In conformance with my own literary tastes, this poem is decidedly romantic, but not, please note, Romantic...
(Poem #70) The River-Merchant's Wife: A Letter
While my hair was still cut straight across my forehead I played about the front gate, pulling flowers. You came by on bamboo stilts, playing horse, You walked about my seat, playing with blue plums. And we went on living in the village of Chokan: Two small people, without dislike or suspicion. At fourteen I married My Lord you. I never laughed, being bashful. Lowering my head, I looked at the wall. Called to, a thousand times, I never looked back. At fifteen I stopped scowling, I desired my dust to be mingled with yours Forever and forever and forever. Why should I climb the lookout? At sixteen you departed, You went into far Ku-to-en, by the river of swirling eddies, And you have been gone five months. The monkeys make sorrowful noise overhead. You dragged your feet when you went out. By the gate now, the moss is grown, the different mosses, Too deep to clear them away! The leaves fall early this autumn, in wind. The paired butterflies are already yellow with August Over the grass in the West garden; They hurt me. I grow older. If you are coming down through the narrows of the river Kiang, Please let me know beforehand, And I will come out to meet you As far as Cho-fo-Sa.
[Biography] Ezra Pound (1885-1972) Variant Name(s): Ezra Weston Loomis Pound (full name); William Atheling (pseudonym); The Poet of Titchfield Street (pseudonym); Alfred Venison (pseudonym) Pound was born in Hailey, Idaho, in 1885, and raised in Philadelphia, the son of Homer Loomis Pound and Isabel Weston Pound. He made his first visits to Europe with his family in 1898 and 1902. He attended the Cheltenham Military Academy when he was twelve and soon after attended the Cheltenham Township High School. Just before his sixteenth birthday Pound entered the University of Pennsylvania, and in 1903 he transferred to Hamilton College, receiving his bachelor's degree in 1905. He taught Romance languages at Wabash College in Indiana for a short time in 1907, but was dismissed after a scandal involving a stranded actress that he allowed to stay overnight with him in his room. After this and a failed courtship with Mary S. Moore, Pound decided to leave for Europe, where he privately published his first volume of poetry, 'A lume spento', in Venice in 1908. He then moved to London and by 1911 was immersed in the literary and intellectual milieu and was a respected critic and poet. Around this time Pound founded a poetic movement called Imagism, which linked techniques derived from the Symbolist movement and Oriental poetry, such as haiku. Pound spent much of his time concerned with promoting the careers of many of the great writers of the time and was a key figure in the publication of many influential works, including Ernest Hemingway's 'In Our Time', and T. S. Eliot's 'The Waste Land'. In 1921 Pound moved to Paris and from there to Rapallo, Italy, in 1924. In Italy Pound endorsed the Fascist government of Benito Mussolini and declared his political and anti-semitic beliefs in a series of radio broadcasts during World War II. After the war Pound was arrested by American allies and charged with treason. He was found mentally incapable to stand trial and was committed to St. Elizabeth's Hospital in Washington D.C. in 1946. Upon his release in 1958 he returned to Italy. He died in Venice in 1972 and is buried in San Michele Cemetery on the island of San Giorgio Maggiore. [Overview of the poem] 'The River-Merchant's Wife: A Letter' was published in 1915 in Ezra Pound's third collection of poetry, Cathay: Translations, which contains versions of Chinese poems composed from the sixteen notebooks of Ernest Fenollosa, a scholar of Chinese literature. Pound called the poems in English which resulted from the Fenollosa manuscripts "translations," but as such they are held in contempt by most scholars of Chinese language and literature. However, they have been acclaimed as "poetry" for their clarity and elegance. They are variously referred to as "translations," "interpretations," "paraphrases," and "adaptations." Pound's study of the Fenollosa manuscripts led to his preoccupation with the Chinese ideogram (a written symbol for an idea or object) as a medium for poetry. In fact, he realized that Chinese poets had long been aware of the image as the fundamental principle for poetic composition that he himself was beginning to formulate. Pound further maintained that the poetic image did not lose anything in translation between languages nor was it bound by time, but effectively communicated through time and across cultures, accruing meaning in the process. 'The River-Merchant's Wife: A Letter', for example, communicates with depth and poignance the human experience of sorrow at separation, the human experience of love. Working with the literary traditions of other cultures was typical not only of Pound, but of most of his contemporaries, who were not convinced that the only culture of value was European. However, Pound's work has significance not only for its cross- cultural innovations, but for the "cross-chronological" breakthrough notion that the human response to the world links us all, so that an American in the twentieth century can share and learn from the human experience of an eighth century Chinese river-merchant's wife. [Construction] This translation, 'The River-Merchant's Wife: A Letter', is structured into 5 stanzas: the first of 6 lines, and the second, third, and fourth of 4 lines each. Each of the first four stanzas is image-centered, focusing an emotional point in the history of the relationship between the river-merchant's wife and her husband. The final stanza of 10 lines and a dropped half-line begins with the presentation of a similar central image that collects an enhancing detail in each line until line 25 shifts into direct emotional statement. The last four lines mix this direct letter-writing style with the final image closing the physical and emotional distance between the river-merchant and his wife.It was Pound's belief that the pictorial quality of the Chinese ideogram, in its "closeness to the thing itself," had the capacity for raising the mundane to the poetic. Likewise, Pound's ear for the music of conversational speech raised natural speech rhythms to the level of poetry. In this poem he expertly combines these to create a sense of the conversational naturalness of letter-writing with the focused, direct, and simple presentation of image inspired by the Chinese ideograms in which the poem was originally written. Pound's insistence on the centrality of image to poetry is in great part responsible for the varied line lengths of this poem written in unrhymed free verse. While each of the first four stanzas concentrates on one image, the individual lines themselves are as long as Pound needs them to be to focus each component of the central image of the stanza in the mind of the reader. This technique is termed end-stopped lines, meaning that a complete idea is expressed in a line, with no spillover into the next line. However, the use of capital letters at the beginnings of each line is a signal that it is the lines of poetry , rather than the sentence constructions, that are the basic units of meaning.The poet employs direct address throughout the poem, taking on the persona of the wife as the "I" who is writing the letter and thus entering her experience. This use of the first-person "I" also makes it possible for the reader of the poem to enter her experience. In addition, the direct address to the second-person "you" allows the poem also to be experienced as if it is a letter to the reader. [Criticism] American critic and poet T. S. Eliot has called Pound "the inventor of Chinese poetry" for the twentieth century. Nevertheless, he sees Cathay: Translations, containing the much anthologized poem 'The River-Merchant's Wife: A Letter', as more than intelligent literary archaeology of poems from eighth century China. It establishes Pound's particular literary genius "for expressing himself through historical masks" that would become the hallmark of his later major work, the Cantos. It is Eliot's critical assessment, furthermore, that the value of Pound's work in this collection is the clarity with which he presents his perception that "the present is no more than the present significance of the past." In fact, Eliot maintains that Pound's translations of ancient Chinese poetry are decidedly Modernist because they affirm the universality of human experience through time and across cultures.Eliot grants that while Pound's style in these translations might not reflect that of the Chinese originals, his poetic concern for image provides an effective means for "transporting the content" of the original picture-making Chinese ideograms. Thus the value of these poems is not as Chinese translations, but as a stage in the development of Pound's poetic concerns from his original concepts of "luminous detail" and "Imagism," through "vortex" and "haiku" and "metaphor," and ultimately to the "ideogrammatic composition" of his Cantos. Pound is not generally viewed as especially gifted in composing his own original poems, but the accusation of Chinese language scholars that he mistranslates the poems of this volume is brushed aside by such critics of poetry as Hugh Kenner, who is perfectly willing to read them as "Pound's interpretative paraphrases that are informed by his own concerns and background." It is Michael Alexander's estimation that these poems have been "underrated" as mere translations, rather than appreciated for their highly disciplined free verse. Indeed, as William Pratt has noted, "the relatively pure images of Cathay ... seem less and less like translations and more and more like original poems." William Van O'Connor suggests that Pound's "translations" have a song-like quality, which he notes especially in 'The River-Merchant's Wife: A Letter'. In this poem Pound's belief that poetry always had and always should reflect the conversational speech of its day combines with his intensive study of musical forms to achieve the composition of lyrical natural lines toward the development of the convincing voice of the poem's persona. M. L. Rosenthal and Sally M. Gall acknowledge the "rhythmic successes" of such poems as 'The River-Merchant's Wife: A Letter' as responsible for a move away from dramatic presentation of character and monologue toward "what the poem before us is creating." It is their contention that these poems go beyond "Imagism" and "phanopoeia" ("the casting of images upon the visual imagination"), engendering a progression of centered images in a sequence, or pattern, of human thought and emotion.Accordingly, David E. Ward postulates that the guiding principle of Pound's theory is a belief in a shared poetic tradition that allows full expression of the emotional patterns of human experience and response. 'The River-Merchant's Wife: A Letter' is an eloquent manifestation of this principle. My own two bits? Heartbreakingly beautiful and poignant; there's nothing more I can say. thomas.