Pound's poetics seen through translation


Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis

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  • Beibei LIN

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Awarding Institution
Award date15 Jul 2015


The dissertation is concerned with Ezra Pound’s translation of Chinese poems from the perspective of his Imagist/Vorticist poetics in the light of the theory of iconicity, with Cathay taken as the corpus. The investigation on how Cathay came into being indicates that this book is a product of Pound’s poetic experiment for Imagism which encouraged the poet to draw inspiration from different cultures and literary traditions to bring new elements to English poetry. The poetic movement, Imagism, favours simplicity, intensity and directness in poetry. Imagist poetry focuses on the image as the presentation of ‘an intellectual and emotional complex’ (Pound, 1979: 4), which was later enhanced by Pound with the concept of ‘the vortex’ to emphasise the dynamic interaction of ideas that constitute the complex. As Pound stated, in a letter to Wyndham Lewis, ‘[i]f you like I will send a copy of Cathay so that the colonel may be able to understand what is imagisme’ (Pound, 1971: 83), it would be plausible to assume that Pound’s translation of Chinese poetry in Cathay offers a glimpse into his poetic aspirations and principles. Most current studies on Pound’s translation in Cathay discuss its closeness to, or deviance from, the source text. For example, Yip Wai-lim, concluded that ‘Cathay ought to be viewed as a kind of re-creation’ and ‘the “essential poems”’ are ‘preserved in luminous details’ (Yip, 1969: 164). Our research aims to discuss how the translator, being stimulated by the source text, built a new poetic world in the receiving system. Since Pound regarded Cathay as a work embodying Imagist poetics, we try to examine Pound’s translation of the Chinese poems in Cathay to understand how Imagist poetics is manifested by taking account of the workings of the human mind in processing the ‘intellectual and emotional complex’ presented by the image. Imagist poetics took the image as the core. The review of Pound’s own discussion on the image reveals that this concept is inconsistent and vague. We turn to the theory of iconicity to discuss the image as it is found that Pound’s image, reflecting his sensitivity as a poet based on his intuitive observation, overlaps with Peirce’s sign which is more refined as a theoretical conception. The theory of iconicity, placing emphasis upon the icon, could offer a specific perspective to analyse Pound’s practice of translation in conjunction with his own poetic writing to manifest his poetic aspirations and principles as seen in the textual realisation of such aspirations and the implementation of such principles in terms of the power of the image as the vortex enabled by the iconicity of syntax. As such, Pound’s translations may be interpreted as not honouring the original but serving as a poetic agenda of Imagism. In our investigation of image framing and focalisation to produce a vortex at various levels of the text, we have found that Pound experimented with the poetic pattern that he ‘found’ in the Chinese character in his translation. He represented the images, which interact with each other, in his way. In this sense, Pound’s text expresses a new way of presenting a poetic world where his interpretation has been brought into the receiving English/American tradition of poetics. The significance of this research lies in these two aspects: 1) It seeks to provide a systematic study of Pound’s application of Imagist/Vorticist poetics from the perspective of the image in his translation. 2) It examines Pound’s translation from a perspective of iconicity to see his poetics and it provides an opportunity to understand how iconicity works as a mechanism underlying the process of image creation, which also helps us to map human cognition.

    Research areas

  • Chinese poetry, Translating into English, History and criticism, Poetics