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Pound and Translation
In 1913, Pound was given several notebooks of writings and translations by the late sinologist Ernest Fenollosa. The work he did on this material proved to be a watershed not only in his own translating projects but set a course for modern poetry; as Eliot later noted, “each generation must translate for itself.” His versions of Fenollosa’s Chinese poems, published as Cathay in 1915, “altered the feel of the language and set the pattern of cadence for modern verse,” as George Steiner has said. Chinese was to inform Pound’s translations and writing for the rest of his career, from the many passages in the Cantos to his work on the Confucian Anthology. His stewardship of Fenollosa’s essay “The Chinese Written Character as a Medium for Poetry” also proved extremely influential.
Pound was immersed in his early school years in the study of languages, and one of his first published works of prose was The Spirit of Romance (1910), a study of medieval literature, which contained some of his first attempts at translations of the lyrics of the troubadours. He continued to study and work on troubadour lyrics for years, and also the works of Dante’s contemporary, Guido Cavalcanti.
Hugh Kenner wrote in The Pound Era that Pound “came to think of translation as a model for the poetic act: blood brought to ghosts.” Kenner later notes, “translation… after Ezra Pound, aims neither at dim ritual nor at lexicographic lockstep, but at seeming transparency, the vigors of the great original… not remote but at touching distance, though only to be touched with the help of all that we know.”
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