“better gift can no man make to a nation”: Pound, Confucius, and the Translation of Politics in The Cantos

  • Steven G. Yao


In 1945, when his long-standing dream of witnessing the establishment of a truly “just” government had definitively crumbled with the defeat of Fascist Italy and the ignominious death of his contemporary political hero Mussolini, Ezra Pound wrote his celebrated, and controversial, “Pisan Cantos” while incarcerated at the U.S. Army Detention Training Center just north of Pisa. Within the same makeshift notebook he used to compose arguably his single most renowned poetic achievement, on the reverse side of the pages onto which he copied out his own poetry in fact, Pound also produced highly unconventional English renderings of two books from the Confucian tradition of social and political thought, the (Da Xue), which he called The Great Digest (1947), and the (Zhong Yong), to which he gave the decidedly idiosyncratic tide The Unwobbling Pivot (1947).1 The intimate, textual proximity within this notebook of such ostensibly disparate examples of Pound’s accomplishment as a writer betokens much more than either mere coincidence or even basic material necessity. In the broadest terms, these opisthographic manuscript pages give starkly vivid testimony to the central importance of translation as a mode of literary production within Anglo-American Modernism that is the principal concern of this study. More particularly, they illustrate the fundamental interconnection between Pound’s goals, and even methods, as a poet and his diverse, frequendy unorthodox practice as a translator. Indeed, throughout The Cantos in particular translation serves as both a means and theme of the poem itself.


Chinese Character Great Learn Chinese History Chinese Text Good Government 
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© Steven G. Yao 2002

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