mai 14, 2015

Only in rare combination can philologists double as poets, or poets as philologists. The philologist is concerned with excavating expression from a foreign language, the poet with perfecting expression in his own language. The combination that succeeds is then a combination of both. Despite the trumpeting of Fenollosa to announce a new visual interpretation of Chinese poetry, there is no evidence that he ever followed his own call. The poems in Cathay, translated by Pound «from the notes of the late Ernest Fenollosa, and the decipherings of the Professors Mori and Ariga» (1915), are given a conventional interpretation. The first excursion by Pound alone is to be found in the translation of «The Great Digest» (1928, Edwards No. 36), where three pages of «Terminology» explore the possibilities of pictorial analysis divorced from accepted meaning. The results are exciting and unreal. In «The Unwobbling Pivot» (1947) a certain amount of this analysis continues, but in the «Analects» (1950) it is barely discernible. Those who take the trouble to compare this with Legge’s translation (1861) will find that Pound has in large measure taken over philologist Legge and dressed up the English that was sadly unpoetic. In «The Classic Anthology» (1954) the English of Pound has loosed itself completely from any Chinese mooring. And in the Rock-Drill Cantos (1956), particularly no.85., the Chinese has become a decoration with no intelligible meaning.

To elaborate on the foregoing statements would require more space than can be allowed at present. For anyone who grants that Chinese is a language, elaboration is unnecessary. Chinese poetry, like any other, is to be sung, chanted, whispered, recited, muttered, but not (God forbid!) to be deciphered. The association of ideas that results from the dissection of a given character may produce a poetic thought. But this is a new thought, and it may completely overshadow the thought that was in the mind of the writer. In the «Terminology» prefaced to Pound’s translation of «The Great Digest» a Chinese character meaning ‘sincerity’ is analyzed as «the precise definition of the word, pictorially the sun’s lance coming to rest on the precise spot verbally.» This is sheer imagination in the style of Edward Lear. What is «the sun’s lance»? Even if there were an etymological basis for this fantasy, to use it in translation would be comparable to a Chinese insistence on always rendering the English word ‘sincerity’, as «a state of being without wax.» The first line of the Analects reads, «Having studied something, constantly to practice it, is this not a joy?» Pound has «Study with the seasons winging past, is not this pleasant?» «Seasons» is impossible. The thought of «winging past» comes by isolation of a portion of the character meaning «practice». Six sentences later the same character occurs, and Pound translates it «practice». Either the thought of «winging past» failed to materialize, or it was found impossible to work it into the context. But this represents a totally irresponsible attitude toward the Chinese language. When it suits the translator’s whim, he may construct any number of bright images from the bits that he thinks he has discovered in the character. When he is tired, he falls back on the simple word that the character symbolizes.

The character in this case is pronounced shyi, southern China ziq, time of Confucius zip. If there is a language, then zip has always had a specific meaning, not necessarily the same, since language grows. But this meaning cannot be found by theorizing, any more than one might determine that «minimum» means «milk» because it begins and ends in m. All Chinese literature we have, including the Analects, indicates that zip means, and has always meant, «practice». In the Analects zip occurs three times, twice in association with ‘learn’. The repeated idea is that learning is fruitless unless one puts it into practice. Pound sacrifices this rather important precept for the sake of a pastoral where the seasons go winging by. Undoubtedly this is fine poetry. Undoubtedly it is bad translation. Pound has the practice, but not the learning. He is to be saluted as a poet, but not as a translator.

George A. Kennedy, «Fenollosa, Pound and the Chinese Character»