BK. Ezra Pound

8. Nishikigi (‘Translated from the Japanese of Motokiyo [Zeami] by Ernest Fenollosa’). Poetry 4 (May 1914): 35-48.

    Reprinted with the Irish accent toned down in ‘Noh’ or Accomplishment and Translations.  

The story of Pound’s acquisition of the Fenollosa manuscripts is well documented (see 68 and 86d for Pound’s own version), as are the sparks of enthusiasm that flew between Pound and Yeats as they discussed the notebooks, in some cases, as with this play, collaborating on their editing (see especially 175). This version is Pound’s first publication of his work with the manuscripts, and among his most successful renderings of the nô. The tale is of the apparition at the village of Kefu of two spirits long dead, tied to the place by the unreconciled sorrows of their lives. Years earlier a young man had offered to his beloved the nishikigi, painted sticks of wood representative of his love, but they were refused, and now in grief both spirits wander near the young man’s grave, separated in death as in life. Resolution comes as a travelling priest to whom they have appeared encourages the re-enactment of the offering of the nishikigi, this time accepted, and ‘though it be but in a dream’ the spirits are betrothed, released, and disappear with the coming of dawn. French, in introduction to his own more scholarly translation of the work, is dismissive of Pound’s version (see 125, p. 83), but other commentators have been more favourable. Tsukui (167) enumerates small errors and outlines a general failure to represent the Buddhist overtones of the original, but finds the play ‘the most thorough and complete translation’ among Pound’s versions of the nô; Miyake (191) undercuts even this criticism in her argument that Pound’s ‘mistakes’ are in fact an intended conflation of the Fenollosa text with the ‘dawn songs’ and ‘cult of the light’ of medieval Provence. The work has been called ‘the greatest poem of “our time”’ and its verse ‘the most beautiful . . . ever produced by an American’ (194), and its influence has been profound. Yeats recognised in the tale a correspondence to an Irish legend (see BL15b and BL38b1), and turned repeatedly to this parallel in development of his belief that ‘the dead are near’ and ‘dream back’ their passions in the world of the living (see especially BL13 and BL15a). His play most closely modelled on the nô draws both structure and theme from Nishikigi (see BL14a), and critics have traced shadows cast from Nishikigi in the Crazy Jane sequence (BL33), Ribh at the Tomb of Baile and Aillinn (BL36c), and Purgatory (BL44b). Pound himself returned to the work in a verse dramatisation of the story of Tristan and Yseult largely derived from it (81f), and more importantly as a structural model for The Cantos. The work as much as any other from the nô sparked Pound’s understanding that the ‘ghosts patched with histories’ (see 27a) of the nô provide a method for ‘reconstructing the past’ (see 81e) alien to the Aristotelian and Aquinian ‘categories’ of the West (see 87), and that the nô revolves around a ‘unity of image’ and ‘emotion’ (12 and 17f and 87) that might make possible the ‘long Imagiste poem’ he had planned from as early as 1904. This leap from the aesthetics of a distant tradition to the necessities of modernist verse may be traced from the earliest ‘Three Cantos’ (27) throughout the poem, particularly as the spirits of the gods and of the dead incarnate at Taishan at Pisa (see 56a) and in the final Drafts & Fragments (72), the end of the poem and the last verse Pound wrote. One may not claim responsibly that The Cantos would not have been written but for Pound’s acquaintance with the nô, that Yeats would not have continued to write verse drama, or that what we call modernist poetry would not have taken root in Britain and America, yet all these would have developed differently had not Mary Fenollosa (Ap) given Pound her late husband’s manuscripts, and had he not found in this play and others contained there embers and sparks that had not before been seen by poets writing in English. See 104, 153, 177a and the Furukawa and Yamaguchi texts noted at BL109 and D10d for evidence that the translations from which Pound worked were more the effort of Hirata Kiichi than of Fenollosa, 59a-b, 69, 77f, 88a for evidence of Pound’s enthusiasm for the work in his correspondence of 1913-14, 177 for transcription of the Fenollosa-Hirata draft from which he worked, and A Guide (201) for a comprehensive glossary of Japanese names and terms, transcription of Pound’s draft version at Yale (see 90a), and ‘Notes on the Fenollosa-Hirata Draft Translation’; and see also BE8, BJ18, BK9, 13b, 17f, 23, 30, 70a, 76b, 76e, 81e, 88a, 89, 90b, 93g, 185, 202, 207, BL11, 22, 34, 57h, 102, 114, 170, 181, 201, 217, 236, 243, and 250.





Home | Top | Previous | Next

Previous | Next


Creative Commons License