direct perception by
abstraction increases the power of language to postulate
possible categories of objects and events that may or may
not be confirmed by the physical observation of particular
Aristotle, of course, had no intention of abandoning
the actual occurrence in his focus upon the practical
power of the nominal definition. However, in order to
establish a medium for an understanding of both nominal
and revealed reality he needed a concept of human contact
with the physical environment. According to Bolton, on
p. 530 of his article, Aristotle solves this problem of
mediation between the nominal definition and actual parti-
culars by his appeal to the notion of experience:

Experience (according to Aristotle) is a
type of systematized memory, and as such
involves a knowledge of a universal which
is not detached from the knowledge of and
memory of actual particulars. The speci-
fication of such a universal requires a
reference to particulars though not by
name or by references to uniquely identi-
fying characteristics.

This Aristotelian "experience" generalizes human contact
with reality, making such contact a fund of possibilities
as well as actualities. Such an attitude toward language
is a tremendous benefit to scientific speculation, to be
sure, because it projects a potential order upon awareness.
However, this view can cause some problems for artistic
perception. According to this doctrine of signification,
primary emphasis in the human's sensual contact with the
world is not upon the multiplicities of the perception
itself, but upon the most familiar aspects of appearance
that call a perceptual category into the memory. This
close connection between language and memory, founded upon
recurring symbols for categories, seems to establish the
power of language to project a rule of order imbedded in
its own consistency upon the world at large. Experience,
as Aristotle conceives of it, seems to draw the experiencing
individual away from the problematic appearances of the
actual world, making it easier for him to see the world
in terms of scientific or political laws. And, adherence
to these laws can turn poets, as the most expert practi-
tioners of language, into propogandists for the status quo
rather than visionary adventurers.

1Arthur Symons, The Symbolist Movement in Literature
(New York: E. P. Dutton, 1919), pp. 46-47.

12Ezra Pound, Literary Essays, p. 7.

13Ezra Pound, Literary Essays, p. 9.

E1zra Pound, Literary Essays, p. 92.

15Wallace Stevens, The Collected Poems of Wallace
Stevens (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1955), pp. 7-8. All
further references will be given as page numbers in paren-
theses and marked CP.

R1ichard Macksey, "The Climates of Wallace Stevens,"
in The Act of the Mind, ed. Roy Harvey Pearce and J. Hillis
Miller (Baltimore, Md.: The Johns Hopkins University Press,
1965), p. 197.

17Macksey, p. 199.




Ezra Pound has left a paradoxical artistic record.

For his entire lifetime he vigorously proselytized his

version of the "classics," yet he was every bit as

energetic in his demands for uncompromising modernism

in poetry, music, sculpture, painting, and novels.

Needless to say, such a complex artist has left a legacy

that has encouraged the compatible rise of widely

divergent attitudes, even among those who find a great

deal of value in his work. For instance, in his two

books on Pound, Ezra Pound and Ezra Pound: Poet as

Sculptor, Donald Davie portrays him as a wizard at

versification whose belief in an ordered world makes him

more of an Eighteenth century poet than a Twentieth

century one.I In his book The Pound Era, on the other

hand, Hugh Kenner sees Pound as one of the visionary

inhabitants of Buckminster Fuller's dymaxion world of
the future. We need to attempt some resolution of this

conflict. One possible way to do this is to demonstrate

how Pound is able to straddle the gulf between past and

future through his vision of living time--a vision of a

poetry that attempts to see time as concrete rhythm rather

than abstract chronological succession.


From beginning to end, Ezra Pound's poetry is a

poetry of process and change. The poem that stands

first in Personae, "The Tree," one of Pound's first mature

poems, is a poem about the metamorphosis necessary for a

new and clearer perception:

The Tree

I stood still and was a tree amid the wood,
Knowing the truth of things unseen before;
Of Daphne and the laurel bough
And of that god-feasting couple old
That grew elm-oak amid the wold.
'Twas not until the gods had been
Kindly entreated, and had been brought
Within the hearth of their heart's home
That they might do this wonder thing;
Nathless I have been a tree amid the wood
And many a new thing understood
That was rank folly to my head before.
(EPP, p. 3)

The key element in this poem is the process that it

reveals, and the metamorphic implications of that process.

This discovery, and it is a central one for Pound, is

that the truth and relevance of mythic narrative is a

function of unfettered physical contact with the envir-

onment. The great myths are not just cultural artifacts;

they are narrative responses to the mystery of living

process, and their energies are available to anyone

willing to attempt conscious participation in that

living process. This participation brings the gods

"unto the hearth"; and the gift of transformation that

they bestow is a metamorphosis into creative contact

with physical reality.

But the young Pound also had highly civilized

cultural ambitions, so the language of transformation

runs through his early poems like rivulets on the boundary

between doubt and belief. With each poem he tries on a

new identity, examines another time and style. Yet

there is something missing. Each new poem is an experiment,

but it is a self-conscious experiment, a new costume in a

mirror, a new musical instrument without accompaniment.

There is no sense of unity; each poem is a deliberate

surprise, but a surprise almost for the sake of surprise.

The vigor of change is there, but it is a change that is

harsh, almost arbitrary. Pound's problem at this point

in his career was to find an original power of expression

capable of orchestrating his genius for assimilation.

This must have been a particularly vexing problem for him.

The strength of the Western poetic tradition lay in its

emphasis on individuality and uniqueness of statement.

Yet at the turn of the century this very individuality

in the hands of the English Decadents and the French

Symbolists was often considered simply social eccentricity.

America and Europe at the beginning of the Twentieth

century were providing far more social support to the

development of technology than to the development of

the traditional arts. The rapid expansion of technology

was making possible the standardization of the items that

were being commercially produced. The speed with which

such standardized items could be produced made more

extensive distribution not only feasible but desirable.

Change, in an atmosphere of burgeoning trade in manu-

factured goods and incipient mass production, gradually

came to be more and more a matter of arithmetical growth

rather than organic growth.

A difficult societal climate for innovative poetry

is almost taken for granted now, but for the young Ezra

Pound, arriving in London to breathe the heady atmosphere

of what he felt should be the hub of the world's activity,

it was a bitter revelation. His initial response was

reactive rather than active as he too took artistic

refuge in a desperate individuality of expression.

However, Pound's individuality was the product of his

ability to assimilate both ancient and modern influences.

He started showing his talent for synthesis early on as

he combined the vigor and social eccentricity of the

Decadents such as Oscar Wilde with the scholarly acumen

of the pre-Raphaelites. Pound became a troubadour,

determined to force passion upon a world that seemed to

have little stomach for it. This vigorous posture is

well-captured by the blood and bones of his Provencal

adaptation, "Sestina: Altaforte." (See Appendix, p.185

for full text of the poem.) "Sestina: Altaforte" is

the poem of a poet determined to wrest from life a

consistent emotion at all costs. It is a barbaric roar

against smug mediocrity, an assertion of willingness to

sacrifice the very body for the vigor of conflict. It

also asserts the existence of the one sure pattern within

even the most problematic perception, the pattern of

emotion. In this poem Pound is discovering and asserting

the sure relation between the "motions" of the earth and

human e-motions. Hugh Witemeyer is very much to the

point when he says of this poem, "In the second and fourth

stanzas, the speaker praises summer and dawn because he

sees in them the strife that he loves. Ruskin's 'pathetic

fallacy' is reborn as 'metaphor by sympathy' in Pound's

theory and practice."3 The speaker in "Sestina: Altaforte"

has intensified his passion to the point of discovering

a parallel in the intensity and change expressed by the

earth itself. Such an outburst of emotion is capable of

demonstrating a natural pattern that breaks through

civilized restraint like the slashing of a sword. In

his barbaric excitement de Born does not hesitate to

compare the rising of his passion to the rising of the


And I love to see the sun rise blood-crimson
And I watch his spears through the dark clash
And it fills my heart with rejoicing
And pries wide my mouth with fast music
When I see him so scorn and defy peace,
His lone might 'against all darkness opposing.
(EPP, p. 29)

In his "digging up" of the brawling style of the Provencal

troubadour Betrans de Born, Pound discovers and asserts

what happens when a man gets close enough to the natural

elements to infuse himself with their power, a power in

style that parallels de Born's praise of war in the Twelfth

century with Pound's praise of the war of emotion in an

Edwardian England infatuated with what Pound has called

"the cult of the innocuous." Here it is quite clear that

Pound is discovering that there may be a way of interaction

with natural forces that does not necessitate taking either

a manipulative or a defeatist attitude in the face of

nature. By facing the forces within and without himself

that best conduct natural energies in a courageous way,

the human being can tap into a powerful energy that "pries

wide my mouth with fast music."

It should be obvious that what Pound is determined

to express through poems such as "Sestina: Altaforte"

is not a transformation wrought through a Wordworthian

reflection upon the power and acts of nature. To Pound,

that approach is indicative of the distancing effect of

fastidious rhetoric. Even so, "Sestina: Altaforte,"

for all its courageous assertion, is still a negative

statement. Despite the natural vigor that it embodies,

it still carries the unmistakable aura of simple

intellectual "shock effect." It still strikes one as

anti-social, even in the aftermath of two world wars.

What Pound still needed at this time was a consistent

social vision that could give him a humanistic grounding

for narrative poetry based on the changeability of human

emotions. Pound's vision was radical, but it needed

grounding to obtain the consistency necessary to make it

a viable alternative to rhetorical emptiness.


The most fortuitous circumstance that led Pound to

a vision of order to match his vision of energy was his

work as the literary executor of the estate of Ernest

Fenollosa. Fenollosa started his academic career as a

Harvard Hegelian, and a representative of the most hopeful

tendencies of the movement. His belief in the desira-

bility of a synthesis between the cultures of East and

West took him to Japan as a visiting professor. While

there, he realized from his perspective as an outsider

that the Japanese were dispensing with much that was vital

and beautiful in their culture in a rush to appropriate

Western ideas. Fenollosa undertook to remedy the situ-

ation, and led expeditions to salvage ancient artifacts.

His efforts so pleased the Japanese that he was made a

minister of culture for the regime. Upon his return to

the United States, he lectured and wrote extensively on

the value of Japanese and Chinese art and culture, dying

in 1908 and leaving a mass of uncollated manuscripts.5

His widow, Mary Fenollosa, was conversant enough with

the material on the visual arts to organize that material

herself. However, there was a fairly large amount of

material having to do with Chinese and Japanese language,

drama, and poetry with which she was far less comfortable.

Through fortunate circumstances that are still not totally

clear, these materials fell into the hands of the brash

American poet, Ezra Pound, giving him a much-needed key

in his search for ways to extend the power of imagistic

perception so that it could break the bonds of simple

uncoordinated idiosyncrasy and expand the narrative power

of the image.

The most theoretically valuable item in the collection

for Pound was an essay entitled, "The Chinese Written

Character as a Nedium for Poetry." In his introduction

to the main argument, Fenollosa makes a disclaimer that

makes Pound's affection for him very understandable:

I feel that I should perhaps apo-
logize for presuming to follow in that
series of brilliant scholars, Davis,
Legge, St. Denys and Giles, who have
treated the subject of Chinese poetry
with a wealth of erudition to which I
can proffer no claim. It is not as a
professional linguist nor as a sinologue
that I humbly put forward what I have
to say. As an enthusiastic student of
beauty in Oriental culture, having
spent a large portion of my years in
close relation with Orientals, I could
not but breathe in something of the
poetry incarnated in their lives.?

It is obvious from this statement that Fenollosa intended

no philological objectivity. He was immersed in the

culture of a people with "poetry incarnated in their lives."

Such a position could hardly fail to strike a similar

chord in Ezra Pound, who was becoming increasingly aware

of the need to redeem the emotive power of language and

capture not only the text of the past but the living spirit

of the text, the "living spirit" that gives credibility

to "Sestina: Altaforte" despite its harshness.

In the essay itself, Fenollosa makes the radical yet

consistent argument needed by Pound. Fenollosa sees the

primary weakness of Western language to be its dependence

on an abstract system of symbols and logic that can

too easily divorce itself from the actual experiences of


I have mentioned the tyranny of
medieval logic. According to this
European logic though is a kind of
brickyard. It is baked into little
hard units or concepts. These are
piled in rows according to size and
then labeled with words for future
use. This use consists of picking
out a few bricks, each by its
convenient label, and sticking them
together in a sort of wall called a
sentence by the use of either white
mortar for the positive copula "is," or
of black mortar for the negative copula
"is not." In this way we produce such
admirable propositions as "A ring-tailed
baboon is not a constitutional assembly."
...It is evident that this process
of abstraction may be carried on inde-
finitely and with all sorts of material.
We may go on forever building pyramids
of attentuated concept until we reach
the apex "being."

This aggressive statement no doubt confirmed for Pound

the accuracy of his poetic attack on the flaccidity of

"civilized" rhetoric contained in such poems as "Sestina:

Altaforte" and "Ballad of the Goodly Fere." However,

Fenollosa's concern is not wholly negative. He finds in

his version of the Chinese poetic and linguistic system

an alternative tradition in which he feels that natural

phenomena and language symbol have been able to maintain

a living interchange. Here is the gist of his argument:

But Chinese notation is something
much more than arbitrary symbols. It
is based upon a vivid shorthand of the
operations of nature. In the algebraic
figure and in the spoken word there is
no natural connection between thing and
sign: all depends upon sheer convention.
But the Chinese method follows natural

suggestion. First stands the man on his
two legs. Second, his eye moves through
space: a bold figure represented by
running legs under an eye, a modified
picture of an eye, a modified picture of
running legs but unforgettable once you
have seen it. Third stands the horse on
his four legs.
The thought picture is not only
called up by these signs as well as by
words but far more vividly and concretely.
Legs belong to all three characters: they
are alive. The group holds something of
the quality of a continuous moving picture.

Of course, in terms of what is presently known of the

Chinese language Fenollosa's radical theory is, at best,

a gross over-simplification. We now know that only ten

percent of Chinese characters contain overt visual clues

to their meaning, and that Chinese has undergone phono-

logical change as surely as any other language. However,

as his initial disclaimer indicates, philological caution

and objectivity were not Fenollosa's intentions in writing

the essay. It was a frankly emotional response to what

he felt was a culture that had maintained a continuous

relationship with the sources of its emotions by using a

language infused with sense perception. Thus it is not

too difficult for the modern sinologist Achilles Fang to

write an article pointing out the numerous, and sometimes

outrageous, mistakes that Fenollosa and Pound make in

details of scholarship while still maintaining a respect

for the energy and inspiration of the enterprise itself.

Fang sums up the attitude of scholars as sympathetic as

himself when he quotes Shigeyoshi Obata, "who with regard

to the genesis of The Works of Li Po (New York, 1922), in

which Yu-lan Fung acknowledgedly cooperated, states as

follows, 'I confess that it was Mr. Pound's little book

(Cathay) that exasperated me and at the same time awakened

me to the realization of new possibilities so that I began

to do translation work myself.'"10 The implication of

the admission of Obata documented by Fang is that Pound,

as inspired by Fenollosa, can be "exasperating" in detail,

but his intuition of the power of general tendencies in

Chinese thought and expression has much to offer.

But how could such an intuition come about? In order

to understand this approach to Chinese literary tradition

by Pound, it is necessary to return to the same fascination

for Provencal poetry that produced "Sestina: Altaforte."

His study of the Twelfth century troubadour poets was the

first major scholarly activity that Pound embarked upon.

By briefly examining his study in this area, we can perhaps

more precisely discover the means by which Pound is able

to harness the violently vigorous energies of "Sestina:

Altaforte" into a more legitimate "alternative tradition."

It was from his study of Provence, from which evolved his

full-length book, The Spirit of Romance, that Pound adduced

his theory of the intimate kinship of poetry and music.

Particularly inspiring to Pound was his realization that

the poets of Provencal, notably Arnaut Daniel, had developed

a use of sound that could imitate with a great deal of

success the activities of nature,ll thus establishing the

sound and rhythms of music as intermediaries between man

and his physical environment. Also quite intriguing for

Pound was the Provencal convention of the trobar clus, a

calculated ambiguity in a song that encouraged interpre-

tation of it employing differing levels of abstraction.

These different levels of interpretation, though, were

almost always grounded in the wooing of a lady for sexual

favors. This focus on the sexual embodied in the Provencal

poetry is a key aspect of Pound's "return to the origins."

As he puts it in his short essay "The Tradition,"

A return to origins invigorates
because it is a return to nature and
reason. The man who returns to origins
does so because he wishes to behave in
the eternally sensible manner. That
is to say, naturally, reasonably, intui-
tively. He does not wish to do the
right thing in the wrong place, to "hang
an ox with trappings," as Dante puts it.
He wishes not pedagogy, but harmony,
the fitting thing.12

Pound obviously sees a natural "harmony" in the unity of

physical reality, of which sex is a primal and literally

originative expression. The tapestries of meaning in the

Provencal poems radiate from this physical basis and their

sounds remain true to the vibrations of the living envi-

ronment. This expression of physical power is for Pound

the manifestation of an inherent truthfulness, a

truthfulness that language can literally take hold of by

remaining true to its very physical origins. For Pound,

the only way that language can convey true perception and

thereby tell an honest story is by its participation with

the basic strength of living bodies in action. That is,

language exists to be spoken, to rise out of the wet, open

mouth; and insofar as language departs from this basic

contact with the senses, then it inclines toward deceit.

This attitude is at the heart of Pound's concern to

attack what he considered "mushiness" and "rhetoric" in

poetry, philology in scholarship, and later, to his distress

and defamation, usury in economics. All of the above

mentioned activities represent for Pound an alienation of

symbol systems from the experience of the physical neces-

sary for their verifiability. His statement in his essay,

"Troubadours, Their Sorts and Conditions," is an accurate

summation of his position, "When men began to write on

tablets and ceased singing to the barbitos, a loss of some

sort was unavoidable."13

It is clear from the preceding that no matter how

much Pound could subsequently refer to Fenollosa both in

practice and in theory, he was certainly emotionally and

aesthetically prepared to receive Fenollosa's doctrine.

Fenollosa's work not only confirmed Pound's negative

views about the poetic environment contemporaneous with

him, but provided him with a positive direction for new

growth in his powers of poetic perception. But how could

Pound put these new insights to use and activate the

perceptual and transitive aesthetics that Fenollosa had

so clearly articulated? One important implication of

the active syntaxl14 that Fenollosa proposes for Chinese

in his essay is that such language does not express the

act of perception as instantaneous. Instead, the expression

"man sees horse" is given as a temporal process, with the

eye on running legs connecting the man with the horse.

Of course, this is the same kind of dissection of the

moment that Pound is capable of employing in "In a Station

of the Metro," so the possibilities must have seemed

enormous for Pound at the time. Unfortunately, Pound knew

no Chinese whatsoever and, to quote Fang, "Fenollosa

rarely applies his heretical notions of the Chinese language

when it comes to the poems contained in Cathay"; so,

when Pound set out to develop, from Fenollosa's notes,

the poems that would eventually be collected under the

title Cathay he had to effect some sort of compromise.

The compromise that evolved for Pound emerges in the poems

of Cathay as a striking innovation in sound. In Cathay,

one of the ways Pound succeeds in narrating his perceptions

is by the consistent employment of "musical" rhythms

generally thought to be awkward or unnatural in English,

such as trochees, dactyls and spondees. Because of his

belief in the basic importance of music for poetry, Pound

had been experimenting with these rhythms for some time.

However, he was usually careful to place the poems in a

"historical" or alien context by means of Latin titles,

Browningesque "dramatic" subtitles or localized diction.

These devices, though, tend to isolate one poem from

another. This helps to account for the disorganized

eclecticism displayed by Pound's collections of poetry up

to the time of Cathay. With Cathay, though, Pound makes

his first step toward a connection from poem to poem that

respects the autonomy of each poem as an emotional

expression. Each poem is an individual contribution to

a larger composition, much as a single theme might fit

into the score of a sonata or a symphony. This approach

to narrative unity means that externally imposed linear

time and the determinative causality that linear time

enforces can no longer apply. Each new perception is a

single change within a larger pattern of changes. There

can be no isolated perception from which to frame absolute

laws in such a connected system. The change necessary for

the passage of time is generated by the rhythm of perception

itself as a pattern of sensible contact with a living physical

world. Pound believes that "all ages are contemporaneous" not

because differing ages deal with identical social or

intellectual problems, but because each age must make

the same response to the challenge that the physical

environment offers. No matter what its supposed sophis-

tication, no age can produce great culture without

dealing with the most immediate and concrete exigencies

of life. For Pound's Cathay, this physical response is

necessarily rhythmic and musical, an attempt to capture

the rhythms of the microcosmic emotional changes that

harmonize with the macrocosmically rhythmic motions of

the changing days and seasons.

Through Fenollosa, Pound discovered a positive

foundation for his intuition that language could best

express truth by participating as closely as possible in

the body's immediate sensory response to the environment.

This was possible because Pound found in China a civili-

zation built upon the sense of change that Fenollosa

found infusing their most basic linguistic statements.

It is this perception of the natural rhythm of life

value by the Chinese that shows how Fenollosa's specific

translation theory could be incorrect but his general

aesthetic intuition could be quite correct, an intuition

that Pound's success with Cathay confirms.

The basis of Pound's mobilization of musical rhythms

in Cathay, though, is not Chinese in origin at all. It

is, instead, Pound's awareness of the possibilities

inherent in English syntax, possibilities that allow him

to creatively overcome the difficulty that other writers,

such as Longfellow and Swinburne, had in adapting classical

meters to English. Their efforts were more often than

not rightly criticized as too arbitrary and artificial.

Pound felt, however, that even the galloping dactyls of

Swinburne were preferable to the standard practice of

conveying historical or cultural significance in poetry

by means of ponderous and stilted diction, a method he

considered defunct and even dangerous. A prophetic

statement that he made in this vein while commenting on

various translations of Homer deserves citation here:

And I do not think this a trifle; it
would be an ill day if men again let
the classics go by the board; we should
fall into something worse than, or as
bad as, the counter-reformation: a
welter of gum-shoes, and cocoa, and
Y.M.C.A. and Webbs, and social theor-
izing committees, and the general hell
of a groggy doctrinaire obfuscation;
and the very disagreeablizing of the
classics, every pedagogy which puts
the masterwork further from us, either
by obstructing the schoolboy, or
breeding affectation in dilettante
readers, works toward such a detestible

Obviously, Pound wanted no part of pedantic conventions

that had already proved themselves wrong in any case.

The obvious alternative was simplicity and variety, and

that was the path he chose.

Pound's prime device for rhythm in Cathay is, of

course, vers libre. "Free" verse it may be, but it is

anything but random. Throughout his letters and critical

essays Pound adamantly contends that rhythm must have

meaning. For Pound, there must be "a rhythm, that is, in

poetry which corresponds exactly to the emotion or shade

of emotion to be expressed."l7 The precise use that

rhythm has in Cathay is to confirm the emotions of the

individual or individuals described in the poem. It is

a truism in English prosody that the iamb is the most

natural rhythm for the English speaking voice; and it is,

for rational and formal purposes, since the rising tone

at the end of a phrase can mark a point or emphasize a

summation. Under the strain of emotion, though, the

rhythms of speech are hardly so regular. Pound takes

advantage of this fact in Cathay, using combinations of

dactyls, trochees and spondees to inject a syncopation

into the lines to give them the regularity of musical

movement while still maintaining enough irregularity to
confirm emotional tension. Pound's rhythmic system

employs a curious twist. By dispensing with ponderous

diction and iambic stress he makes the poems seem less

"poetical" and more conversational when in fact their

rhythms reflect the employment of a highly "classical"

poetics. This impression of familiarity contrived out

of complexity succeeds because the rhythmic innovations

do not build anything more complicated than fairly direct

and transitive English sentences. As Donald Davie says

in his book, Ezra Pound: Poet as Sculptor, the melody

of Cathay "is less a matter of meter than of syntax."19

This direct English syntax, with its multiple means of

establishing grammatical relationships, provides a

mobile and organic frame that'Pound can stretch and

contract at will to achieve a unity of semantic and

rhythmic meaning from line to line. In this way Pound

can assure that the emotion that each expresses is

emergent rather than illustrative. That is, the emotion

of each poem does not exist in association with an idea

but rather shapes itself as the poem progresses.

An excellent example of how Pound can use this

expansion and contraction of rhythmic phrase consistently

is the first poem in the Cathay series, "The Song of the

Bowmen of Shu."

Song of the Bowmen of Shu

Here we are, picking the first fern-shoots
And saying: When shall we get back to
our country?
Here we are because we have the Ken-nin for our
We have no comfort because of these Mongols.
We grub the soft fern-shoots,
When anyone says "Return," the others are full of
Sorrowful minds, sorrow is strong, we are hungry
and thirsty.

Our defence is not yet made sure, no one can let
his friend return.
We grub the old fern-stalks.
We say: Will we be let to go back in October?
There is no ease in royal affairs, we have no comfort.
Our sorrow is bitter, but we would not return to
our country.
What flower has come into blossom?
Whose chariot? The General's.
Horses, his horses even, are tired. They were
We have no rest, three battles a month.
By heaven, his horses are tired.
The generals are on them, the soldiers are by them.
The horses are well trained, the generals have ivory
arrows and quivers ornamented with fish-skin.
The enemy is swift, we must be careful.
When we set out, the willows were drooping with
We come back in the snow,
We go slowly, we are hungry and thirsty,
Our mind is full of sorrow, who will know of our
(EPP, p. 127)

The poem is a series of simple and direct statements and

questions, beginning with the simple existential statement,

"Here we are, picking the first fern-shoots," which then

transforms into a question, "And saying: When shall we

get back to our country?" This is simple and straight-

forward English diction, yet it reads in a highly stressed

trochaic meter which runs counter to the calm familiarity

of the surface syntax. This repressed emotion gradually

breaks into dactylic as the speaker transmutes the energy

of his repressed feeling into a pro forma justification

for the fighting, "We have no comfort because of these

Mongols." But this flow contracts immediately with the

next line, "We grub the soft fern-shoots." Every four to

five lines, throughout "Song of the Bowmen of Shu," the

movement of the lines is punctuated by the insertion of

a concrete observation such as this. This rhythmic

expansion and contraction is the schematic of an emotion

in action. The voice of the poem oscillates between

expressiveness and laconism, openness and closure, a very

physical manifestation of doubt and uncertainty. This

poem deliberately avoids the normal intellectual contri-

vances of poetry such as simile and metaphor; its simpli-

city is its greatest artifice. It is the artifice of the

ordinary man determined to maintain his active powers of

observation even in the most desperate circumstances.

"Song of the Bowmen of Shu" makes an excellent example

of Pound's use of rhythm as a narrative device because

he translated it in quite a different way some forty

years later as "Ode 167" in his translation of The Classic

Anthology Defined by Confucius. As "Ode 167," the hesi-

tation is largely gone, and the rhythm is jaunty: "Pick

a fern, pick a fern, ferns are high,/ 'Home,' I'll say:
home the year's gone by."20 By the time of the second

version, Pound is obviously more aware of the original

Chinese poem and the scholarly theories surrounding it.

In his very helpful commentary on the accuracy of the

translations in Cathay, Ezra Pound's Cathay, Wai-lim Yip

asserts that this poem is generally considered to be a

propaganda piece, written in anticipation of the

hardships of a campaign to exhort the men to heroism
and self-sacrifice. Pound takes this into account

in his later version and transforms his original soli-

loquy of uncertainty into a marching song. However,

as Yip clearly points out, Pound places both versions in
the present tense.2 Even though he incorporates more

of the possible original circumstances for the poem in his

second version, Pound's central concern is the immediate

response of the fighting men to their environment. Moreover,

this response is, in both cases, rhythmic and emotional.

This emphasis on the contact between rhythms and

emotions in Cathay is not limited to the poems that concern

common people. In "Poem by the Bridge at Ten-Shin" the

subject matter is the decadence of the upper class.

Poem by the Bridge at Ten-Shin

March has come to the bridge head,
Peach boughs and apricot boughs hang
over a thousand gates,
At morning there are flowers to cut the heart,
And evening drives them on the eastward-flowing
Petals are on the gone waters and on the going,
And on the back-swirling eddies,
But to-day's men are not the men of the old days,
Though they hang in the same way over the bridge-

The sea's colour moves at the dawn
And the princes still stand in rows, about the throne,
And the moon falls over the portals of Sei-go-yo,
And clings to the walls and the gate-top.
With head gear glittering against the cloud and sun,

The lords go forth from the court, and into far
They ride upon dragon-like horses,
Upon horses with head-trappings of yellow metal,
And the streets make way for their passage.
Haughty their passing.
Haughty their steps as they go in to great banquets,
To high halls and curious food,
To the perfumed air and girls dancing,
To clear flutes and clear singing;
To the dance of the seventy couples;
To the mad chase through the gardens.
Night and day are given over to pleasure
And they think it will last a thousand autumns,
Unwearying autumns.
For them the yellow dogs howl portents in vain,
And what are they compared to the lady Riokushu,
That was cause of hate!
Who among them is a man like Han-rei
Who departed alone with his mistress,
With his hair unbound, and he his own skiffsman!
(EPP, pp. 131-132)

In Pound's translation the narrator is obviously someone

caught up in the difficulties of his environment as surely

as the soldiers in "Song of the Bowmen of Shu." The

rhythmic and emotional development of "Poem by the Bridge

at Ten-Shin," however, is the opposite of "Song of the

Bowmen of Shu." In "Poem by the Bridge at Ten-Shin," the

syntax, instead of contracting to laconic utterances,

becomes more expansive as the poem moves along. Each

description seems to contain more detail than the former

one. Given this more complicated syntax, there is ample

opportunity for Pound to employ sophisticated verse patterns

based upon a clever use of rhythm. For instance, the first

line, "March has come to the bridge head," (EPP, p. 131)

begins with a trochee, "March has"; then it moves to a

dactyl, "come to the"; and it finishes on a spondee,

"bridge head." In the next line, "Peach boughs and

apricot boughs hang/ over a thousand gates," Pound even

attempts some vowel assonance to give the line the flavor

of a classical quantitative verse unit. The peak of this

intricate effort seems to come in the line "Petals are

on the gone waters and on the going,/ And on the back-

swirling eddies." Here Pound seems to be trying to effect

a complex synthesis between his belief in "absolute rhythm,"

his classical scholarship, and his fascination for the

concrete energy carried by the Chinese ideogram. The

classically influenced, yet musically varied rhythms flow

with the uneven current of the passing stream.

But then the thought of the poem takes an abrupt turn,

"But to-day's men are not the men of the old days, Though

they hang in the same way over the bridge-/ rail."

However, there is no object for comparison immediately

given. The correctness of this intuition grows, however,

by continual syntactic and rhythmic accumulation throughout

the poem. The poem as it goes on becomes more and more

repetitive, and the rhythms which seem so clever in their

imitation of natural processes at the beginning of the

poem degenerate into an anaphoric recitation of bored

indulgence in court pleasures. The intuition of the ninth

line gradually becomes clearer. No matter how intricate

and successful imitations are, they eventually become

empty and passive repetition without contact with a fresh

and vitalizing spirit born out of contact with living

events and emotions, a spirit that can generate the

self-initiated activity that the poem provides in the

last lines,

And what are they compared to the lady Riokushu,
That was cause of hate!
Who among them is a man like Han-rei
Who departed alone with his mistress,
With her hair unbound, and he his own skiffsman!
(EPP, p. 132)

The rhythms are now associated with an image of activity,

a woman who could cause real emotions and a man who could

defy convention to get what he wanted. The strong stresses

are still there, particularly at the end of the lines,

but now their vigor energizes a real action instead of an

imitative repetition.

In this poem Pound does an impressive job of synthesis.

He demonstrates his ability to reproduce classical meters

in both a quantitative and qualitative fashion, yet he

associates that reproduction with a cultural climate that

can demonstrate how empty such imitation can be if it loses

contact with the concrete feelings that vitalize it in the

first place. He brings several cultural planes into

relation and in their interaction they show concretely the

difference between true refinement for the sake of basic

feelings and emotions and false refinement for the sake of

external fashion and ornament.

There might seem to be a great deal of difference

between the worlds of the uncertain soldier of "Song of

the Bowmen of Shu" and the indulgent courtiers of "Poem

by the Bridge at Ten-Shin." In truth there is not; and

it is this emotional contact between divergent poems of

divergent intellectual and social realms that is one of

the major narrative triumphs of Cathay. Both the courtier

and the soldier are isolated and alienated from their

source of strength and sincere emotion. The alienation

they feel, however, has no resemblance to the alienation

expressed by Western writers of the Twentieth century.

It is nothing so abstract. The feeling expressed in both

"Song of the Bowmen of Shu" and "Poem by the Bridge at

Ten-Shin" comes across as a palpable tension between the

man and his environment. For these men, "home" is no

arbitrary place of residence. It is rather the source of

strength for the whole being in both a physical and

emotional way. And in neither of these poems is the

speaker "at home." For the simple soldiers, their

uncertainty derives from their physical separation from

their homeland. For the more abstract and sophisticated

courtiers, their uncertainty derives out of their

separation from their vital traditions, which have degen-

erated into empty repetition.

Indeed, in each of the poems in the original edition

of Cathay23 the central emotion expressed is a variation

on this theme of separation. "The Beautiful Toilet" tells

of the loneliness of a matron who "was a courtezan in the

old days" (EPP, p. 124) and is now abandoned by a drunken

husband. "The River Song" is about a court poet neglected

by the emperor. "The River Merchant's Wife: A Letter"

portrays a young wife waiting in a dignified manner for

her long overdue husband. In "The Jewel Stairs Grievance"

a woman waits in vain for a rendezvous with her lover.

"The Lament of the Frontier Guard" is the story of a

lonely soldier at an isolated outpost. "Exile's Letter"

is the regretful correspondence of a political casualty.

In the "Four Poems of Departure" each describes a different

sort of leave-taking: one between lovers, two between

friends, and one between a man and his home city. The

final poem in the original sequence, "South-Fold in Cold

Country," follows the pattern of "Song of the Bowmen of

Shu" in documenting the homesickness of soldiers who must

fight in an alien climate.

In all of these stories of isolation, however, the

isolated individual never feels completely out of contact

from what he feels isolated from. That is, there is no

expression in these poems of the Western intellectual

notion of despair over an irreconcilable loss. The loss

of contact described in Cathay always finds expression

through a concrete and physical image. The bereaved

protagonists in these poems find solace in the image of

what they have lost; and they feel through this image

so intensely that the contact with their beloved is never

truly broken. The women still wait for their lovers;

the poet still waits for his emperor; the friends still

correspond over a thousand miles. In short, each poem

documents a well-stretched strand of physical contact

rooted in an original unity that gives its narrator

strength to carry on in his painful autonomy. This

amounts to a faith in physical reality as a condition for

the recovery of lost unity; and this faith is ultimately

centered in the earth as the original source of this

physical reality. This faith is possible because none

of the poems represents an environment for its protag-

onist that makes the protagonist the end of a series of

deterministic actions. There is no wailing against the

cruelty of an abstract destiny. The problems that exist

define each person's emotions in a concrete way that

leaves the way open for an equally concrete return to

the origin. This is a sense of emotion that is at heart

organic and life-oriented. In these poems, causality is

the result of an internal rather than external organization

of events. Things generate their own movements by harmon-

izing their life rhythms to the larger rhythms of more

comprehensive life processes. They are not propelled

by a linear succession of determinative occurrences.

Each of the Cathay poems expresses its natural position

in the interrelatedness of events, each isolated

variation being a different spoke emanating via its

emotional autonomy from a central hub or source of

unifying physical energy. Therefore the individual

narrative force of each poem is necessary to the formation

of the larger unity of the whole, a process based on an

organic realism not at all alien to the major traditions

of Chinese thought. For instance, in his article "Model

of Causality in Chinese Thought" in Philosophy East and

West, Chung-ying Cheng derives three principles that he

believes can lead to a characterization of causality in

Chinese thought:

There is, in the first place, a
principle of holistic unity. By this
I mean that all things in the world
are unified as a whole through their
being continuously generated from the
same source or origin. One may also
say that all things are generatively
unified . .
Second, there is the principle
of internal life movements. By this
I mean that all things in the world
have an intrinsic life-force which
moves them in a way in which motion
is not imposed from other things or
a God but is derived for the inexhaust-
ible source of energy of life, which
is the Way. As the source is intrin-
sically related to an individual thing,
the derivation of energy for movement
is intrinsic as in an organism rather

than extrinsic as in a machine. Simi-
larly, as all things are interrelated
to form a network of interchange of
processes, the transmission of moving
force is conceived of as an exhibition
of life activity, in the absence of
which the individual living things will
cease to be defined.
Finally, there is the principle
of organic balance. By this I mean
that all things and processes in the
world are related in processes which
proceed towards a balance and a harmony.
This does not mean that when a balance
or a harmony is reached there cease to
be processes of change and transformation .
Because life is generated anew, the
striving for balance and harmony on a
new plane continues. That we must
understand balance and harmony in a 24
dynamic and actual sense is crucial.

The preceding cosmology provides a strong underpinning

for a concrete poetry. The concept of things "continuously

generated from the same source or origin" places the act

of creativity within the world rather than outside of it.

Furthermore, this creative agency is not separate from or

of a different nature from that which is created. All

things derive their "internal life movements" from the central

creative act and can never lose their relationship with

that act; moreover, each thing in existence expresses

its own proportionate share of the creative energy through

its own form. Since this "organic balance" is rooted in

expressive action rising out of "the inexhaustible source

of the energy of life," both the pattern a perceived event

forms upon the senses and the pattern of symbols used to

communicate that event partake of the same central fund

of expressive energy. Dualities such as matter and form

certainly exist, but since they are constantly in

interaction, there is no need to determine whether one

of them is primary. This lack of interest in purely

categorical distinctions has been one of the main reasons

that abstraction for its own sake has never made much

headway in China. In his book, A Short History of Chinese

Philosophy, Yu-lan Fung, modern China's foremost intel-

lectual historian, makes the following remark in the

course of his exposition:

. we have seen that already in early
times Kung-sun Lung made clear the
distinction between universals and
things . It would seem that he had
some idea of the Platonic distinction
of the two worlds, the eternal and the
visible. The idea was not developed by
later philosophers, however, and the
philosophy of the School of Names did not
become a main current in Chinese thought.25

Rather than a conflict between the abstract and the

concrete, most Chinese thought exhibits a dispersion

of degrees of concreteness. As we have seen, this

outlook is quite appropriate to the thematic organization

of Ezra Pound's Cathay. It is the source for the faith

in the basic relatedness of things that stands out in

poem after poem in the original sequence.


Having confirmed the general correctness of Pound's

approach to the translation of Cathay, we may now

examine, with the help of some commentary, just how

accurate Pound's musical intuition could be. And

intuition was precisely what Pound was using. He had no

knowledge of Chinese. All he had to work from were

Fenollosa's notes for projected translations of a

number of lyric poems and the guiding insight from

"The Chinese Written Character as a Medium for Poetry"

that there was a decisive relationship between a concrete

and life-oriented view of the world highly conducive to

successful poetry and a language written in "pictorial"

ideograms. In order to build on this insight, though,

Pound knew that he could not successfully parallel in

English the type of activity that Fenollosa saw happening

in the Chinese. Rather than make his ignorance obvious

by attempting to write in "pictures" using intractably

abstract Western characters,6 he decided to use the

concrete strength of his own language--precise and well-

defined rhythm in sound. Pound was his usual straightforward

self in describing the need for contact between Eastern

ideogram and Western sound in a letter to Kitue Kitusano

in 1940:

At any rate I need ideogram. I
need it in and for my own job, but I
also need sound and phonetics. Several
half-wits in a state of half-education
have sniffed at my.going on with
Fenollosa's use of the Japanese sounds
for reading ideogram. I propose to
continue. As sheer sound Dai Gaku is
better than Ta Tsu. When it comes to
the questions of transmitting from the
East to the West, a great part of the
Chinese sound is of no use at all. We
don't hear parts of it, and the rest
is a hiss or a mumble . Tones
cannot be learnt at three thousand
miles distance anyhow; or, at any rate,
never have been.27

He could hardly have been so sure in 1915, but he did

realize the need to use the most concrete instrument

at his command to make contact with the concrete Chinese

ideograms. Through his facility with sound, Pound was

able to pollinate the Chinese perception of process with

his own perception of process; thus making Cathay, where

it is most successful, a continuum of rhythmic perception.

Alfred North Whitehead, who will play a large part in the

next chapter's discussions, is quite articulate on the

concrete contact that rhythm can effect with life:

This suggests a closer identi-
fication of rhythm as the causal
counterpart of life; namely, that
whenever there is some rhythm there is
some life, only perceptible to us when
the analogies are sufficiently close.
The rhythm is then the life, in the sense
in which it can be said to be included
within nature . The essence of rhythm
is the fusion of sameness and novelty;
so that the whole never loses the
essential unity of the pattern, while
the parts exhibit the contrast arising
from the novelty of their detail.28

It is Whitehead's contention that although rhythm and

life are obviously in contact on a large scale, such

as the cycle of the seasons, the contact extends into

smaller increments as well. It was Pound's genius to

bring this truth into practice by synthesizing the feel

for the concrete harmony and wholeness of nature shown

by the Chinese language and philosophy with the variety

and individual strength of rhythm carried by the spoken

Western verse.

An excellent example of how Pound can bring this

continuum of rhythmic perception into being can be

found in the poem, "Lament of the Frontier Guard." (See

Appendix, p. 187, for a full text of the poem.) As

summarized earlier, the poem concerns the reflections of

a guard at a lonely outpost. As he meditates upon the

was that has caused his outcast state, these significant

lines occur near the center of the poem:

Who has brought the army with drums and with
Barbarous kings.
A gracious spring, turned to blood-ravenous autumn,
A turmoil of wars-men, spread over the middle king-
Three hundred and sixty thousand,
And sorrow, sorrow like rain.
(EPP, p. 133)
In order to fully appraise Pound's method here, it is

instructive to follow Wai-lim Yip and present one of the

original Chinese lines along with a correct literal

translation and the Fenollosa notes that Pound began with:

Ai Q--x-

Literal: principle harmony change killing air
of yang,

Fenollosa: positive mild change kill gas
outside miasma
(= yo
principle of
The mild clear principle turned into
poisonous vapor. Denotes the state
of people at the coming battle.)29

The line that Pound draws out of this tentative accumu-

lation of notes is "A gracious spring, turned to blood-

ravenous autumn." From the standpoint of the Western

rhythms of the translation, the first part of the line

before the caesura is in delicate and "civilized"

ascending rhythm. In the second part of the line, however,

the rhythmic stress is reversed. "Turned to blood-ravenous

autumn" is in descending rhythm colored with back-vowels

that is in direct emotional conflict with the light sound

and rhythm portrayed by the first section of the line.

This pattern of conflict expressed through the verse rhythm

is just as consistently developed in the more general

descriptive activities of the poem as well. The images

of conflicting human emotions combined with an image of

abrupt change in season come together for Yip as an

amazingly accurate poetic rendering of the original


For the word "autumn," which is neither
in the original nor in Fenollosa's notes,
is exactly the thing to which the "air
of killing" refers, and, without Pound's
knowing it, "blood-ravenous" is almost
a perfect translation of the phrase
(killing/air/soak/full) from which the
phrase "killing air" in the original
(Li Ki or The Book of Rites) is taken.
We can, of course, call this an accident,
but what a divine one! The important
thing is, to be exact, that it allows
the two planes of action--natural and
human barbarity--to merge together, as
is true of the original.30

Pound's images are able to merge "two planes of action"

because they accurately participate in the energy

generated by the central process described and narrated

by the poem, which is conflict. This central process is

expressed by images that confirm the same concrete pattern

of energy at different levels of generality. "Spring"

and "autumn" are not simply metaphors for civilized or

barbaric human behavior; they are concrete expansions

of the energy that infuses the process in which both

the humans and the seasons participate. In Pound's

translation of this line from "Lament of the Frontier

Guard," then, the initial conflict between rhythms

appropriate to civilized and passionate feelings expands

to an image of human decency versus human barbarity.

These images of conflict reach their culmination in the

expansion of the central process to encompass the naturally

conflicting characteristics of the seasons in a way harmonic

with the original Chinese inspiration.

As translations, the poems of Cathay are, as a whole,

rarely as accurate as the preceding example. In fact, many

of the translations contain blatant and illiterate inac-

curacies that unsympathetic commentators have been only

too happy to enumerate.1 But, then, one of the most

ingratiating aspects of Cathay is that one does not need

to be a scholar of Chinese to gather pleasure and profit

from its conjunction of rhythm and image. One has only

to share Pound's desire to regain contact with a concrete

and whole world. Those who can share this desire can

understand D. B. Graham's sentiments: "Pound's method

engages the reader's attention; the expository translation

merely tells him what to feel. Literalism of the imagin-

ation, to alter slightly Marianne Moore's famous definition

of poetry, seems to be what Pound is after."32

In Cathay, Pound is able to use the image in a

genuinely ambitious way. Fenollosa's vision of the Chinese

ideogram and the concrete view of the world underlying that

vision show Pound how to develop the relationships between

images along a continuum of perception. Organized in this

way, the images can narrate the formation of this continuum

by expressing the different degrees of intensity and

extension of events that go into the making of the whole

event. Such a narrative technique allows the entire

environment active participation within it. Cities, rivers,

seasons, earth and sky are all potential expressions of the

poem's emotion. These elements of the environment are not

the symbols of an abstract poetry; they are images of a

concrete poetry. Pound makes clear that he has crossed

his Rubicon with regard to the relative merits of symbol

and image with this statement in his Gaudier-Brzeska:

Imagisme is not symbolism. The
symbolist dealt in "association," that
is, in a sort of allusion, almost of
allegory. They degraded the symbol to
the status of a word. They made it a
form of metonymy. One can be grossly
"symbolic," for example, by using the
term "cross" to mean "trial." The
symbolist's symbols have a fixed value,
like numbers in arithmetic, like 1, 2,
and 7. The imagist's images have a variable
significance, like the signs a, b, and x
in algebra.33

For Pound, symbolism seems a stopgap, a means of demon-

strating the shallowness of standardized rhetoric, but with

a decided capacity to become as fixed as any "official"

vocabulary. In Pound's view, the image is the more

appropriate device for narrating the perceptions that are

the raw materials of his concretely poetic world. The

image can register the rhythmic patterns of motion radiating

from the centers of living things. Its continuity, therefore,

is the continuity of living recurrence, not the continuity

of either familiar or enforced association. The image

in Cathay documents a system of relationships that

concretely exist, because everything in a concrete world

is interconnected. This imagistic contact with the inherent

motion of the of the living world in Cathay is evidence

of a far more coordinated attempt at turning outward

towards the emerging perception than Pound had achieved

before. Up to the appearance of Cathay, Pound's successful

use of the image as he envisioned it had been limited to

occasional poems such as "In a Station of the Metro."

In Cathay, however, Pound shows that he has the skill to

see and narrate the relationships between a number of

images. This ability to see living relationships is the

talent that bears such vivid and intricate fruit in

Hugh Selwyn Mauberley and, ultimately, in The Cantos.


Donald Davie, Ezra Pound, Poet as Sculptor (New
York: Oxford University Press, 1964), pp. 168-173.

2Hugh Kenner, The Pound Era (Berkeley, Calif.:
University of California Press, 1971), pp. 145-146,

3Hugh Witemeyer, The Poetry of Ezra Pound, 1908-1920
(Berkeley, Calif.: University of California Press, 1969),
p. 74.

Ezra Pound, Literary Essays (New York: New
Directions, 1968), p. 277.

5For the most complete biographies of Fenollosa, see
Van Wyck Brooks, Fenollosa and His Circle (New York:
Dutton, 1962), and Lawrence Chisolm, Fenollosa, the Far
East and American Culture (New Haven, Conn.: Yale
University Press, 1963).

Kenner, The Pound Era, pp. 197-198 offers the most
authoritative version.

7Ernest Fenollosa, The Chinese Written Character as
a Medium for Poetr ed. Ezra Pound (San Francisco: City
Lights Books, 1969), pp. 4-5.

Fenollosa, pp. 25-26.

9Fenollosa, pp. 8-9.

10Achilles Fang, "Fenollosa and Pound," Harvard
Journal of Asiatic Studies, 20(1957), 222.

l1Pound, Literary Essays, pp. 123-137.

12Pound, Literary Essays, p. 92.

13Pound, Literary Essays, p. 107.

4Donald Davie, Articulate Energy, An Inquiry into
the Syntax of English Poetr (London: Routledge and
Kegan Paul, 1955), PP* 33-42.

15Fang, p. 220.

16Pound, Literary Essays, pp. 270-271.

Pound, Literary Essays, p. 9.

18John W. White, The Verse of Greek Comedy (London:
Macmillan and Co., 1912T, pp. i-xix. White offers some
insights into a Nineteenth century philological contro-
versy concerning the applicability of classical rhythms
to modern verse. It was a controversy that could very
well have been of some interest to Ezra Pound. At the
turn of the Nineteenth century, the German scholars Apel
and Voss attempted to defend Greek verse against charges
that it was "rude and promiscuous" by showing its relevance
to modern verse. In fact, as White describes Apel in his
"Introduction": "He aimed to formulate a system of uni-
versal rhythm, and ominously announces in the preface of
his big book that he intends to pay no attention to
grammarians and "philologians" in his attempt to re-es-
tablish the true rhythms of verse--he will derive his
conclusions directly from the poets, with whom in fact his
acquaintance wasinadequate" (p. xiv). The statement that
White paraphrases from Apel does seem to be congenial with
many of Pound's views, such as the importance of the primary
poetic'text, the unifying power of rhythm, and the distaste
for pedantic philology. Although White does not agree
with Apel's insights or theories, he has to admit that
they are still influential at the beginning of the Twentieth
The formal term for the theory that White documents
Apel as promulgating is the "logaoedic theory of Aeolic
verse." The Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics,
ed. Alex Preminger, et al. (Princeton, N. J.: Princeton
University Press, 1974), p. 460, defines "logaoedic" in the
following way: "Term invented by metricians of Roman
imperial times as a general description of mixed iambic and
anapestic or dactylic and trochaic cola in Greek lyric verse."
White mentions three classical scholars, von Christ, Goodell,
and Shorey, who were publishing articles and monographs
favoring the logaoedic theory immediately before and during

the time that Pound was attending college and graduate
school. Although the evidence for direct influence is
strictly circumstantial, it is still intriguing that
Pound consistently uses a rhythm in Cathay with a
hundred-year background of universal application. This
coincidence is particularly interesting in that Pound's
classical training was probably a factor in the formulation
of the imagist theory that the poet's rhythms should be
based on the musical phrase rather than the metronome.

19Davie, Ezra Pound, Poet as Sculptor, p. 41.

2Ezra Pound, The Classic Anthology Defined by
Confucius (New York: New Directions, 1953), pp. 86-87.

2Wai-lim Yip, Ezra Pound's Cathay (Princeton, N. J.:
Princeton University Press, 1969), pp. 111-113.

22Yip, pp. 114-115.

23Fang, p. 228. In his note 29 to the commentary
on "South-Folk in Cold Country," Fang states, "Here
ends the original, 1915, edition of Cathay. Pound, however,
states: 'I have not come to the end of Ernest Fenollosa's
notes by a long way, nor is it entirely perplexity that
causes me to cease from translation....'"

Chung-ying Cheng, "Model of Causality in Chinese
Thought, a Comparative Study," Philosophy East and West,
26(1976), 12. For a basic discussion of the relevance of
Chinese thought for the West, see Joseph Needham,
Science and Civilization in China (Cambridge: Cambridge
University Press, 1956), II, 279-303. Here Needham gives
his well-known thesis of an alternative tradition of
organically oriented thought in Europe that seems to arise
almost spontaneously with Leibniz's "Monadology" and
culminates in the modern "philosophy of organism" of
Whitehead. Needham offers some circumstantial accounts
of how Leibniz might have felt the force of Chinese thought
through contacts with Jesuit missionaries. ".' .g, in the
notes to his article, refers favorably to Needham's work.

25Yu-lan Fung, A Short History of Chinese Philosophy,
ed. Derk Bodde (New York: Macmillan, 1948), p. 284.

See Hugh Kenner, The Pound Era, pp. 289-298, for
an account of Amy Lowell and Florence Ayscough, who in
their Fir-Flower Tablets did not avoid this temptation.

2Ezra Pound, The Letters of Ezra Pound, 1907-1941,
ed. D. D. Paige (New York: Harcourt, Brace and World,
1950), p. 347.

2Alfred North Whitehead, An Enquiry into the
Principles of Natural KnowledgeTCambridge: Cambridge
University Press, 1919), pp. 197-198.

2Yip, pp. 95, 98.

0yip, p. 99.

31Pen-ti Lee and Donald Murray, "The Quality of
Cathay: Ezra Pound's Early Translations of Chinese
Poems," Literature East and West, 10(1966), 264-277.
Lee and Murray stop short of saying that Pound should
never have attempted Cathay. They do, however, call
for an annotated edition that would point out the
numerous errors and interpolations. No matter what side
one takes in the controversy, though, the authors
provide a very complete summary of the critical and
scholarly work that has been done on Cathay.

32D. B. Graham, "From Chinese to English: Ezra
Pound's 'Separation on the River Kiang,'" Literature
East and West, 13(1969), 190. The majority of this
article is taken up with refuting Lee and Murray's
arguments against this poem.

33Ezra Pound, Gaudier-Brzeska, a Memoir (New York:
New Directions, 1970), pp. 84-85.





Unlike the flamboyant Pound, the personal and

artistic life of Wallace Stevens was the model of

propriety and decorum. He was an intensely private man,

but this privacy was not the product of any ulterior

motive. Rather, the poetry of Wallace Stevens is

poetry generated from a high state of concentration--

a concentration that could only be sustained by isolating

himself from the influx of influences. The poetry of

Stevens is through and through an act of individuation

that conscientiously seeks to unify living processes

with poetic processes.

Two major effects for Stevens' art seem to issue

from this concern for individuality in expression. First

of all, Stevens is able to maintain a very pure form of

masculine assertiveness. His concern is with action,

not reaction. Thus, he does not take pains to engage

in the intellectually reductive game of proving that his

originality is "more original" than someone else's.

Stevens is thereby able to reserve his assertiveness for

his interaction with reality and avoid wasting it on

attitudes toward reality, since these attitudes are

necessarily removed from his main concern. This refusal

to concern himself with his place in a hierarchy of

artistic perception gives a fresh moral dimension to

his creative assertiveness that has given traditional

literary critics, most of whom are moralists at heart,

a great deal of difficulty.

The second major effect of Stevens' focus upon

individuation is that he has been able to positively

examine the possibilities of general perception available

to the modern man who is inextricably within the world.

Given his unflagging assertiveness, Stevens does not

view the modern decay of structures of meaning for

reality to be a reason for lament or escapism. He views

the so-called "predicament of modern man" as an oppor-

tunity, a stimulus for art. Stevens states his position

unequivocally in his 1948 essay, "Effects of Analogy":

there is enough and more than enough to do with

what faces us and concerns us directly and that in poetry

as an art, and, for that matter, in any art, the central

problem is always the problem of reality."I Art, then,

is a matter of "what concerns us directly," it is not

an elaboration upon the given; for in the post-

Newtonian world, there is no "given." One has no ideal

of objectivity from which to spin figurations of

attitude upon a tabula rasa of absolute space. Space has

come alive, and art must come alive in order to make

contact with it. The human no longer has power over

reality. He must meet it as an equal, as an immediate

participant in its changes.


As stated before, Stevens' art moves the morality

of art into a new dimension. By giving reality an actual-

izing power, Stevens puts the physical environment on

the same moral footing as man. Most critics, though,

involved as they are in ordering and labelling human

endeavors, find the ecological implications of Stevens'

careful assertions difficult to deal with, whether they

are inclined to like Stevens' poetry or not. The most

consistent and articulate of Stevens' detractors is

Yvor Winters, whose statement is forthright and

instructive enough to merit an extensive quotation:

The poem as an exercise in just feeling
is an act of moral judgement, as I have
repeatedly indicated; and though all
such judgements must of necessity be
governed by general principles, yet each
particular judgement, since it arises
from an individual relationship between

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