Ezra Pound crossed the ocean, going sideways to get somewhere else. He shipped out eastward, leaving behind the bloated “Song of Myself.” He was unconsciously drawn toward the pure source of beauty. That’s my hypothesis.
Pound was attracted by magnetic pulses coming from a vague source — the purling spring of aesthetics. That hidden fountain is forever lost. Or maybe it was never other than a liquid sigh from the myth of being into which nature has written us. Aesthetics is most likely the shadow of an old ghost we sometimes see leaning against a ruined wall of stones covered with wild roses. Being the shadow of a ghost, aesthetics can never be formally defined. We can only point toward it, obliquely. Gesture perhaps toward the far beauties of mythic China.
Pound landed in England, but England was at least closer to the magnetic spirit of China than were Idaho and Pennsylvania. The farther otherwise you go, faint echoes of sky dragons and blossom hermits can be heard.
As one moves eastward, even now, shadows of beauty are discernible. France had the Impressionists and Symbolists. Germany had Novalis. Poland still has Zagajewski. Russia gave us Akhmatova and what appears in that poem from yesterday: “And the cloves held the scent of Asia.” Why is that line so evocative? Because the east is mysterious, and beauty is mysterious. And we, being peculiar animals, are drawn to riddles.
Pound crossed the ocean, because something beautiful called to him from the auras of Asia. His imagination drifted to China.
China is an unusual space of old time, a half-hidden source of images for a poet’s fantasia (I’m wondering about the etymology of that last word). Pound transliterated — transinhabited? — some Chinese verse. Here are some excerpts from his “Exile’s Letter” (after Li T’ai Po):
And then, when separation was at its worst,
We met, and traveled into Sen-jô.
Through all the thirty-six folds of the turning and twisting waters,
Into a valley of the thousand bright flowers,
That was the first valley; And into ten thousand valleys full of voices and pine winds.
And what a reception: Red jade cups, food well set on a blue jeweled table,
And I was drunk, and had no thought of returning.
And you would walk out with me to the western corner of the castle,
To the dynastic temple, with water about it clear as blue jade,
With boats floating, and the sound of mouth-organs and drums,
With ripples like dragon-scales, going grass green on the water,
Pleasure lasting, with courtesans, going and coming without hindrance,
With the willow flakes falling like snow.
And the vermilioned girls getting drunk about sunset,
And the water, a hundred feet deep, reflecting green eyebrows
— Eyebrows painted green are a fine sight in young moonlight,
Gracefully painted —
And the girls singing back at each other,
Dancing in transparent brocade,
And the wind lifting the song, and interrupting it,
Tossing it up under the clouds.
For me, those lines incarnate, so to speak, the enigma of aesthetic imagination.
Posted by Tim Buck