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Cathay

The poem 'Liu Ch'e' and other poems derived from the Chinese in 1914 were a foretaste of a much more sustained collection of translations published the following year. The poems of Cathay were chosen by Pound, in the words of the acknowledgement, 'For the most part from the Chinese of Rihaku, from the notes of the late Ernest Fenollosa, and the decipherings of the Professors Mori and Ariga' (CSP, p. 126). This tells us that Cathay is not a translation from Chinese ideograms, of which Pound knew none at the time, but a poetic deciphering twice removed from its source, the Chinese already filtered through the interpretations of Fenollosa's Japanese teachers and the interlinear notes of Fenollosa himself. Pound's insistence on using the Japanese names for the poets is both scrupulous and perverse, but not done in ignorance. Rihaku is Japanese for Li Po, or Li Bai in its contemporary transliteration, AD 701-62, one of the greatest Chinese poets. There is, however, a major difference between these poems and Pound's previous 'Chinese' poems. In 'Liu Ch'e' he was freely adapting a previously published translation in verse form. Here, there is no poem to work from, only notes and cribs, so the act of translation is inventive as well as creative, much closer to writing an original poem. These are probably the first Chinese poems to be translated directly into free verse and their achievement as poems in English is as important as their quality as translations. Eliot was most perceptive about this. His notion that Pound was 'the inventor of Chinese poetry for our time' is much quoted, but he goes on to note that 'Pound's translation is interesting also because it is a phase in the development of Pound's poetry' (Schulman (ed.), 1974, pp. 82, 83). And, he might have added, a phase in the development of English poetry.