A. C. Graham, translator
Poems of the Late T’ang.
NYRB Classics, 184 pages, $14.95
Ezra Pound knew no Chinese when he approached the poems of Li Po, translating solely from the notes of Ernest Fenellosa, a Sinologist whose knowledge of the language was questionable to say the least. Maybe the Chinese attention to the image, or that tradition’s strict fusion of form and function, beckoned to Pound’s militantly Modernist sensibilities, but something clearly clicked in this unlikely marriage. It is impossible to forget the undercurrent of longing, brushed with just the slightest hesitation, at the conclusion of “The River-Merchant Wife: A Letter” by Li Po:
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 Cho-fo-Sa.