Pound’s ideograms

Dear Don,

You asked me to think about the “sustained vision” one might find in (through) fragments but I have not got so far along as that. Instead I have been sinking into, plashing about in, the ideogram.

p 3 KyushunAm I silly to be pleased that the second half of my dharma name, Kyushun (kyu = “endless,” shun = “spring”) echoes characters found in the Cantos?

The second character, “spring,” is composed of two elements. The lower of them (three horizontal strokes joined by two vertical) is the character for the sun. It shows up in the Cantos in the ideograms for “dawn” (“bright dawn on the sht house / next day / with the shadow of the gibbets attendant”) and for “no” or “not” (“a man on whom the sun has gone down”).

Also recall Pound’s explication in ABC of Reading of the Chinese ideogram: man + tree + sun –> “sun tangled in the tree’s branches, as at sunrise, meaning now the East.”

The other element is I believe the character for “tree.” Without the three horizontals it would be the character for “person.” And so made visual is the kinship known since ancient days between human and tree.


Spring is the sun come through the roots of the tree. When Daidoshi named me I felt an arrow go through my forehead. All at once my name had been a truth of my life all along. The calligraphy above is his, on my rakusu.


Where does all this lead? Nowhere and everywhere. I want to notice just one thing, that Pound uses the ideogram in two ways in Rock-Drill, what I’ll call pictorial & ideational.

The pictorial is treated so magnificently by Kenner that little can be added. E.g., his unpacking of ling, “sensibility,” early on.

ling-1_ZhuDEn bas, as ground, the figure for ritual or witchcraft — compounded of the characters for doing things properly (this is appropriate witchcraft) and the waving sleeves of a moving officiant.

En haut, as gable & presiding air, heaven hung with clouds, beneath them three raindrops, together meaning “fall as the big drops fall on a parched day.”

These images and gestures, compounded thus, from sensual life, actual life, mean “the spirit or energy of a being, in harmony with the invisible and by ritual drawing down beneficence.”

Sensibility as the connection to (among) earth, human, & heaven, realized through right observance (right seeing, rites observed), that is, through te, or virtu.


This is (once more) embodiment. Combining stylized images of ROSE, CHERRY, IRON RUST, and FLAMINGO to make a word for “red,” rather than attaching a sound (“red,” “rouge,” “rousse”) whose relationship to the thing it names is arbitrary.

The ideogram offers, says Pound, a way for the mind to resist the lure of abstraction. A way to think generally, to trade in ideas, without losing contact with the actual, the concrete, the specific instance without which speech is just so much hot & circling wind.

Without, that is, making thought a game of moving counters here there & all about, matching & separating on the basis of putative likeness & unlikeness, which can only be credited when the actual features of a thing, its suchness, its particularity, have been planed off, and the gouge marks sanded & veneered away.

In the world itself, everything is everything else, and each thing is utterly selfsame. Not one, not the other, not neither, not both. Speech can’t reach here.


A practice that invoked an idea more directly than our speech can would be a gift of the mind to the mind of the first order. For Pound the ideogrammatic method is more than just plunking some Chinese calligraphy down in a poem. It is a new way of doing thinking.


Reworking this writing now, I see how I was starting to flounder. Pound’s grandiosity invoked my considerable own. Unexpectedly, it was Williams who came to speak to me more, in this work I did with Don. I’m leaving most of the flaws I see here as I see them. And of course all the flaws I don’t see have gone untouched.


Words are of course employed. They are made into images (or scraps of memory, or bits of overheard speech, or foreign phrases, or names from myth, or historical incidents) which are then built up, compounded, just as they are built up in a Chinese character or a film by Eisenstein. It is in the space between the images (or scraps of memory, etc.) that the spark jumps, the light flows, the wind roams about, & the mind finds itself.


One crafts the image precisely to make the space around it precise. This is all being set down too hastily. Let me try to work it out through an example. We might take this passage as a single ideogram (comparable in complexity to ling above):

“From the colour the nature
                    & by the nature the sign!”
Beatific spirits welding together
                    as in one ash-tree in Ygdrasail.
                         Baucis, Philemon.
Castalia is the name of that fount in the hill’s fold,
                         the sea below,
                                                  narrow beach.
Templum aedificans, not yet marble,
                             “Amphion!”

The first two lines invoke Heydon’s “doctrine of signatures” and work somewhat like the radical, establishing the general semantic (spiritual) sense of the ideogram. That sense is hard to spell out (real thoughts are) but it has something to do with vegetal power, and each thing fulfils its nature, and a thing’s nature is discernible.

At any rate, this is the sign under which, or the mood within which, the next strokes are presented. “Strokes” because, as in the ideogram, there is no logical or discursive linkage, space is left in which the mind may roam & flash about.)


The next element in the character, three strokes in three lines, entwines two stories with the same signatures, that of the Norse world-heaven tree and that of Baucis & Philemon, who, faithful to the gods, are spared the annihilating flood, & grow in old age into intertwined trees. Instantiations, not mere instances, of vegetal power, of earth and heaven conjoined (recall ling), and of truth to one’s own nature.


Thus far likeness, rhyme, homeomorphism, is building the character. But the ideogrammatic method, like Eisenstein’s montage, is about gauged differences, for only in difference is there a space for the mind-spark to leap.

The distance is marked by shifts in sense (syntax switches from fragment to full sentence) and rhythm (musical phrasing switches from mostly short syllables to mostly long) but our concern here (insofar as these things can be isolated) (that is at best an enabling fiction, at worst a wrong way of life) is phanopoeia.

We have left the trees and come back to the water. The scene is presented in three glimpses — a fountain encleft in a hill fold (and I sense here the sexual feminine, mate to the virile power of the world-heaven tree), the sea below, a narrow beach — in a staccato & yet fluid fashion that recalls the beach scene of Canto II. (One ideogram can call to mind another one hundreds of pages prior.)


The final strokes of the character draw it together, even as they extend and leave it open. “Templum aedificans,” building the temple. The temple of the Cantos, the temple in which Baucis and Philemon serve as caretakers, the temple the universe is, borne up & arranged by the world-heaven tree.

“not yet marble” because the original temples were of wood, the columns fluted tree trunks — suggesting (not saying) (real thoughts are unspoken) that the marble columns to come have virtu to the extent that they recall (but do not slavishly copy) their origins.

The last stroke, “Amphion!” Terrell: “Hermes taught him to play the lyre so well that when he became king of Thebes he fortified the city with a wall magically conjured up by his music: at the sound of his lyre the stones moved into place by themselves.”

The power of one rooted in his own nature. It joins earth & heaven & human life & gives one sway over wild beasts & field stones.


Does the whole canto, does the whole of the Cantos, fall into ideograms in this way? I amn’t sure. The white space after “Amphion!” articulates the sequence, asks one to look at it as a whole that reflects back on itself, but it is the only such space in Canto XC, and I wonder whether, if Pound meant us to read the way I just have, he would have scored the verse a bit differently. Anyway, I’ve only barely scratched the surface here. I do sense though that in its several formal arenas—melopoeia, phanopoeia, logopoeia, mythopoeia—the poem is a unitary project. Pound against abstraction. A title for a final paper?


Yeah plenty of floundering here along with a few honest gleams. Curious how an anti-system is just another system. But if you can’t put your errors and strayings on display in a blog post — well then what’s a blog for? Scheduling this one for Dec. 30. Happy, if somehow you’ve made it this far, new years all.


UPDATE. And the image up top, here it is big –
7132 - big

Ryoji Koie. A six-fold paper screen. Ink on paper and gold ground. Japan, 2013. An example of the hibi deisui (blind drunk everyday) style. Don’t know if that’s blind drunk or blind, drunk. More on him here (scroll down some).

Thin glitter of water

Another letter to Donald Revell on Ezra Pound. (Queuing up a few in the lull between writing camp and Christmas).


Dear Don,

I’ve been thinking about the “lyrical principle” as Kenner frames it. “That words or names, being ordered in time, are bound together and recalled into each other’s presence by recurrent sounds.” As Pound’s practice develops, seems to me, the elements that recur grow larger and larger, until in the Cantos, as he manages recurrence on varying scales, from phoneme to homeomorph, he makes lyric a mode of logic. A logic that loses not one eyelash of particular existence, because it doesn’t abstract or deduct, but exemplifies and counterpoints.


In his early Provençal translations the recurring element is the phoneme. The effect is loyal to the troubadour and his rhymes and clanky maybe in a modern English ear:

“Up! Thou rascal, Rise,
        I see the white
        Light
        And the night
                Flies.”

No less dense, but more subtly modulated, is a later (1951) rendering of Montanari:

A swallow for shuttle, back,
Forth, forth, back
        from shack to
marsh track:
        to the far
sky-line that’s fading now

The consonantal music is so finely tuned that one might miss the quieter more drawn-out play of the vowels: swallow – forth – now. Not to mention the aural pleasure of the switch to long i and a sounds in the last line, enacting the swallow’s sudden shot off into the distance.


A long time before, in Cathay, Pound had brought the work and play of recurrence and departure to whole words — the refrain-words I spoke of before in “Song of the Bowmen of Shu” and “The River-Merchant’s Wife.” And in “The Beautiful Toilet” he mixes, as Kenner shows, the word-repetitions of the original Chinese (blue … blue) with lighter aural ligatures (willows – overfilled) that convey the spirit of the Chinese original’s musical patterning and avoid the clunky literalisms of Waley’s rendering.


In the Cantos the repeated elements grow larger — words, phrases, motifs — but the arrangement, and the intelligence it calls into play, remain musical. In Canto IV Diana bathes in a forest pool. The air is “alight with the goddess” herself, her limbs loading and endowing matter with divinity —

Ivory dipping in silver,
        Shadow’d, o’ershadow’d
Ivory dipping in silver,

Hidden by a forest canopy impenetrable to sunlight, the goddess lives in an eternal present, a light at once flowing and still.

What that image does in the eye (light made liquid) the music of recurrence (a word lightly varied nestled in a phrase exactly doubled) does in the ear. So that time circles round, flows but stands in place, in us also.


Then Actaeon, poor boy, blunders in:

The dogs leap on Actaeon,
        ‘Hither, hither, Actaeon,’
Spotted stag of the wood;
Gold, gold, a sheaf of hair,
        Thick like a wheat swath,
Blaze, blaze in the sun,
        The dogs leap on Actaeon.

The paradisal now of the goddess meets historical (tragic) human time. The word spoken twice aloud, hither, hither, urges haste, propels time body matter forward, while those repeated silently, gold, gold blaze, blaze, fix attention, intensify the sensory moment, hush and slow the mind. Meanwhile, on a larger scale, the phrase that bookends the scene, “The dogs leap on Actaeon,” fixes the unfolding action in place, so Actaeon enters mythic time.

Not, it has to be said, on the same terms as a god would enter.


With Actaeon’s entry the sun blazes into the scene. And this penetration of myth by history, of a divine now by historical time, releases light into the world. “Thus the light rains, thus pours, o lo soleils plovil.

Carroll finds in this line “the important canto motif of the light-water-stone progression which finally ends in crystal, i.e., the transmutation of the fluid transparency of subjective experience into the objective solidity of stone through poetry.”

If this is right, and if the light is that of a goddess, too, set loose in the world, and also the light of the Paradiso, which it must be, then the goddess can be nothing but an instance (purified, rarefied) of consciousness.

And if that’s right, there’s no divine eternal now after all, just human time, mostly fallen into history, but at certain points — points at which, for which, gods stand — fleetingly redeemed.


Getting too lofty and well ahead of me. No time here, or space now, for the homeomorphic rhymes, Cadmus and Odysseus, venturing they know not where, Itys and Cabestan, their hearts served up on plates, Actaeon and Vidal, gotten in their own trouble. But to note as I sign off a point or two where the poem wells up with an image of its own activity.

The liquid and rushing crystal

and

Ply over ply, thin glitter of water;
Brook film bearing white petals.

and

Adige, thin film of images,

 and

And Tian … with his hand on the strings of his lute
The low sounds continuing
        after his hand left the strings,
And the sound went up like smoke, under the leaves,