BK. Ezra Pound


59. The Letters of Ezra Pound, 1907-1941. Edited by D. D. Paige. 1950. Reprinted as Selected Letters of Ezra Pound, 1907-1941. New York: New Directions, 1971.

In addition to the letters noted includes others to Kitasono (all of which plus others appear in 82), one to Hartmann, numerous further references to Fenollosa, and comments about Pound’s relation with Aiken, Aldington, Binyon, Bynner, Dulac (see BL12), Eliot, Ficke, Fletcher, Flint, Lowell, and Yeats (see index).

a. To William Carlos Williams, 19 December 1913. Includes the earliest mention of the Fenollosa manuscripts in Pound’s published writing: ‘I am very placid and happy and busy. Dorothy is learning Chinese. I’ve all old Fenollosa’s treasures in mss.’

b. To Harriet Monroe, 31 January 1914. The letter sent to the editor of Poetry along with the manuscript of NISHIKIGI (8), which Pound writes ‘will give us some reason for existing’. He describes the mixture of verse and prose in the nô and explains that he has resorted to prose ‘where the feet are rather uniform’. He believes that Monroe will agree with him ‘that this Japanese find is about the best bit of luck we’ve had since the starting of the magazine’, and describes his efforts and those that have come before: ‘I don’t put the work under the category of translation. . . . It could scarcely have come before now. . . . Earlier attempts to do Japanese in English are dull and ludicrous. That you needn’t mention . . . [when the play appears in Poetry], as the poor scholars have done their bungling best. One cannot commend the results. The best plan is to say nothing about it. This present stuff ranks as re-creation.’ The letter concludes with Pound’s remark that Yeats is ‘also very keen on’ the nô.

c. To Monroe, 28 March 1914. Monroe had apparently written to Pound asking if publication of NISHIKIGI might be postponed, but he writes to her here that ‘the Fenollosa play can’t wait’ and should appear ‘with the Yeats stuff in May’, which it did (see 8).

d. To Kate Buss, 9 March 1916. Pound announces the publication of Certain Noble Plays (21) and notes that ‘Yeats is making [a] new start on the foundation of these Noh dramas’; Pound himself is ‘bother[ing] a good deal about the production of Yeats’s new play’. At the Hawk’s Well (BL12) was first performed twenty-four days later, on 2 April. For notes about Pound’s ‘bothering’ see the letters to his parents in 81, and Yeats’s to Lady Gregory in BL20.

e. To John Quinn, 10 January 1917. Pound has sent Fenollosa’s ‘Essay on the Chinese Written Character’ (32), ‘one of the most important essays of our time’ and ‘basic for all aesthetics’, to Seven Arts, but doubts it will ‘cut much ice’ there. He closes the letter with lines about China and Japan: ‘China is fundamental, Japan is not. Japan is a special interest, like Provence, or 12-13th century Italy (apart from Dante). I don’t mean to say there aren’t interesting things in Fenollosa’s Japanese stuff (or fine things, like the end of Kagekiyo [21a], which is, I think, “Homeric”). But China is solid.’ Regarding Pound’s sense that KAGEKIYO is ‘Homeric’, see 28, 45b, 53, and 76e. The letter appears also in 86.

f. To John Quinn, 4 June 1918. Pound expresses doubts about his work with the nô: ‘I find Noh [24] unsatisfactory. I daresay it’s all that could be done with the material. I don’t believe anyone else will come along to do a better book on Noh, save for encyclopaedizing the subject. And I admit there are beautiful bits in it. But it’s all too damn soft. . . . I think I am justified in having spent the time I did on it, but not much more than that.’ For evidence that Pound later changed his assessment of the ‘softness’ of the nô, see, for example, 49, 56, and 72. The passage quoted here appears also in 86, but in that volume is placed as part of the letter of 3 April 1918.

g. To Glenn Hughes, 9 November 1927. Pound thanks Hughes for a collection of Japanese poetry in translation, and inquires about whether a Mr. Iwasaki knows anything about the nô, since Pound wonders if his own work with the nô (24) might be revised by a Japanese who would know enough to make the work ‘copper-bottomed and . . . correct in every way’. Pound believes that ‘Fenollosa did a lot that ought not to be lost’, but Pound himself ‘had not the philological competence necessary for an ultimate version’. As it was published his work with the nô was ‘scattered fragments left by a dead man, edited by a man ignorant of Japanese’, so that ‘any sonvbitch who knows a little Nipponese can jump on it and say his flatfooted renderings are a safer guide to the style of that country’. Waley’s Nô Plays of Japan, it might be noted, had appeared in 1921, and included comment not altogether favourable about Pound’s versions (see D26b). The book Hughes had sent to Pound eliciting these comments would have been Three Women Poets of Modern Japan, translated by Hughes and Iwasaki Yôzan (Seattle: University of Washington Book Store, 1927), which included work by Yosano Akiko, Yanagiwara Akiko, and Kujo Takeko.

h. To Kitasono, 24 May 1936. Pound notes that Kume (Ap) had helped him with ‘obscure passages’ during his work with Fenollosa’s nô manuscripts, and that he ‘might have come to Tokio’ had Kume lived. One of Pound’s present goals, he writes, is to ‘contrive a better understanding between the U.S.A. and Japan’, but he advises Kitasono ‘not [to] run away with the idea’ that he knows enough to read Japanese, for he ‘can do more than spell out ideograms very slowly with a dictionary’; his work with the nô had been possible only because he had Fenollosa’s notes ‘and the results of what [Fenollosa] had learned from Umewaka Minoru, Dr. Mori [Kainan], [and] Dr. Ariga [Nagao]’ (see 15), but since Kume died in the Tokyo earthquake of 1923, Pound has ‘had no one to . . . fill up the enormous gaps’ of his ‘ignorance’.

i. To W. H. D. Rouse, 30 October 1937. Pound writes that he will ‘have to go [to the] East some time’ (see also 82b2, 82e1, 84, and 176f), and mentions that he has received a copy of the Confucian Odes from ‘a very bright lad’ in Tokyo who ‘runs a better literary magazine than the Occident is now providing or at least wider awake’. The ‘bright lad’ would be Kitasono, the literary magazine, VOU (see 46). Reprinted in 82.





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