BK. Ezra Pound

26. ‘Sword-Dance and Spear-Dance: Texts of the Poems Used With Michio Itow’s Dances. By Ezra Pound from Notes of Masirni Utchiyama’. Future (London) 1/2 (December 1916): 54-55.


Pound’s little-known versions of five Japanese poems, the Japanese texts of which had been sung by Uchiyama to accompany dances Itô (Ap) presented before a small audience at ‘a Kensington studio theatre’. Like many of the poems of Cathay (15), Pound resorts in four of these to short imagistic lines and a first-person voice. The result is as striking as any of his short verse of the period, but the poems were not reprinted until 1991, in Baechler, Litz, and Longenbach (see note c). Longenbach (183) suggests that by publishing them in an ‘obscure journal’ and not having them reprinted Pound intended to emphasise ‘the necessary exclusiveness of Itow’s dancing’. The earliest known version of canto IV is typed on verso of announcements for a similar Itô program, of 28 October and 2 and 9 November 1915 (see 79).

a. Song for a Foiled Vendetta. Imagistic lines in the first person about the lost opportunity of a samurai who has waited ten years to exact revenge on a rival.

b. The Sole Survivor. The ‘I’ character alone has survived an ambush on a mountain path, and in the closing line ‘drags his corpse to his native mountains’. Pound’s explanation notes that the reference is to the suicide that ‘honour demands’, since the speaker ‘shall not survive his companions’ longer than it takes him to return to his own country.

c. In Enemies’ Country Just After War. A work that could serve as a primer for Pound’s principles of Imagism, particularly the reliance on the image itself instead of explanation of it: ‘Beneath the pale crust of the moon / My sleeves are drenched with dew. / Wind rushes against my face. I am cold. / I start aside from the . . . snake on the pathway, / Startled I draw my sword, / And slash at the old-pine-tree’s shadow’. Pound notes that the translation ‘might be clearer if one supplied the words, unnecessary in Japanese, “start aside from what appears to be the snake, and slash at what is really the shadow,” but the essence of the Japanese consists in leaving out just this sort of long explanation’.

d. Honogi. The speaker, ‘deep in the ditch of resentment’, describes his setting forth to exact revenge on Oda Nobunaga. Internal evidence suggests that the speaker is Oda’s vassal Akechi Mitsuhide, whose betrayal led to Oda’s suicide at Honnôji, the temple in Kyoto where Akechi launched his attack.

e. Yamadera. A comic song about a Buddhist priest who plays football with a cat tied inside a paper bag. The title means simply ‘mountain temple’.





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