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Cathay (1915)

3.98  ·  Rating details ·  304 ratings  ·  36 reviews
This scarce antiquarian book is a selection from Kessinger Publishing's Legacy Reprint Series. Due to its age, it may contain imperfections such as marks, notations, marginalia and flawed pages. Because we believe this work is culturally important, we have made it available as part of our commitment to protecting, preserving, and promoting the world's literature. Kessinger ...more
Paperback, 32 pages
Published September 10th 2010 by Kessinger Publishing (first published 1915)
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Bill Kerwin
Sep 23, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition

Who would have guessed that one of the transformative books of modern English poetry would be a slim volume consisting of fourteen poems from ancient China, translated by a man with little knowledge of the Chinese language, who relied upon the disorganized notes of a deceased professor who specialized in Japanese?

Yet such is Cathay (1915). This small work of genius is one reason—among many—that T.S. Eliot declared Ezra Pound to be “more responsible for the twentieth-century revolution in poetry
Sean Barrs
Ezra Pound cheated.

At the turning of the twentieth century everything had been done in literature or, at least, it seemed that way at the time. The writers that emerged in the early decades had to find a way to assert their own identities; they had to find a way to cast aside the shackles of established Victorian literary traditions and create something of their own.

So how exactly do writers “make it new” as Pound famously said? James Joyce and Virginia Woolf did all sorts of creative things w

Ezra Pound (1913)

Ezra Pound (1885 – 1972) had his fingers in many pies, some of which were hot enough to burn him badly. One of these pies was the translation of poetry into English. Over his lifetime he published translations from at least 10 different languages, though of some of these, like Chinese, he had only a very weak grasp. However, he did have the papers of the great cultural explorer Ernest Fenollosa (1853–1908) which included more or less literal translations of poems by the great T'
Reinventing the wheel!
The River-Merchant’s Wife: A Letter

While my hair was still cut straight across my
I played about the front gate, pulling flowers.
You came by on bamboo stilts, playing horse,
You walked about my seat, playing with blue plums.
And we went on living in the village of Chokan:
Two small people, without dislike or suspicion.

At fourteen I married My Lord you.
I never laughed, being bashful.
Lowering my head, I looked at the wall.
Called to, a thousand times, I never looked back.

At fifteen I stopped
Mar 14, 2017 rated it really liked it
I believe the last time I read some of Ezra Pounds' poetry was when I was majoring in English. It was a long time ago.

Ezra Pound was an innovator in modern poetry and a very controversial figure in the arts and also politically.

Cathay is the English version of the name Catai, which is another name for China. The poems in Cathay are translations, some say interpretations and others claim actual but imperfect translations of poems by the ancient Chinese poet Li Bai/Li Bo (701–762). In the collect
Maru Kun
Aug 15, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This webpage has about half a dozen other translations of "The River Merchant's Wife - A Letter" including one made in 1976 by Wai-Lim Yip who made a study of Pound's work: Ezra Pound's Cathay.

If anything, comparing these other translations with Pound's is proof of Ezra Pound's talent!

If you are coming down through the narrows of the river Kiang,
Please let me know beforehand,
And I will come out to meet you
As far as Chō-fu-Sa.
An Idler
Feb 24, 2020 rated it really liked it
Excellent modernist translations of Chinese poetry. I read the critical edition from Fordham University, which sheds light on the astounding path the poems followed from the Chinese to English through a system of multiple translators and handwritten cribs. The same edition also contains more traditional verse translations of these poems from pre-modernist poets. The "pat versification" of their translations (compared with Pound's indirect and puzzling ciphers) made me sympathetic to the modernis ...more
This collection is widely known as one of the few successful instances of the translated poetry:

The Jewel Stairs' Grievance (Li Po)

The jewelled steps are already quite white with dew,
It is so late that the dew soaks my gauze stockings,
And I let down the crystal curtain
And watch the moon through the clear autumn.

Matt T
Aug 04, 2019 rated it it was amazing
‘A Vivid Waiting’

Is the phrase Ezra Pound employed to describe a story from James Joyce’s ‘Dubliners’ (1914) which he thought ‘something better than a story’ (Berryman, J. 1949) and an apt way to describe the experience of reading Pound’s ‘Cathay’ (1915). Something better than a translation, ‘Cathay’ gives us pause to reflect on what constitutes poetry’s general appeal. How is it that Pound, universally recognised as a great poet, often proves so difficult to read? Even in ‘Cathay’, where brevit
Jacob Hurley
A nice selection of "oriental poems". It's really just Pound with the aid of esoteric strings of nouns he got from some scholar in the mail, but it serves his Vorticist purpose well (if i correctly understand vorticism from the little the intro told me)
Feb 08, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
five stars but for the forward by mary de rachewiltz, which had more to do with glorifying her father than with examining his translations.
Alexander Kosoris
Jan 19, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: classics, poetry
Cathay is a collection of old poems––mainly Chinese works from the 8th century––translated by Pound, but it’s a bit more complicated and interesting than that. Pound, who at that time knew little to no Chinese, worked from the notes of the Harvard educated scholar, Ernest Fenollosa, a transcript of which is included in the printing I read. While Pound seemingly maintained a great deal of the spirit of the original poems, changes came due to errors within the notes, from Pound’s misinterpretation ...more
Sep 03, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
I like to think that Cathay is the book that launched a thousand ships and burned the topless towers of English poetry. Seemingly artless, deceivingly simple and slyly direct, this single book did more for free verse than all the barbaric yawps of myself Walt Whitman.

In a few decades, meter, form, rhyme and rhetoric were firmly ensconced in the trash heap. Serious poetry, experimental poetry, literary poetry were strictly meter-free zones. Teenagers writing love notes hardly deign to write in v
Ramzzi Fariñas
Nov 22, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: poetry
In spite the small size, Cathay of Ezra Pound is one of the landmarks of world literature. In fact, this poetic maneuvering has proven itself not purely as a translation, but as per Pound’s words—to “MAKE IT NEW.”

Even if Cathay was first introduced as “translation,” the scholarship of having the ancient Chinese poems be translated into English was not strictly done through the science of translation. Pound instead, relied to the works of the first Chinese linguists of the Occident. As a pioneeri
Wade Duvall
Nov 08, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: poetry, chinese-lit
I loved this little book. First I'll discuss briefly what's included and then why I loved it. It contains a handful of Chinese poems (mostly from Li Bai, which Pound et. al. attribute as Rihaku, which comes from Japanese scholars) and the Anglo-Saxon poem The Seafarer. Pound didn't speak Chinese at the time, so the translations are based on the notes of Ernest Fenollosa. I believe he worked with Japanese scholars on the translation so many of the Chinese proper names sound Japanese (according to ...more
Ezra Peace
Sep 14, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: literature
Even if you're not particularly into poetry generally (I'm not), there are still particular poets, such as T S Eliot, Dante Alighieri, Henry David Thoreau, Ralph Waldo Emerson.. and Ezra Pound who are so talented that they transcend the medium. Without these poets, you don't have the likes of Q-Tip or Mos Def or Drake. Cathay is uniquely interesting because it is a collection of ancient Chinese poems (mostly by the poet Rihaku) loosely translated by Ezra Pound, and regarded as an innovation in t ...more
May 13, 2020 added it
Read very swiftly in about half an hour, though I'll return to peruse more closely at some point. Just picked up because I read Pound's Wikipedia page yesterday - I had heard him mentioned before as a translator of Chinese poetry, and only yesterday discovered that fact...did not speak Chinese, and instead modeled his translations on the notes of a western academic who taught in Japan for many years. Interested to attempt to read the original poems, read some other translations, and then ...more
Nov 12, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: poetry
Pound's translations, or rather adaptations, are excellent, and I actually like them better than his original poems. In this short book you'll find 13 Chinese poems (hence the title) and 'The Seafarer', which is also published in 'Ripostes of Ezra Pound'.
The jewel, for me, is 'The Seafarer', as I love Old English poetry, but I had already read Pound's version, and I picked this book because I wanted to get acquainted with the poems of Rihaku (Li Po). They are interesting to read, the quality of
Feb 17, 2017 rated it liked it
Poem by The Bridge at Ten-Shin

Petals are on the gone waters and on the going,
And on the back-swirling eddies,
But today's men are not the men of the old days,
Though they hang in the same way over the bridge-rail
Tom Baikin-O'hayon
Jul 30, 2017 rated it really liked it
This is not a book of Chinese poetry. This is A book of pounds great early modernist poetry, inspired by the Chinese classics
Jan 06, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: poetry-20th
I love the small amount of Chinese literature I’ve read, so I’m not surprised I enjoyed these poems as translated? by Pound.
Mar 11, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2019
Matt Morris
For reviews of this & other books, please visit:
Frederick Gault
Sep 11, 2019 rated it it was ok
Shelves: poetry
Very poor translation of classical Chinese poems by a guy who didn't speak or read Chinese. Riddled with errors.
Epicure of Literature
This is translation of Li Po's poems by Ezra Pound who does not really master Chinese. He translated the poems solely based on Fennolosa's notes. At first, I don't believe that translator who doesn't meet the basic requirement of translation can produced such a fine translation, but...sigh...after you read the translation...*speechless... I even prefer his translation than the faithful version of Waley's. Pound has proved his poetic genius through this work.
Cooper Renner
Interesting inclusion of the notes from which Pound originally worked. The Pound versions of the poems themselves constitute a fairly small part of the whole. A number of them are quite lovely, others less so. "The Seafarer," the one non-Chinese poem, is fir me simply irritating.
travis  sunn
Dec 15, 2019 rated it really liked it
Pound's lack of knowledge in ancient Chinese allowed him to liberate himself from a rigid and precise translation of the great visionaries.
Brooke Tallent
Apr 06, 2017 rated it it was ok
I recognize the historical importance of these poems but J found myself generally disinterested. I'll give Pound another chance with some of his own work.
Cathay is incredibly short, so short I was in fact surprised to finish it so quickly. However some of the poems do require contemplation so I will likely re-read most of this.
I was somewhat frustrated that the original Chinese wasn't given, only the English so there is little to be noted on this as poetry in translation, instead we are given only Pound's imagery, and a few asides to Fenollosa's notes.
On the whole I did not find the selection remarkable or indicative of a theme, rather as is not
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Ezra Weston Loomis Pound was an American expatriate poet, critic and intellectual who was a major figure of the Modernist movement in early-to-mid 20th century poetry.

Pound's The Cantos contains music and bears a title that could be translated as The Songs—although it never is. Pound's ear was tuned to the motz et sons of troubadour poetry where, as musicologist John Stevens has noted, "melody and

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“And if you ask how I regret that parting: It is like the flowers falling at Spring’s end Confused, whirled in a tangle. What is the use of talking, and there is no end of talking, There is no end of things in the heart. I” 6 likes
“And if you ask how I regret that parting?
It is like the flowers falling at spring’s end,
confused, whirled in a tangle.
What is the use of talking! And there is no end of talking—
There is no end of things in the heart.”
More quotes…