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the jewel stair's grievance

The jeweled steps are already quite white with dew,
It is so late the dew soaks my gauze stockings,
And I let down the crystal curtain
And watch the moon through the clear autumn

- Rihaku (Li Po)

Note: Jewel stairs, therefore a palace. Grievance, therefore there is something to complain of. Gauze stockings, therefore a court lady, not a servant who complains. Clear autumn, therefore he has no excuse on account of the weather. Also she has come early, for the dew has not merely whitened the stairs, but soaks her stockings. The poem is especially prized because she utters no direct reproach.

The translation and note are by Ezra Pound, from his 1915 volume 'Cathay', a series of translations - or rather recreations - from classic Chinese poets. Pound described his translations as "for the most part from the Chinese of Rihaku, from the notes of the late Ernest Fenollosa, and the decipherings of the professors Mori and Ariga." (Rihaku is the Japanese name for Li Po.)

Eliot Weinberger, in '19 Ways of Looking at Wang Wei' (see previous post), credited Pound for creating "a new poetry in English drawn from what was unique to the Chinese."

Pound's genius was the discovery of the living matter, the force, of the Chinese poem - what he called "the news that stays news" through the centuries. This living matter functions somewhat like DNA, spinning out individual translations which are relatives, not clones, of the original. The relationship between original and translation is parent-child.

The complete text of 'Cathay', as well as sound recordings, can be found here.

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deer park

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