EZRA POUND The Poetics of Money
Ezra Pound translated poetry, a great deal of it. His command of the dozen or so languages from which he worked was not always, perhaps, everything it might have been, yet he remains among the most distinguished of modernist translators. 1 Pound cannot, then, be easily characterized as inimical to translation, and my attempt to do so in what follows might at first seem counterfactual, if not willfully perverse. Indeed, so great was his enthusiasm for translation that, at least in 1915, his utter innocence of the language to be translated in no way impeded his efforts at the same.
From which innocence came, of course, the notorious howlers of Cathay. The River Song," to cite but one example, is a conflation of two poems, the result of Pound's apparent failure to recognize that the discursive title of a second poem was precisely that. Yet in what Pound might have characterized as its proper place, the original context of its appearance, Cathay was remarkable not only for its semantic blunders, its frequently inspired mistranslations, but for the fact that it made reference to anything remotely resembling a source text, semantic content that could in theory be translated. Composition "à la mode chinoise" was widely prevalent in the early days of the vers libre movement; Pound was unique only in having made contact, in however mediated a fashion, with an actual Chinese poem. 2 And even for Pound, the purpose of Cathay was not to transport an oriental "tenor" into an occidental "vehicle" but to renew the resources of the native medium itself, a point that Ernest Fenollosa, from whose notebooks Pound worked, makes explicit: "[T]he purpose of