More Asian Importations in Yeats,
Eliot and Pound
For nearly two millennia European culture was governed by two traditions, the Biblical and the classical, always, if grudgingly, allowing a third to flourish, openly or secretly, at its margins. Sometimes the third tradition was exotic, as in the case of the Egyptian (Isis was worshipped as far north as Trier, as late as 800 A.D. at Marseilles). Sometimes it merely amalgamated the dominant traditions, as in the case of the neoplatonic. Sometimes it combined one of them with an occult element, as in the case of the Rosicrucian. Latterly the third tradition has aspired to originality and comprehensiveness, in the seemingly endless series of movements that we denominate Romanticism, Realism, Naturalism, Symbolism, and so forth.
These movements, though often discussed as though they were secular, are in fact religious. The desuetude of Christianity in the eighteenth century and the decay of classical learning in the nineteenth bring about the disappearance, first of the Judeo-Christian, then of the Greek and Roman pantheons. Since no substantial divinities have yet arrived to replace them, the modern movements have found it impossible to institutionalize themselves for more than a few generations. Explorations in search of a new god, however, continue, and expeditions into oriental culture have for the past two centuries proven the most long-lived of such ventures. If the eighteenth century represents the germinating, and the nineteenth, the sprouting, then the twentieth represents the flourishing of this new third tradition.
Much attention has been given to these three phases in England and America: to the seminal work of early orientalists like Sir William Jones; to the cultivation of the Orient in the work of Emerson, Thoreau and Whitman; to its subsequent exfoliation. Studies of twentieth-century poetry have dealt in some detail with its continuing influence, beginning about mid-century with the successive waves of Buddhist transplantation, for example. What has not been so carefully considered is the Asiatic element in Anglo-American poetry of the first half of the century. The case of Ezra Pound has received considerable attention, but he has been regarded for the most part as an anomaly rather than as part of a general trend.
In this essay I shall take up the cosmopolitan Yeats, Eliot and Pound, in whom a conscious and deliberate process of orientalization is at work; in the essay that follows, I shall take up the more provincial Stevens, Williams and Frost, in whom the process by comparison is intuitive and random. As well as limiting the number of figures under study, I have chosen to consider altogether only four Asiatic elements: the Vedantic, the Buddhist, the Confucian and the Daoist.
In one sense Yeats, Pound and Eliot, so closely associated, all but by arrangement divide among themselves the three traditions, Eliot taking the Biblical (Christian); Pound, the classical; and Yeats, by virtue both of his vacillation between those two and of his early embrace of the occult, the third. In another sense, however, all three poets vie with one another in synthesizing the three traditions. We might in fact say that this process of judging the cultural traditions constitutes the unifying theme of their work in verse and prose. It may be the probity of their judgments, rather than any overwhelming poetic excellence, that for later generations has proven such an obstacle in succeeding them.
In 1895 William Butler Yeats, at the age of thirty, published his Collected Poems, divided its slim but carefully considered contents into two sections, “Crossways” and “The Rose,” and thereby suggested the superimposition of rose on cross found in Rosicrucian imagery. In so doing he established a model both for the syncretism of the Modernists and for his own characteristic vacillation. The rose of his second title stands, among other things, for primitive Ireland (dark Rosaleen), the cross in his first title, for the modern Catholic dispensation. His difficulty in choosing between traditions came to fullest expression in the late poem “Vacillation,” where the rhetorical question “What theme had Homer but original sin?” reflects not only Yeats’s powers of synthesis but also his indecisiveness in the face of a choice between two major traditions. Made discontent by his own vacillation he sought, from beginning to end, a third tradition, first in the mystical and the primitive, later in the exotic. Never coming to rest in any single tradition, he succumbed, so to speak, by providing an heroic epitaph for the Christian grave that he finally occupied in Drumcliff Churchyard.
Nor was it only in conservative old age that this latter-day Milton summarized the values of the two major traditions. The heroic theme permeates Yeats’s work from the earliest “Wanderings of Oisin” (1889), whose structure is modeled on the Odyssey’s; to the emerging interest in that Irish Achilles, Cuchulain; through the poems of explicitly Homeric content; and on to the stoic spirit off his last years. In speaking of his earliest intentions he writes, “I wanted, if my ignorance permitted, to get back to Homer, to those that fed at his table,” the last words imitating those of a classical Athenian dramatist. The Christian element in his work is most characteristically merged with a second tradition, as in its late marriage, in Purgatory, with the classical Oedipal theme, but it also receives remarkably pure expression in the life and work, perhaps nowhere more clearly than in the naming of his daughter for the mother of the Virgin and his son for the patron saint of the Church Militant. Both births, moreover, received commemoration in the form of poetic prayers.
I have mentioned Milton, but it was to Shakespeare, whom the Irish poet praised for his variety and multiplicity, and more especially to one of his creatures, Hamlet, that Yeats in his indecisiveness was indebted. Curiously Hamlet occurs twice in juxtaposition with the Buddha. In a section of the Autobiography first published in 1914 Yeats describes a reproduction of a portrait over his mantle piece depicting his most influential poetic mentor, William Morris:
It is ‘the fool of fairy . . . wide and wild as a hill,’ the resolute European image that yet half remembers Buddha’s motionless meditation, and has no trait in common with the wavering, lean image of hungry speculation, that cannot but because of certain famous Hamlets of our stage fill the mind’s eye.
Hamlet, who later recurs as an unsatisfactory alternative to the Buddha in “The Statues,” we might regard as an image of the heroic weakened by Christianity. (In The Trembling of the Veil, Part IV, “The Tragic Scene” Yeats had asked, in relation to certain Christian poets he had known, “Why are these strange souls born everywhere today? With hearts that Christianity, as shaped by history, cannot satisfy.”) The Buddha, then, for Yeats represented an alternative to Christ, one strengthened by his association with the primitive figure of fairy, seen as persisting through reincarnation, recalled for the moment as a ghost hovering in the meditative visage of Morris.
Having identified the oriental alternative to a tortured Christian humanism, Yeats still cannot choose it. After he has loaned to a friend his copies of Esoteric Buddhism and Renan’s Life of Christ, the friend, the poet tells us (again in his Autobiography), proceeded to offer himself to the Theosophical Society as a chela, “vexed now,” says Yeats, “by my lack of zeal, for I had stayed somewhere between the books, held there perhaps by my father’s skepticism.” On still another occasion, and as it often does in A Vision, Yeats’s indecisiveness took the form of an inclusive range of reference. In a passage from Estrangement, “Extracts from a Diary Kept in 1909,” the poet discusses his newly instituted mode of self-documentation:
To keep these notes natural and useful to me I must keep one note from leading on to another, that I may not surrender myself to literature. Every note must come as a casual thought, then it will be my life. Neither Christ nor Buddha nor Socrates wrote a book, for to do that is to exchange life for a logical process.
The Buddha, placed out of chronological order between the Greek and Christian martyrs, is in fact the only one of the three for whose words we have no certain quotation. By comparison with the father of western logic and the god whose word defines the Way, he might further be said to represent the only valid example of what Yeats wished to illustrate.
Sometimes a Buddhistic feeling made its presence felt, as in Yeats’s desire, expressed in “Byzantium,” to escape from “all complexities of mire or blood,” a parallel for the release (moksha) from the world of suffering (samsara) that we find in Buddhist doctrine; typically, though, and again in accord with another Buddhist tradition, one that equates the ultimate peace (nirvana) with that very world of suffering, Yeats could represent his final wisdom, in “The Circus Animals’ Desertion,” for example, as an acceptance of the “foul rag-and-bone shop of the heart.” A more explicit example, however, of the Buddha’s importance in the poet’s work is to be found in “The Statues.” Though he principally treats the relationship of modern Ireland to ancient Greece, Yeats, in a not altogether necessary third stanza, here goes out of his way to acknowledge the Buddhist vision, giving it preference over his version of medieval Christianity. In the second stanza, speaking in a quasi-historical way, he has the Greece of Phidias reject “all Asiatic vague immensities,” a gesture that we might read as Yeats’s own rejection of his earlier infatuation with Hindu doctrine, were it not for our knowledge that in old age he returned to the sources of Indian philosophy, helping to translate a selection of the Upanishads. How, we might wonder, did the Irish poet come to this interest in Vedantic thought, which preceded his recorded interest in the Buddha?
“Was the Bhagavad Gita the ‘scenario’ from which the gospels were made?” he muses in the 1909 diary. Although Hindu thought predated Christian, Yeats insisted that his own “vague speculations” had preceded those of the Hindu thought that he encountered at the age of twenty, when Mohini Chatterjee visited Dublin. Yeats himself, as a member of the newly-organized Blavatsky Lodge, was instrumental in making the arrangements: “We persuaded a Brahmin philosopher to come from London,” he writes in the Autobiography. “It was my first meeting with a philosophy that confirmed my vague speculations and seemed at once logical and boundless.” Again a synthetic spirit is at work, as Yeats seeks to resolve the philosophical character of Greek thought with the infinitude of the Biblical divinity but finds that resolution only within the terms of in an exotic tradition.
Although it has never been clear who it was that first stimulated the Irish poet’s interest in Hindu thought, an important influence must have been his philosophical mentor, Madame Blavatsky, whose encyclopedic works are rife with Vedantic reference. The Autobiography, if only indirectly, intimates several other such stimuli. “I sometimes wonder what he would have been,” says Yeats of his friend, the poet A. E. Russell,
had he not met in early life the poetry of Emerson and Walt Whitman . . . and those translations of the Upanishads, which it is so much harder to study by the sinking flame of Indian tradition than by the servicable lamp of Emerson and Whitman.
Earlier Yeats had spoken of an “ambition, formed in Sligo in my teens, of living in imitation of Thoreau on Innisfree.” The American naturalist had himself been inspired by Hindu asceticism. The emphasis on the names of two other American predecessors suggests Yeats’s debt to them as well for the transmission of the Indian tradition. Finally, the very opening pages of the Autobiography, which record his earliest recollections, include a description of the dining room in the house of his maternal grandfather, William Pollexfen, an influential figure in the poet’s early development. The passage concludes by enumerating “a jar of water from the Jordan for the baptizing of his children and Chinese pictures from rice-paper and an ivory walking-stick from India that came to me after his death.” In the midst of this survey of three generations and three traditions we are given a vicarious glimpse of what may have been Yeats’s first impression of China.
Unlike three early poems on Indian subjects that are more atmospheric than philosophical (even the subsequent “Mohini Chatterjee,” like “A Dialogue of Self and Soul,” does not treat very seriously the idea of reincarnation, so central to Yeats’s mature thought), the late oriental poems, especially those with Chinese subjects, are among his most thoughtful meditations. Unlike Auden, however, who gathered impressions of China first hand, Yeats traveled in imagination only. And unlike the evidence that we have of the poet’s contact with Hindu philosophy, a rather uncharacteristic Confucian epigraph, inspired perhaps by the sustained contact that he had recently had with Ezra Pound, graces the 1914 collection Responsibilities. Otherwise Yeats’s China is predominantly Daoist, or more generalized. By the latter I mean that China represents for him a philosophical view and a civilization seen broadly as alternatives to those of the West.
For the demise of western civilization is a major theme of the late poems, which intermittently suggest its reconstruction in the Orient. “Lapis Lazuli” is here the principal text. As has often been noted, the crucial terms on which Yeats’s argument turns are “tragedy” and “gaiety.” What has not been so clearly seen is the way in which the ensemble of poems that opens this last volume orchestrates that opposition. In the famous work based upon a carving in lapis lazuli presented to him by Harry Clifton, Yeats meditates upon the decline of the West on the eve of the second World War, predicting not only its ruin but its reconstruction: “All things fall and are built again.” The questions that we naturally ask are when, where, and by whom? To which the next line gives the clue: “And those that build them again are gay.” Those who are “gay,” for Yeats, are not those who turn away from tragedy, but those of philosophical temper whose vision incorporates and transcends it. Such are the “Chinamen” who, at the end of the poem, having climbed the hill, stare back on “the tragic scene,” and whose eyes, in the last word of the poem, are described as “gay.” At which point, by a backward motion, those figures of philosophical fortitude, Lear and Hamlet, who had also been described in unlikely terms as “gay,” are now drawn into the compass. Readers of the poem have sometimes been led, perhaps by Yeats’s description of their eyes as “ancient,” to regard the Chinese figures (who at any rate are graven in an old piece of stone) as belonging to the past. But the figures for Yeats are very much alive in the present. At this point we should have the whole text of the closing lines before us:
Two Chinamen, behind them a third,
Are carved in lapis lazuli,
Over them flies a long-legged bird,
A symbol of longevity;
The third, doubtless a serving-man,
Carries a musical instrument.
Every discoloration of the stone,
Every accidental crack or dent,
Seems a water-course or an avalanche
Or lofty slope where it still snows
Though doubtless plum or cherry-branch
Sweetens the little half-way house
Those Chinamen climb towards, and I
Delight to imagine them seated there;
There, on all the tragic scene they stare.
One asks for mournful melodies;
Accomplished fingers begin to play.
Their eyes mid many wrinkles, their eyes,
Their ancient, glittering eyes, are gay.
The crucial turn in the passage occurs seven lines from the end, as the poet shifts his attention from the scene represented before them to his own extension of it. For it is Yeats who enables the Chinamen to complete their journey, to arrive at the half-way house, and to gaze upon “the tragic scene” that he himself had earlier conjured up. Music is called for, and, in a significant phrase, “Fingers begin to play.” The scene occurs in the future, the accomplishment of an ancient civilization hopefully transposed by Yeats’s synchronic, syncretistic imagination.
Nor does Yeats’s orientalism here conform to the western stereotype of hermetism. By contrast with the solitary Hamlet and Lear the Daoist scholars with their serving-man are engaged in a sociable party, not a solitary retreat. By contrast with the destruction of civilization represented throughout the first half of the poem, their activity represents its perpetuation. The sense of historical progression in “Lapis Lazuli” finds its counterpart too in “Nineteen Hundred and Nineteen,” interestingly enough in Yeats’s other most important “Chinese” passage:
When Loie Fuller’s Chinese dancers
A shining web, a floating ribbon of cloth,
It seemed that a dragon of air
Had fallen among dancers, had whirled them round
Or hurried them off on its own furious path;
So the Platonic Year
Whirls out the new right and wrong,
Whirls in the old instead . . .
Yeats’s figure of the dragon combines its destructive western with its restorative Chinese powers. There is, moreover, a double movement in the last three lines, for the new right and the new wrong are both replaced by their older counterparts.
I have suggested that our reading of “Lapis Lazuli” will gain by considering its immediate context in Last Poems, where it follows “The Gyres,” with which Yeats opens the volume, and precedes a poem titled “Imitated from the Japanese,” done from a prose translation of a hokku. The opening stanza of “The Gyres,” Yeats’s last treatment of the figure that schematizes the double movement of his cycles, further identifies the poet’s point of view with that of the Chinamen in “Lapis Lazuli”:
The gyres! The gyres! Old Rocky Face, look
Things thought too long can be no longer thought,
For beauty dies of beauty, worth of worth,
And ancient lineaments are blotted out.
Irrational streams of blood are staining earth;
Empedocles has thrown all things about;
Hector is dead and there’s a light in Troy;
We that look on but laugh in tragic joy.
The joy of the Chinamen, reflected in their “glittering eyes,” “gay” in the face of the “tragic,” is like the mood of those who laugh in “tragic joy.” That “joy” is not to be understood in its customary sense Yeats makes clear by contrasting its use here with its use in the poem that follows “Lapis Lazuli” (“Seventy years have I lived,” says its speaker, “and never have I danced for joy”). The gaiety, then, of the ancient Chinese view, with which Yeats has identified his own (for he himself now joins the company of those “poets who are always gay”), is neither comic nor joyful but rather profoundly resigned.
Yeats’s on-going argument, however, does not end here, and we would misrepresent his final view if we characterized it as oriental. In a poem titled “Sweet Dancer,” which immediately follows “Imitated from the Japanese,” a solitary girl gone mad in her own dance suggests, if indirectly, that the gaiety of the Chinamen is not, for the Westerner, a plausible solution within his cultural context. The lines from “The Gyres” quoted above, where new replaces old, also contradict the motion of history reported in “Nineteen Hundred and Nineteen,” where the old had replaced the new. Yeats’s fully cyclical view implies a continual reversal of all things. Nonetheless, two final examples should be noted in support of his sympathy for the Orient and his sense of the new course that civilization is taking.
In the twelfth of the “Supernatural Songs” he had represented civilization as “brought under a rule . . . by manifold illusion”; “man’s life,” the poet says, “is thought”; he “cannot cease ravening” through history “that he may come into the desolation of reality.” After which the following lines occur:
Egypt and Greece, good-bye, and good-by
Hermits upon Mt. Meru or Everest
Caverned in night under the drifted snow . . .
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . know
That day brings round the night, that before dawn
His glory and his monuments are gone.
A more balanced and complete version of the cycles, this fanciful vision nonetheless clearly dismisses the West, explicitly in terms of the three traditions that we have spoken of. Once again the poet represents in sympathetic terms the vantage point of the Oriental who views from a mountainside the tragedy of history.
By 1939, the year following the composition of “Lapis Lazuli,” and the last of his life, Yeats’s thoughts had apparently turned away from the Orient. He continues, however, to worry the theme of western civilization’s decline (“Gyres run on,” he says in “Upon Ben Bulben,” his last poem; “When the greater dream had gone . . . confusion fell upon our thought.” “Long-Legged Fly,” also dating from that year, represents a ray of hope “That civilization may not sink, / Its great battle lost.” To that end the poet recommends shutting the door to the chapel housing Michelangelo’s fresco of Adam and Eve and suggests that the auditor “move gently” if he wishes to recall the glory of Helen of Troy, now greatly fallen in stature. The refrain, repeated with variations for Helen and Michelangelo, is in the first stanza given to “our master Caesar,” who is seen
in the tent
Where the maps are spread,
His eyes fixed upon nothing,
A hand under his head.
Like a long-legged fly upon the stream
His mind moves upon silence.
Like the rest of the poem, the stanza may be read in purely western terms, but, as we shall see in dealing with other Modernist poets, the use of the term “nothing” in their work often represents a poetic shorthand for those philosophies of No-knowledge (wu zhi 無知) and Actionless Action (wu wei 無為) which many Westerners regard as characteristic of eastern thought. Here the mind moving upon silence suggests as well the quietude (ji jing 寂靜) of Buddhist doctrine. Though the oriental alternative is not so explicitly established as in other examples that I have discussed, nevertheless Yeats clearly indicates that our Caesar, like Helen of Troy and Michelangelo, must reform his practice. Or, to generalize further, the poet once more proscribes the central classical and Biblical myths and substitutes for them an orientalized posture in the interests of the continuation of civilization.
If we turn next to T. S. Eliot, it is not to give him precedence over his senior, Ezra Pound, but to treat in order three poets progressively devoted to an orientalization of their work. So different from that father’s studio in which Yeats received his early education, and where oriental things must have had no great importance, the Harvard of the first decades of this century, where Eliot went as an undergraduate and to which he returned to study Sanscrit and Pali along with western idealist philosophy, was a hotbed of comparatist thought and oriental studies. Perhaps for this very reason the young poet is at pains to exclude from his early poetry any oriental reference. But the impact of his education makes itself strikingly felt in the major poems of his middle and late periods.
Unlike Yeats, who always absorbs his sources then to project and criticize them in his own voice, Eliot in The Waste Land prefers the method that Pound had already adopted of naked quotation, though he seasons it by translating most of his oriental materials into English, paraphrasing them and, through a process of juxtaposition and allusion, assimilating them to his western materials, some of which he offers in the original, some again in translation. This at least is how he treats Augustine’s Confessions and the Buddha’s Fire Sermon at the close of Section III, which takes as its title the one ascribed to the Buddha’s original address. This last point is worth reflecting on, since the first three section titles all represent quotations, the first from the Anglican service, “The Burial of the Dead,” the second, “The Game of Chess,” from a work of secular literature. The fourth and fifth titles, “Death by Water” and “What the Thunder Said” do not quote other titles but make reference, as Eliot’s notes inform us, to the occult Tarot deck and the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad. Since the note to line 218 states that the “substance of the poem” is “what Tiresias sees,” Eliot’s intention would seem to be an embrace of Biblical, classical, occult, Buddhist and Hindu traditions. It is interesting to note, in the light of Yeats’s and Pound’s contemporary work, that there is no Chinese element in the poem.
By contrast with Yeats’s full, modulated, philosophical discourse, the spare lines in which Eliot offers what he calls his “collocation” of “eastern and western asceticism” may strike us as rather brittle and inconclusive:
To Carthage then I came
Burning burning burning burning
O Lord Thou pluckest me out
O Lord Thou pluckest
The “poetry” of Eliot’s work, however, consists not only of the source materials and their juxtaposition but of their mediation by the presiding critical voice of the notes. Eliot’s lines themselves also mediate our contact with their sources in Augustine and the Buddhist tradition, for though the first and third lines quote (and the fourth in part repeats) Augustine, they do so only in translation and in a most fragmentary way. The remaining two lines, with their single repeated word, merely allude to the Fire Sermon. A passage from that text, in the translation of Henry Clarke Warren, to which Eliot makes reference, indicates another aspect of the poet’s artistry:
Perceiving this, O priests, the learned and noted disciple conceives an aversion for the eye, conceives an aversion for forms, conceives an aversion for eye-consciousness, conceives an aversion for the impressions received by the eye. . . . And in conceiving this aversion, he becomes divested of passion, and by the absence of passion he becomes free, and when he is free he becomes aware that he is free; and he knows that rebirth is exhausted, that he has lived the holy life, that he has done what it behooved him to do, and that he is no more for this world.
It is a passage to which Eliot, both in his reference to its provenance (complete with mention of the “Harvard Oriental Series”) and in his encomium, both of Mr. Warren and the Buddha, earnestly directs our attention. Without much exaggeration, then, we might call it a part of the poem, especially since we have nothing else in the text, aside from the section title and the note itself, that refers to the Buddha.
How, then, does the passage function in relation to the lines that we have quoted? Though it is relevant to the whole third section, it relates more particularly to the lines immediately preceding those that we have quoted, ones which describe the modern Thames, which introduce Elizabeth and Leicester (only to superimpose images of a modern sexual encounter), and which end with another voice. Because it mentions Margate, where Eliot wrote part of the poem, this voice merges with the poet’s own. We have, then, a progression in the poem parallel with that in the passage from the Sermon whereby “the disciple conceives an aversion for the impressions received by the eye” and whereby “he becomes divested of passion”: (“after the event” the poem’s seducer weeps, promising “‘a new start’”). Following two transitional lines Eliot, in the evocation of Augustine, represents another figure who has “lived the holy life,” “who has done what it behooved him to do,” who is “no more for this world.” Not only is Augustine thereby merged with the Buddha (the poet has placed the Augustine lines between lines that allude to the Fire sermon, and vice versa), but both are merged with an Eliot-like voice. Might we not now read Eliot’s note as meaning that in Augustine he has found a western equivalent of the Buddha, and vice versa? The Eliot-like voice at Margate, several lines before, had said, “I can connect nothing with nothing,” words which may refer both to Eliot’s state of nervous exhaustion at the time of composition and to the connection that, as poet, he is about to draw between Augustine’s and the Buddha’s acts of renunciation.
The third section ends with the single word “burning,” whose image is gathered up at the end of the poem into the line that Eliot quotes from Dante: “Poi s’ascose nel foco che gli affina” (then he hid himself in the fire which refines them). In the Purgatorio these words had described the conclusion of a scene in which the soul of Arnaut Daniel pleads with Dante, asking his friend to bear witness to his suffering. It is, incidentally, this same sufferer whom Dante had characterized as “il miglior fabbro,” a phrase that Eliot uses in dedicating the poem to Pound.
So much, at any rate, for the poem’s Buddhist element. Two notes to its fifth section refer the reader to Eliot’s Hindu sources. The first, to line 402, reads in part: “‘Datta, dayadhvam, damyata’ (Give, sympathize, control)” and refers us to the Upanishad already mentioned. The second note, to the poem’s last line, reads: “Shantih. Repeated as here, a formal ending to an Upanishad. ‘The Peace which passeth understanding’ is our equivalent to this word.” As in the passage at the end of the third section, the poet again is interested in collocating eastern and western religious traditions. The first example is the less obvious of the two.
Eliot accurately summarizes for us the themes of the first part of the fifth section as “the journey to Emmaus, the approach to the Chapel Perilous . . . and the present decay of eastern Europe.” The first two of these are Biblical: in line 375, “Jerusalem Athens Alexandria,” Eliot expands his subject by reference to classical and perhaps to Egyptian tradition as well. At line 396, with the mention of Ganga — the modern Ganges River — he turns to India. The three Sanscrit words, quoted in the note as though they formed a single phrase, are in fact culled from his source and even in the poem are first parceled out in the text as introductory to three verse paragraphs. Only in the next-to-last line of the poem are they gathered together. The important point is that Eliot has reversed the order in which the words occur in the Upanishad, whereby (in translation) they would read: control, sympathize, give. Why has he done so? Though no conclusive answer can be offered, there are two possible explanations, both of which may be valid: (1) the reversal creates a more Christian order of values and thereby Christianizes Hindu doctrine, and (2) it suggests a return to origins, a movement in keeping with the general endeavor of the poem.
Whatever Eliot’s intentions may have been, the repetition of those three words in the penultimate line, along with the closing (“Shantih shantih shantih”) incontestably gives the poem a Sanscrit conclusion. Since he himself has drawn our attention to the customary function of those last three words in Hindu tradition, we may well interpret him as suggesting that The Waste Land itself be read as an Upanishad, a word which in Sanscrit means holy text. As Eliot in 1927 coyly remarked, “The poem turns out more positive than we used to think.”
I do not propose to discuss in any detail the whole of Four Quartets, their blend of the oriental and occidental traditions having been frequently remarked upon. Many of the techniques that we have observed in The Waste Land have been extended and refined in the later poem. The universalization sought by the poet in the earlier work is in one sense more fully achieved here. At the same time, Eliot’s conversion to Christianity, a process completed in 1927, colors the poem and shifts its predisposition from one of neutrality to one of parti pris. A quotation contemporary with its composition (1937) expresses the new spirit: “The division between those who accept and those who deny Christian revelation, I take to be the most profound difference between human beings.” What is sometimes perceived, then, as the ecumenical tendency of Four Quartets should not be overemphasized.
This, however, is not to deny the technical skill with which Eliot now absorbs into his own ruminations those elements of Hindu tradition that he had earlier presented among his “fragments.” Section III of “The Dry Salvages,” beginning “I sometimes wonder if that is what Krishna meant,” is perhaps his best effort at such absorption. At any rate it constitutes his most concerted exposition of Vedantic doctrine. Careful examination of the whole passage reveals the extent to which, despite his use of “quotation” (again the source has been translated, then paraphrased), Eliot has dissolved Vedantic thought in his own and vice versa. Even Heraclitus, quoted in the original at the outset of “Burnt Norton,” is now made to undergo the same process of modification and absorption. As in The Waste Land, scenes of contemporary reality interrupt a meditation woven of generalization, image and paraphrase, only to be reinterrupted in turn by the latter.
And on the deck of the drumming liner
Watching the furrow that widens behind you,
You shall not think “the past is finished”
Or “the future is before us.”
At nightfall, in the rigging and the aerial,
Is a voice descanting (though not to the ear,
The murmuring shell of time, and not in any language) . . .
Whereupon follows an evocation of Krishna, into which Eliot weaves, as well as Vedantic ideas, the imagery of Buddhist tradition (“Here between the hither and the farther shore . . .”). Finally, after such elaborate preparation, the text of the Bhagavad Gita is finally quoted (albeit still in translation) —
“on whatever sphere of being
The mind of a man may be intent
At the time of death”
— only to be quickly reabsorbed into the envelope of Eliot’s imaginative evocation. As a recreation, or “imitation” of the great Hindu text, the passage ranks with the translation by Eliot’s master, Sir Edwin Arnold, whose Light of Asia, a versified history of the Buddha, Eliot had also absorbed. That the modern poet does not, however, accept with any equanimity the Hindu or Buddhist dispensation is suggested by Eliot’s parting allusion to the tradition later in “The Dry Salvages,” where he mentions “distress of nations and perplexity . . . on the shores of Asia” as well as “in the Edgware Road.” For Eliot Krishna has had his day; the return to the Anglican fold is imminent.
(If my teaching’s not accepted, I’ll take a raft and float off on the sea.)
Ezra Pound’s relationship to the Orient is a much larger subject. As with Eliot and the Hindu tradition, much will be foreshortened and simplified here. As with Yeats and Japan, much will be omitted. The central point, however, can be made without exaggeration: that Pound conceived of the Cantos as Confucian. Moreover, quibble as we may, his conception is essentially correct. Chinese ideas, however misunderstood, traduced or unchinese in their application — or, contrariwise, however clearly grasped, trenchantly modernized and brilliantly applied — constitute an essential matrix of his thought and esthetic practice. As with much in Pound’s life and work, there may be no general agreement, but let us consider the evidence.
The Chinese element enters Pound’s oeuvre by three principal modes of appropriation. The first involves direct sources, which he variously quotes, translates, paraphrases, or otherwise subsumes. The second involves models — such as the ideogram, or the analect — more generalized than the sources, products partly of those sources, partly of his own imagination. The third involves those attitudes which epitomize the cultural values, either as expressed in Pound’s sources and the traditions of commentary or as abstracted from them by the poet and his western compeers. It is often the practical use of these materials, rather than a misunderstanding of them, that irritates the curatorial scholar.
For Pound was a programmatic evangelist, devoted to technical innovation, moral reform, and the radical criticism of western civilization. In all three areas Chinese sources and models were instrumental. “To break the pentameter,” he says, “that was the first heave.” To this end various sources contributed, including the nineteenth-century French vers libre and the Anglo-Saxon alliterative half-line, but also the model, as we have defined it, of Chinese poetry (one that ignores the rigors of character count, pitch and stress patterns, regular caesura and end rhyme in favor of its so-called “ideogrammic” qualities — grammatical sparseness, an “imagistic” tendency, the actual use of ideograms, whose visual component Pound was misled into overestimating). The second “heave,” we might say, was to break up the well-developed paragraph, that building-block of discursive western prose. Unlike the first heave, which Pound frequently discussed, the second he merely exemplified in his letters and critical prose, which progressively introduce conversational diction, fragmentary syntax and a journalistic paragraph of one or two sentences. This whole development might be seen as culminating in the essay on Aristotle’s Nichomachean Ethics, where colloquial annotation substituted for excursus as critical procedure. That essay also illustrates a third object of attack, western philosophical abstraction. Here the Confucian analect — or more broadly, the Chinese tradition of gnomic wisdom — contributed a model of brevity and concreteness whose function for Pound’s prose may have been analogous to the model of the ideogram for his poetry. The ideogram — the model extended into the ideogrammic method — then served as model for a fourth attack, whose object is the continuous, coherent structure of the long poem in western tradition. The theory of the ideogram — as enunciated by Fenellosa and elaborated by Pound — served in turn as model for a new theory of poetry (“For Ars Poetica,” says Pound in a letter of 1935, “get my last edtn of Fenellosa’s ‘Chinese Written Character,’ vide my introduction”). Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the responsibility of Confucianism served for Pound as corrective to what he regarded as the irresponsibility of Greek and Christian thought, a natural consequence of their tendency toward transcendence. The embrace of Confucianism enabled him to cross the line between moral philosophy and religion — as vague for Pound as it is for most Chinese — so that as early as 1922 “the writings of Confucius,” along with Ovid’s Metamorphoses, became for the poet “the only safe guides in religion.”
The central figure in all this was the Sage himself, and here it might be well to summarize Pound’s views, as expressed in prose, of the man and his philosophy. Pound first mentioned Confucius in a letter of 1917, proposing to Margaret Anderson that he write an essay on the subject for The Little Review. The first text of the Confucian classics that he translated was the Da Xue 大學, which he calls The Great Digest (1928); next he translated the Zhong Yong 中庸, which he calls The Unwobbling Pivot (1947); finally, in 1950, he translated The Analects (論語). This last work he then epitomized in a seven-page “Digest,” with which he introduced the Guide to Kulchur. Confucius, at first seen as an alternative to western, especially Greek, thought, gradually evolved to become the center of Pound’s own classical Chinese world view until he finally metamorphosed, as in the following, quasi-mystical metaphor, into a universal original: “From Kung to Mencius a century, and to St. Ambrose another six or so hundred years, and a thousand years to St. Antonio, and they are as parts of one pattern, as wood of a single tree.” Confucius, as in Chinese tradition, had been sanctified.
Pound’s penchant for pitting Chinese thought against its Greek counterpart, however, had been facilitated precisely by his early relinquishment of Christianity. Though Dante’s humanist, catholic vision remained a powerful influence to the end, Pound unequivocally denounced Old Testament culture: “Nothing cd. be less civil, or more hostile to any degree of polite civilization than the tribal records of the Hebrews.” In so doing he rejected Protestant Christianity: “The revival of these barbarous texts in the time of Luther and Calvin has been an almost unmitigated curse to the occident.” Unlike Yeats and Eliot, then, who sublimated their Christianity later to express it sympathetically, Pound freed himself early on to address the classical by itself, which he embraced in the form of Homer and rejected in the form of Greek philosophy, as embodied in Aristotle and Plato.
In this he preferred the practicality of Confucius to their idealism: “not even a half-masted tyrant wd. give Plato a ten acre lot whereon to try out his republic.” He preferred the method of the Analects for its direct address of problems, regarding Greek philosophy as “befuddling itself with the false dilemma: Aristotle OR Plato, as if there were no other roads to serenity.” He preferred the concrete ethical basis of Chinese thought to the abstract theoretical nature of western thought. Aristotle, he says, “was interested in mind not in morals” and as a consequence promulgated “an amoral tradition.” In the whole of western philosophy, Pound found “an unconscious” agreement to avoid moral discussion, one, he says, “which wd. be inconceivable in the Ta Hio [大學], in the steadfast Mean [中庸], or in the Analects.” “Kung (Confucius),” he pronounces, “we receive as wisdom. The greek philosophers have been served up as highbrows.” Even the injunction “Know thyself” he regards as “glib,” the Great Learning representing by contrast “an examination with a clear purpose.”
Thinking of ancient Greece as the object of Renaissance emulation, Pound predicted that “this century may find a new Greece in China.” Gradually ancient China came to replace ancient Greece as Pound’s paideia. A late revision of his many reading lists mentions “the FOUR BOOKS” (四書) first, “HOMER: Odyssey” second, “The Greek TRAGEDIANS” third and “DIVINA COMMEDIA” fourth, in a list of seven titles. Thus what began as the new third tradition finally becomes for Pound his first, the Homeric-Attic and Christian-Humanist filling out the triad. The Confucian classics, Pound explains, “contain answers to all problems of conduct that can arise. A man who really understands them,” he adds, “may regard the other six components of this list as amenities rather than necessities.”
Another, more general justification, clarifies his stand: “Rightly or wrongly we feel that Confucius offers a way of life, an Anschauung or disposition toward nature and man and a system for dealing with both.” Though his unspoken theme is still the superiority of Chinese to Greek thought — expressed, ironically, in terms drawn mostly from the latter tradition — he is edging toward a Sinocentric view. With the composition of the Chinese history cantos the balance shifted toward China. Confucius had become not so much an alternative to Aristotle as a source for the definition of culture, which for Pound has become Chinese. In one of the radio broadcasts that he made during World War II his language and thought would take their most Chinese coloration: “Kung,” he says, “is to China as water to fishes [cp. 如魚得水]. Meaning Confucius, the Confucian doctrine is the true habitat of the son of Heaven [天子] , and from the Emperor down to the common people, the duty or root is ONE [cp. 自天子以至於庶人，壹是皆已修身為本]. Chinese thought had been reduced to Confucian thought (Pound had always rejected the Taoist and Buddhist elements), which was now seen as the source of political stability and positive change. “Whenever and wherever order has been set up in China,” says the poet in a kind of gloss to the Chinese history cantos, “whenever there has been a notable reform or constructive national action, you find a group of Confucians ‘behind it,’ or ‘at the center.’”
In Guide to Kulchur, at the end of the chapter titled “Kung,” Pound says of Confucius’ thought, “it is root volition branching out.” An earlier chapter begins, “Ideas are true as they go into action.” In “Canti,” he says, “There is no mystery about the Cantos, they are the tale of the tribe.” Pound’s poem, in other words, applies Confucian thought to the history of mankind. To say, however, there is “no mystery” in this is not to say that all is immediately apparent. In a passage from Canto CXVI, one that James Laughlin appended to Pound’s original version of Selected Cantos, the poet says notoriously, “I cannot make it cohere.” Make what cohere? we must ask. Later, on the same page, Pound draws a useful distinction:
i.e. it coheres all right
even if my notes do not cohere
The cosmos coheres even if the Cantos do not. They refer, that is to say, to another world, one in which “it” all “coheres.” Therefore the poem, though it seems to be epic — and Pound so conceived it at first — is in fact visionary. Like Eliot, Joyce and others in his tradition, Pound never escaped Dante, remaining — despite his apparent apostasy — deeply Christian, in his zeal and martyrdom, but also in his vision. That he recognized the vestiges of this belief is suggested in a letter to W. H. D. Rouse of 1935 on the subject of the latter’s translation of the Odyssey: “Possibly you are Greek enough to take complete cynicism as part of my divine equipment and that I am so Xtian that a lying god tickles my funny bone.” The final movement of the Cantos is, after all, a paradiso, as Pound had planned it from the start. But a paradiso with a difference, one in which the godhead is played, if not by Confucius, at least by the Confucian logos, its theme, as the ninety-ninth canto has it,
Our SAGE FOREBEAR examined to
An exegesis of the Cantos is not possible here, nor even a complete discussion of their Confucian element. I propose instead: first, to consider those cantos most devoted to Confucius in relation to Pound’s prose accounts of Confucian principles; second, to weigh this oriental element against the classical and the Christian. As text I shall take the Selected Cantos, drawn up by Pound in 1966, by which time the poet had completed most of the writing and, more significantly, had identified himself with the Confucian point of view.
The final selection of twenty-four cantos (and parts thereof) draws attention to the Homeric analogy. “And then went down to the ship” begins the poem, the abridged version of which ends, “You in the dinghy (piccioletta) astern there!” In between, images of water, as we shall see, serve to unify its themes. Thus the Odyssean sea of Canto I gives way in Canto IV to a variety of watery forms, as the European narrative mode is replaced by “a thin film of images” connecting Greek and oriental (mostly Japanese) materials. Canto IX introduces the Christian (“JHesus,” an emblem of the Church’s power and magnificence) in the form of the Odyssean Sigismundo Malatesta, as Homeric, oriental and modern are united in the parenthetical line “and we sent men to the Silk War.”
The canto that follows, XIII, along with two later selections devoted to expounding Confucian ideas, might best be introduced by returning momentarily to Pound’s “Digest of the Analects,” the most compact but complete prose summary of Confucius that he offers. I have reduced the poet’s digest in turn to twelve principles, retaining the order in which Pound presents them. The first is to admit ignorance (the ground of the scholar-poet’s quest). The second, to use correct terminology (Pound once thought of placing the ideograms zheng ming 正名 on the cover of the collected Cantos). The third is zhi 止, moderation. The fourth and fifth are ren 仁 and zhi ren 知人, in Pound’s version, “Humanity? Is to love men” (仁者人也知者知人也). The sixth is timeliness (“the lord of a feudal kingdom shd not demand work of his people save at convenient and/or suitable time” 使民以時), a principle broadly applied in the Cantos.
The seventh, eighth and ninth are included in the following quotation: “Duty in the home, deference among all men. Affection among all men and attachment in particular to persons of virtu (or virtue).” “Duty” here translates and combines xiao 孝 and qi jia齊家, the Confucian principles of filiality and order in the home (from which order elsewhere proceeds). “Deference” translate ti悌, brotherly deference, but applies it outside the home as well. “Affection” repeats ren 仁, benevolence, the central Confucian principle, and “attachment . . . to persons of . . . virtue” translates 見賢思齊 (when you see someone virtuous emulate him). “Seek friends among equals” translates the principle 無友不如己者. The eleventh, “I am pro-Tcheou (in politics) . . . . They examined their predecessors” refers us to another passage in Confucius (周監於二代，郁郁呼文哉！吾從周), which Pound then generalizes, “(The full text being: they examined the civilization and history of the Dynasties which preceded them),” thereby expounding his own method as well as that of Confucius and the Zhou dynasty before him. The twelfth principle consists of “The six words, and the six becloudings (六言六蔽),” those things that suffer “without the love of learning,” or, in the anonymous translation that Pound uses, the love “of being benevolent” (仁), “of learning” (知), “of being sincere” (信), “of straightforwardness” (直), “of boldness” (勇), and “of firmness”(剛).
The “Digest,” as a summary of Confucian principles, is, like the Analects themselves, vivaciously unsystematic. Moreover, Pound is deliberately tendentious, drawing attention to his own aims and even seeking Confucius’ support for his current economic views. Principles absent or underemphasized include zhong 忠, loyalty, shu 恕, compassion, li 禮, the rites, chun zi 君子, the conduct of the gentleman, and the wang dao 王道, or governance of kings.
Confucian principles omitted at one point in Pound’s work, however, are often introduced at another, a practice that should warn the student against attributing to the poet an incomplete knowledge of his subject. Thus in Canto XIII, published much earlier than the “Digest,” we already have passages bearing on the governance of kings (the prince represented as patron of learning and the arts), on the conduct of the gentleman, on the principle of loyalty (in examples drawn from the Master’s own life). Having earlier introduced Italian Renaissance materials, Pound is in this canto at pains to distinguish the Confucian from the Christian view (Kung “said nothing of ‘life after death’”); in the canto that follows, XIV, he has Calvin in hell and Augustine “gazing toward the invisible.” The idyllic quality of the first Confucian canto may be classical; at any rate this “moral backbone” of the poem, as Pound termed it, deemphasizes the austerity of the Master’s ethical vision in order to emphasize its felicity. Though Pound’s exposition is remarkably complete, we might note the omission of such central concepts as ren 仁 and shu 恕.
The first page of the canto translates a passage from the Analects in which several disciples propose exemplary activities. When asked who is right, Confucius replies, “They have all answered correctly / That is to say, each in his nature.” The last phrase paraphrases Pound’s source (亦各言其志也已矣!), in which Confucius says, more literally, that each speaks according to his goal or interest. Pound’s deliberate choice of “nature” here is significant, for in so translating he not only draws into his compass another Confucian principle (xing 性) but establishes one term of a polarity important in the poem. For Canto XLV, that chant in exorcism of usura, concludes with the emphatic statement of its evil principle: “CONTRA NATURAM.” By a process of conflation, then, the civilized oriental celebration of the natural is contrasted with the occidental perpetuation of the unnatural, a perversion which in Pound’s view extends from the misuse of money to all manner of “sin against nature.”
One of the intervening cantos, from a group indexed as “Jefferson — Nuevo Mundo,” offers the first example of the western Confucian ruler. Canto XXXI opens with Jefferson writing to Washington on the subject of “water communication,” specifically the need for a canal to connect the eastern and western United States. Pound probably has in mind the analogous activity of Yu 禹, the Xia dynasty emperor whose policy of flood control is legendary. He next quotes Jefferson in correspondence with Thomas Paine, instigator of the American Revolution. Jefferson speaks of the pamphleteer’s “wish to get a passage to this country / in a public vessel,” and assures him that arrangements have been made that will also “accommodate you / with passage back.” Again we have a modern reprise of a legend, Paine’s outward voyage in the service of principle, and his return, echoing those of Odysseus. In such a way the canto establishes two parallels with American experience, one Chinese, one Greek — all within the rubric of the governance of kings (or presidents).
Cantos LII and LIII form a pair, the first devoted to the mythic world of ancient China as reflected principally in Lu Shi’s Spring and Autumn Annals (呂氏春秋), the second to the historical world of China from earliest times to the death of Confucius. In his arrangement Pound places Canto XLV, “With Usura,” twelfth, thereby closing out the first half of Selected Cantos; the thirteenth, Canto LII, is the first in which Pound himself assumes the voice of Chinese wisdom (“Know then:” it opens). Canto LIII is, like most of the Chinese history cantos, a long-winded mélange of Confucian principles, mythic fragments and historical anecdotes. The early emperors are introduced in ideogram, as is the principle “MAKE IT NEW,” quoted from the inscription that appeared on the bathtub of the emperor Tang 湯. Pound’s source, from which he takes the last four characters, reads 苟日新，又日新，日日新 (if you make something new today, make it new tomorrow, make it new every day).
Canto LIII and the passage that follows it, from Canto LXII, also form a pair, as Pound suggests in his index: “Chinese Cantos — John Adams.” Both concern the principle of wang dao 王道, LIIII choosing its examples from early Chinese history, LXII, from the early history of the American Republic; both likewise concern the lives of active men of wisdom, LIII taking Confucius, LXII, John Adams as exemplary. In the Chinese canto Pound punctuates his historical sketch and thumbnail biography with the ideograms Zhou 周 (the name of the dynasty), Zhong Ni 仲尼 (another name for Confucius) and Zhou 周again. In this he may be reflecting a pattern in one of the Analects quoted above in the summary of the “Digest,” where Confucius’ words begin and end with the character Zhou (周). Against these origins the poet, in Selected Cantos, directly juxtaposes “Mr. A,” our first “Confucian” president. Though Pound’s attitude is hardly reverential (“we may take it . . . he was the Prime snot in ALL American history”), he nonetheless dubs him “pater patriae,” an appellation usually reserved for George Washington. In praising his “fairness” (cp. zheng 正), “honesty” (cp. cheng 誠), and “straight moving” (cp. zhi 直), he refers to qualities all discussed in the Analects.
The two examples that Pound selected from the Pisan Cantos (Laughlin adds another passage) show the poet first recombining elements from his three principal traditions, then assimilating elements previously excluded. Canto LXXXI opens, “Zeus lies in Ceres’ bosom / Taishan is attended of loves / under Cythera,” an image that searches Chinese tradition for a myth comparable in antiquity and religious power to those of archaic Greece, one it then enfolds within a Greek matrix. In direct juxtaposition to his images of ancient religions the poet then quotes a modern Spaniard to the effect that Catholicism has lost its religious power. And yet a change in Pound’s exclusive mentality is imminent. With a reference to Kuan Yin 觀音, an early Chinese divinity who absorbed the boddhisattva avalokiteshvara (“Light as the branch of Kuanon”), he admits the Buddhist tradition. The canto concludes, in one of his few sympathetic references to the Old Testament, with a passage whose refrain, “Pull down vanity,” is now famous. Another Hebraic reference appears in the following polyglot passage from Canto LXXXIV:
quand vos venetz al som de l’escalina
These are distinctions in clarity
ming2 明 these are distinctions
John Adams, the Brothers Adam
There is our norm of spirit
our chung1 中
The first four lines combine Christian, classical and oriental sources in images of mystical attainment, ethical hierarchy and philosophical clarity (the ming2 明” derived from the Great Learning’s doctrine of clarity, “大學之道在明明德,” where the last four characters may be translated, “in understanding of the clear virtue/nature,” the latter endowed from heaven). The next three lines bring American, Hebrew (and by implication, Christian) materials into relation with Chinese doctrine, so that by a kind of modernized typology John Adams becomes the antitype of Confucius as well as the second Adam (Pound’s earlier encomium had said, he “saved us”). Whereas earlier in the canto Pound had used three languages (Renaissance Latin, English and Chinese) in the phrase “humanitas (manhood) / or jên2” to indicate the interchangeability of principles, in this quotation he intends an intercultural ideogram whose “radicals” are drawn from all his major traditions.
“Our general notion of Confucius,” he says in the Guide to Kulchur, “has perhaps failed to include a great sensibility.” The passage excerpted from Canto LXXXV begins “LING2 零,” sensibility. “Our dynasty,” Pound adds in the voice of Yi Yin 伊尹, the Shang statesman, “came in because of a great sensibility.” Two western counterparts to this Confucian ruler, Elizabeth I of England and Cleopatra, make their appearances, the former translating Ovid (that guide to religion), the latter writing of currency (Pound’s gauge of civilization). The passage selected from Canto CVIII introduces “ELIZABETH,” transformed by Pound, after Renaissance precedent, into a principle of love, “Angliae amor.” The name of the Elizabethan jurist Coke is juxtaposed in a later line with the “Iong Ching” 庸經, thereby connecting English law with the Confucian classics. The passage flickers to a close with another allusion to the Emperor Yu. In Canto XCV Pound then frames the words of Confucius with two lines in his late mystical mode:
That the crystal wave mount to flood surge
The light there almost solid.
The theme of flux, frequently expressed through water imagery, gives way at the moment of luminous stability to the theme of permanence, expressed as light passing water-like beyond the bounds of its nature. The Chinese reproduces the words with which Confucius closes his prescriptions: if you follow such-and-such a principle, you will be “quite close to benevolence.” By situating the words in the context of religious vision Pound characterizes Confucian wisdom as a state of beatitude. “LOVE,” the first word of the Canto, we might then reread as Pound’s translation of ren 仁, which, along with amor forms another triad.
His quotation from the Zhong Yong 中庸 here, unlike the earlier citation of single characters, represents a kind of ventriloquism in which Pound assumes Confucius’ voice. In lines that follow upon the passage quoted he then himself begins to write Chinese:
Using the simplest characters in the language, those for the cardinal “one” and for “man,” he composes a phrase that initiates a new theme, picked up in Canto XCIX, “The whole tribe is from one man’s body,” though also contradicted in the statement, “This is not a work of fiction / nor yet of one man” (which incidentally clarifies the difficulty of placing Cantos in the tradition of single-author, fictive poems). Having assumed many personae in the course of his work, the last mask that Pound adopts is that of Confucius, whose philosophy he now compounds in a final moral essay on the subject. His treatment here is both more primitive and more practical, more encyclopedic and more conversational than his earlier efforts in prose and verse. Two ideograms, zhao 兆, omen, and en 恩 grace or gratitude, disembodied from their contexts, reflect Pound’s concern with the religious backgrounds of Confucian thought (omens precede political disaster, gratitude underlies the principle of filiality). The poet lists many principles, including “the 9 arts” 九經, “the six kinds of action”六藝, and the four duan 端: ren, yi, li, and zhi 仁義禮智. Many other principles are reiterated; some are mentioned for the first time. Among the latter perhaps the most important is shu 恕, compassion, which Pound now calls “tree’s root and water-spring.” Having thoroughly assimilated Confucius, the voice of the canto combines the oriental and the occidental. “The basis is man / . . . but the four TUAN / are from nature,” it says, thereby conveying both the assurance of Confucian doctrine and the uncertainty of Greek dualism. Pound speaks for the Master but also improvises his own Confucian dicta. The canto ends with the poet’s organic metaphor, one that has its origin in the language of tradition: “The fu jen [富人, the man rich in wisdom] receives heaven, earth, middle / and grows.”
Having completed his final statement of Confucian principles, Pound dropped the subject to pursue different interests, turning to the European Dark Ages, the development of English law, and other matters. In so doing he reasserted his identity as Odyssean intelligence, though gathering perhaps within that persona, especially in the long silence of his last years, the figure of the Sage whose teaching has not been accepted.