LIFE-POWERED POETRY: THE NARRATION
OF PERCEPTUAL PROCESSES IN THE
EARLY POETRY OF EZRA POUND
AND WALLACE STEVENS
BRUCE GLADDEN NIMS
A DISSERTATION PRESENTED TO THE GRADUATE COUNCIL
OF THE UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA
IN PARTIAL FULFILLMENT OF THE REQUIREMENTS FOR THE
DEGREE OF DOCTOR OF PHILOSOPHY
UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA
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
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.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS . . . . . . .
ABSTRACT . . . . . . . . .
INTRODUCTION . . . . . . . .
NOTES . . . . . . . . .
CHAPTER ONE . . . . . . . .
EZRA POUND, WALLACE STEVENS AND
THE PROBLEM OF PERCEPTION
NOTES . . . . . . . .
CHAPTER TWO . . . . . . . .
POUND AND LIVING SPACE: THE RHYTHM OF
IMAGES IN CATHAY
NOTES . . . . . . . . .
CHAPTER THREE . . ...
STEVENS AND LIVING SPACE: IMAGINATION
AND REALITY IN HARMONIUM
NOTES . . . . . . . . .
CHAPTER FOUR . . . . . . . .
POUND'S HUGH SELWYN MAUBERLEY AND
STEVENS' "THE COMEDIAN AS THE LETTER C":
THE CONSEQUENCE OF THE NARRATIVE PERSONA
NOTES . . . . . . . . .
APPENDIX . . . . . . . . .
WORKS CITED . . . . . . . . .
BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH . . . . . . .
. . 42
. . 85
. . 89
. . .133
. . .136
. . .182
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
LIFE-POWERED POETRY: THE NARRATION
OF PERCEPTUAL PROCESSES IN THE
EARLY POETRY OF EZRA POUND
AND WALLACE STEVENS
BRUCE GLADDEN NIMS
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
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
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
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
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),
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)
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.
EZRA POUND, WALLACE STEVENS AND
THE PROBLEM OF PERCEPTION
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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-
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.
POUND AND LIVING TIME: THE RHYTHM OF IMAGES
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:
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
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
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
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,
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
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
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
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
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
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
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:
Literal: principle harmony change killing air
Fenollosa: positive mild change kill gas
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
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),
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
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.
STEVENS AND LIVING SPACE:
IMAGINATION AND REALITY
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