BK. Ezra Pound

13. ‘The Classical Drama of Japan’ (‘Edited from Ernest Fenollosa’s manuscripts by Ezra Pound’). Quarterly Review 221 (October 1914): 450-77.

  Reprinted with slight emendation in ‘Noh’ or Accomplishment and Translations.  

The second publication of Pound’s work with the nô, largely organised around his version of Fenollosa’s essay on the nô (see 177b), with the plays serving as ‘illustrations’. Along with Nishikigi (8) and Kagekiyo (21a) the work later forms part III of ‘Noh’ or Accomplishment (24). A Guide to Ezra Pound and Ernest Fenollosa’s Classic Noh Theatre of Japan (201) includes helpful ‘notes for readers’, comprehensive glossaries of Japanese names and terms, and transcription of the Fenollosa drafts from the Pound archive at Yale (90a), the versions from which Pound worked. As is apparently true of all of Fenollosa’s nô manuscripts, these had been prepared by Fenollosa with considerable help from Hirata (see especially BL109), relying primarily on the Japanese texts prepared by Ôwada Tateki (see D8). See also 77h.

a. [Pound’s introductory note]. In honorific terms Pound describes what will follow and his role in it: ‘By one of the more unexpected turns of chance there has come into my possession a most interesting and . . . unique set of documents relating to one of the greatest and least-known arts of the world, generally called Noh (accomplishment). These papers consist of notes and lectures by the late Ernest Fenollosa, sometimes Imperial Commissioner of Arts in Tokyo. Professor Fenollosa’s life was one of the romances of scholarship. It might not be too much to say that he saved Japanese art to Japan; he did at least as much as any other single person. So far as possible, I shall print these documents as they stand.’ A footnote refers readers to earlier works on the nô by Dickins (D3), Brinkley (D14), and Stopes (see D23). In private correspondence the previous January Pound had written that ‘earlier attempts to do Japanese in English are dull and ludicrous’ even if ‘the poor scholars have done their bungling best’ (59b), though this was written only after he had solicited and was refused Stopes’s aid with the editing (see 152). As for the assertion that ‘so far as possible’ Pound will ‘print [the] documents as they stand’, his editing, conflation of ideas, omissions, and additions in these and other versions of the nô have been a matter of public record since the 1987 publication of Murakata’s transcriptions of Fenollosa’s manuscripts at Harvard (see 177), and transcriptions of the manuscripts from which Pound worked, now in the Pound archive at Yale (90a), in A Guide in 1994. The most insightful work about the nature of Pound’s editing of these and other nô manuscripts is by Miyake (187, 191, and 192), though see also 112, 117, 132, 142, 144, 153, 167, 169, and 177b.

b. ‘Fenollosa on the Noh’. The manuscript from which Pound worked was a draft of the fifth of seven lectures Fenollosa presented at Washington, D.C. in 1903, describing the historical background and development of the nô—a ‘form of drama, as primitive, as intense, and almost as beautiful as the ancient Greek Drama of Athens’—and emphasising both in the original and in Pound’s edited version that the nô should be of a ‘practical significance and even inspiration for us [in the West], in this weak, transitional period of our . . . poetic life’, for ‘we cannot escape . . . even if we would, a stronger and stronger modification of our established standards by the pungent subtlety of Oriental thought, and the power of the condensed Oriental forms’. Includes summaries of Dojoji, Atsumori, and Nishikigi. See Murakata (177b) for disgruntled notes about the nature of Pound’s emendations to the Fenollosa draft.

c. Kinuta. A wife despairs at her husband’s delay in returning home from the capital, dies in resentment, and the passions of her ghost are expiated. Kinuta is a block of wood upon which cloth is stretched for pounding with a wooden mallet to give it softness, an image here of the woman’s bitterness as she and her maid work the cloth that the husband might hear the sound and return to her. Pound’s version is not among his successful renderings from the nô. Tsukui (167) finds that particular passages demonstrate his ‘excellence as a poet-translator’, but takes five pages to enumerate errors, and Miyake (191) finds this the ‘one important Noh . . . that Pound could not convert’ to his ‘Greek-Egyptian-Dantean Mysteries in Noh’. See also 77e-f.

d. Hagoromo. Pound’s rendering of the story of the celestial spirit who descends to earth from ‘the palace of the moon’ and dances to regain her ‘feather mantle’ (hagoromo) from the mortal who has found it is generally accurate and powerful, in spite of an inexplicable reversion to prose in the most lyrical passage at the end. The work is among the nô that stays with Pound and is incorporated into the complex of The Cantos, in ‘Three Cantos’ I (27a) and cantos LXXIV (56a), LXXIX (56d), LXXX (56e), and CVI (66a). What strikes Pound is the purity of spirit of the tennin, the celestial dancer, who in response to doubts about whether she will perform her dance if the hagoromo is returned speaks the line that for Pound is central: ‘Doubt is of mortals; with us there is no deceit’ (see 56d-e and 85). The hagoromo is returned, and the moon-spirit, ‘for the sorrows of the world’, performs her dance, singing of the mystical interrelation between heaven and earth. Several critics have found the play a source for Yeats’s The Only Jealousy of Emer (see BL14b). Two earlier translations Pound might have known are Noguchi’s prose adaptation in Summer Cloud (D15e2) and Revon’s French in Anthologie de la littérature japonaise (see D21). See Yoshida for discussion of the way images from the work are incorporated into The Cantos (174b and in 201), and for related material see also BJ18, BK17f, 24g, 70a, 76e, 77f, 77h, 82c2, 89a, 135, 137, 141, 173, 179, 185, BL11, 102, 131, 162, 223, and D26b. Reprinted with slight emendations in 21 and 24.





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