Noden Sie Ihre Hausaufgabe!

Like his spiritual predecessors, the Elizabethan poets who translated and refined the work of poets in France and Italy, Ezra Pound took ideas from the poetry of China and adapted it to the English world. His work was more than mere translation, it was a systematic reinterpretation and renewal infused with his own artistic energy. A fluent speaker of Chinese, he could have accomplished a direct transliteration easily, but he chose to go further. He took the works in a new direction, translating what could not be translated through other means. In the process, he founded the literary movement of Imagism and profoundly influenced the work of most significant poets and writers of his period. The River Merchant’s Wife: A Letter is one of these translations that are much more than translations; based originally off the poem by Classical Chinese scholar Li Pao (Ruthven 139). Ezra Pound represents a powerful expression of longing by an estranged wife through the skillful use of image, projection, and passage of time.

Pound's expressive technique of descriptive, dynamic images allows him to subtly depict powerful emotional states. Opting for the beauty and discreet depiction of his speaker's feelings and thoughts by image instead of bluntly trying to communicate them through direct narration helps to draw the reader further into the poem. At the beginning he sets a mood of pure and untouched innocence with the image of a boy, "on bamboo stilts, playing horse" (Pound 3). The childlike way in which the girl's object of affection likens himself after riders with his toy horse of wood pervades the entire stanza with innocence. Her story of her past feels like a dreamy, half-remembered memory of youth, exactly the emotion Pound hopes to evoke. When transitioning into a new phase of her life, the girl tells that, "I looked at the wall./Called to, a thousand times, I never looked back" (Pound 10-11). The image of a wall calls to mind the irrevocable boundary of life she has crossed by marrying. No longer a child, she has stepped forever into adulthood, away from the innocence of the previous stanza. As a year passes, she gains new insight into her relationship, and a new image is necessary to convey the changes. Pound describes her dawning love by having her say that, "I desired my dust to be mingled with yours" (Pound 12). This method of relation summons scenes of the husband and wife travelling together along life's journey, with the dust kicked up by their footsteps intermingled in their companionship. Later in his absence, she describes a beautiful but saddening image, "The paired butterflies are already yellow with August" (Pound 23). The autumnal hues of the butterflies reflects the river-merchant’s wife’s feelings of creeping old age, that her vitality is fading with each passing month apart from him. Using several images such as this densely packed with meaning, Pound clearly but subtly invokes powerful emotional states.

Near the end of the poem Pound projects his speaker's melancholy onto her observations so that they can be better expressed by indirect perspective. Instead of directly telling the state of her mind, Pound allows the influence of her mental state on the way she sees her surroundings to do the work for him. His speaker tells dully that, "The monkeys make a sorrowful noise overhead" (Pound 18). It would be silly to say that the monkeys are expressing grievance over the loss of a person about whom they do not know or care. The sounds they make are the same as before the river-merchant left. Instead, the way that Pound's speaker hears them is changed. The sounds become sorrowful because she is sorrowful. Likewise, the wife sees a physical expression of her spiritual state when she notices, "By the gate now, the moss is grown, the different mosses,/Too deep to clear them away!" (Pound 20-21). The moss grown is not significant in itself, rather what Pound intends to express is the way the moss is a reflection of the layers of longing growing thickly upon her soul. One can see a final example of projection in the way that the speaker describes her husband's departure, "You went into far Ku-to-yen, by the river of swirling eddies" (Pound 16). Swirling eddies evoke feelings of confusion, uncertainty, doubt; such emotions the river-merchant's wife surely feels concerning his travel in distant lands. By projecting emotional states on the surrounding landscape and observations, Pound expresses his speaker's emotional, mental, and spiritual state indirectly.

The passage of time throughout the poem provides clear transitions between varying emotional states. It gives the poem coherency and lends a solid base of support to the river-merchant's wife’s deep feelings for her husband. In the beginning the Imagism expressing childhood innocence is complimented by the way in which she relates that the two children, "went on living in the village of Chokan" (Pound 5). The process of continual action is undisturbed by any assault to their innocence. It simply continues on, tranquilly, until the next step of their journey together begins. The speaker makes clear the sequential progress of her feelings for her husband by using sequential phrases, "At fourteen" (Pound 7), "At fifteen" (Pound 11), "At sixteen" (Pound 15). The love for her husband does not come all at once, rather it develops in gradual steps from embarrassed subservience to anger to devotion to longing. Once her husband is gone and the wife feels the press of years upon her, she directly states that, "I grow older" (Pound 25). The use of present tense, indicating habitual completed action, is an incidental example of the way in which Pound adapts to English concepts that are surely expressed differently in the original language of the poem. Her aging proceeds ploddingly on, without respite or repentance. It occurs always and she is acutely aware of it in her husband's absence. She yearns for the old days in which she could be with him, "For ever and for ever and for ever" (Pound 13). This construction, in another example of adaption, reflects that of Shakespeare's play Macbeth with the line "to-morrow and to-morrow and to-morrow" (Ruthven 139). Through repetition Pound lends weight to her emotional state, and the transition is eternal. She will always desire him, from each moment to each moment, and that desire results in the longing expressed through the end of the poem. The passage of time is another technique in which Pound shows the change and justification of his speaker's emotional states.

Through use of central, dynamic images, emotional projection on observations, and the flowing passage of time, Pound evocatively expresses the emotion of longing his speaker has for her husband in The River Merchant's Wife: A Letter. The original Chinese, which could have been translated dully word for word to produce an obtuse and awkward piece in English, is instead given artistic impact by Pound's modifications and invigoration. His translation becomes more than just the mere communication of words, it translates the ideas of the poem as well, in a way that is adapted to the beauty of the English language perfectly. Just as Elizabethan poets took the Petrarchian form and made it their own, producing a unique and fascinating era of English poetry, Pound founded Imagism with his own new spin on a very ancient form.

Pound, Ezra. Selected Poems. London: Faber & Faber, 1928.
Ruthven, K. K. A Guide to Ezra Pound's Personae. Berkely: University of California Press, 1969.