Pound remained intrigued by the Machine, seeing in its operation ametaphor of integration which managed to produce an individual product.“Machine Art,” his essay of 1927–30, would develop the seemingly contradic-tory idea that individuality may be the product of the machine which dominatesmodern society. Earlier, he often used machine imagery to define the artist.
Works49Writing in “Affirmations,” for example, he distinguished between subjectiveand artistic man through mechanical references:Where the voltage is so high that it fuses the machinery, one hasmerely the “emotional man” not the artist. The best artist is the manwhose machinery can stand the highest voltage. The better themachinery, the more precise, the stronger, the more exact will be therecord of the voltage and of the various currents which have passedthrough it.(EPEW295)The artist is not passive. He records but also creates.One of the most sustained examples of Pound’s focus on poetic precision isCathay(1915) where he poeticized a number of Fenollosa’s line-by-line trans-lations of works by the Chinese poet Li Po. They are remarkable for their poiseand concreteness. Pound worked with the notebooks of Fenollosa and othermanuscripts, the notebooks containing Chinese characters for the originalpoems, followed by Japanese pronunciations and rough translations. Poundchose Japanese names for the Chinese poets as he worked through the material.The original edition ofCathayhad eleven poems, including Pound’s translationof the Anglo-Saxon “The Seafarer,” to show the similarity of T’ang Dynasty andAnglo-Saxon views of exile. When the volume appeared as a section ofLustra,Pound added five more poems and dropped “The Seafarer” which appearedelsewhere in the collection.In all the translations, detail is supreme. In “The River Song,” for example,the detail of a boat as it drifts is overshadowed by the narrator’s concentrated,creative eye:King So’s terraced palaceis now but barren hill,But I draw pen on this bargeCausing the five peaks to tremble,And I have joy in these wordslike the joy of blue islands.(EPEW61)Further detail outlines the boredom and lack of stimulation for the Emperor’spoet as he awaits:an order-to-write!I looked at the dragon pond, with its willow-coloured waterJust reflecting the sky’s tingeAnd heard the five-score nightingales aimlessly singing(EPEW61–2)Notice that Pound numbers the nightingales.
50The Cambridge Introduction to Ezra Pound“Song of the Bowmen of Shu” emphasizes the condition of the warriors whoin a break from battle gather fern shoots. But they have “sorrowful minds” and. . . sorrow is strong, we are hungry and thirsty.Our defence is not yet made sure, no one can let his friend return.