“Now the base of old hills”

Sorry so long away folks — having fun at writing camp. Here’s another I wrote on Pound for Don Revell back in the day.


Dear Don,

You suggested I look in Cathay for traces of ethics. So reading these poems once more I found myself listening for hints of Confucius, filial duty, harmonious social relations, ranks and hierarchies, each thing in its right place. But Li Po is Confucian in about the way I’m Christian, that’s the soil he took root in, not the light or air that nourish him nor the way his spirit leans.

There is a sense of each thing in its right place, but it has more the flavour of Chuang-tse, heaven and earth and the myriad things whirl about (willow leaves, girls dancing) or stand in place (terraces, hilltops) exactly according to their natures, and if the heart is out of joint, it’s so because it holds too hard, as those of generals do, to what it loves. And the play of the mind through the poems is light and quick in the way of Chuang-tse’s prose despite their ground note of sorrow.

It’s that ground note that most draws me though. The Buddhist Li Po — Ezra Pound proclaiming the dharma — unheard from the beginning of time until now! Well, unheard by scholars, but Snyder heard it, or at least to my ear his

the train down in the city
was once a snowy hill

rhymes sweetly & sadly with Pound’s

The bright cloths and bright caps of Shin
Are now the base of old hills.

I suppose every reader of Pound finds the Pound he needs. I find in these poems, as nowhere else in his work, that the place each thing is in is its right place.


Gotta break in here. I wasn’t dim to the protest Cathay also is obliquely to the senseless shed blood of WWI. But for whatever reason the day I wrote this I didn’t go there.


As some Ch’an teacher said, maybe during Li Po’s lifetime, this was the golden age of Chinese Zen, nothing ever fails to cover the ground on which it sits. But the heart holds on to what it feels has made it whole, and when that goes, cuz go it all does, the heart’s hollowed out by a sorrow it’s too clear-eyed to turn away from.

And out of sympathy the poems open hollows in themselves into and through which time rushes:

By the North Gate, the wind blows full of sand,
Lonely from the beginning of time until now!

Time circles and then without warning leaps across a year or an aeon. Sometimes narrative time —

The phoenix are at play on their terrace.
The phoenix are gone, the river flows on alone.

— sometimes time as it feels its way through mind and memory:

What is the use of talking, and there is no end of talking,
There is no end of things in the heart.

Now and then time reverses direction as it coils to leap to the centre of things:

The leaves fall early this autumn, in wind
The paired butterflies are already yellow with August
Over the grass in the West garden;
They hurt me. I grow older.

In Pound’s Imagist work there is a vast space around the poem in which it may resonate. Often too a space within the poem across which the mind leaps; the semicolon in the Metro station By allowing time a deeper admission to those spaces in Cathay, Pound has avoided the Imagist hell, to be forever an aesthete of plucked moments.

Subtle musical structures are at work holding those spaces open. “Song of the Bowmen of Shu” is almost fugal in its repetitions of “fern-shoots,” “sorrow,” “return,” “horses,” “tired.” “The River-Merchant’s Wife,” as it begins, stands in place through the repetition of its first verb

I played about the front gate, pulling flowers.
You came by on bamboo stilts, playing horse,
You walked about my seat, playing with blue plums.

so that childhood feels like an eternity, one whose end begins a whole record of endings, endings in the face of which only two responses are possible, despair and ordinary affection. Such affection bars such despair as hangs round the margins from entering.

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headComposter

I write draw teach blog in and from the Pacific Northwest of America.

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