26 June 2009

Ezra Pound's Canto XLIX

Although Ezra Pound and T. S. Eliot are universally acclaimed as two of the world's greatest poets, their mixing of languages does not seem to have started a trend in poetry-writing. Pound trusted that his readers would appreciate at least the sounds of the foreign words, if not their meanings.

Take these two stanzas from "Canto XLIX: For the Seven Lakes":

State by creating riches shd. thereby get into debt?
This is infamy; this is Geryon.
This canal goes still to TenShi
Though the old king built it for pleasure


Blogger Ben Kilpela, writing about Pound in general, observes:

"Actually, it has become a common expectation that the poet be obscure. This is a leading reason, I think, poetry has receded so far as an influential form of literature in our time. People just don’t have time to figure out what purpose modern poems have, and if and when they do figure one out, it seldom adds up to much beyond a vague, disordered expression of the poet’s state of mind."

This particular poem is "obscure" only if the reader does not know Japanese (I don't, so it is indeed "obscure" for me). A bilingual (Japanese & English) reader would most likely find the poem to be clear. This is one reason we need multilingual literary critics. We want to be able to understand every line of this poem (widely considered one of Pound's best), not just to enjoy the sounds of the words or letters. Multilingual literary critics can do poets a great favor, by making poetry again accessible (as it was in the old days) to everyone.

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