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By: Ezra Pound

Cathay (1915) is a collection of classical Chinese poetry translated into English by modernist poet Ezra Pound based on Ernest Fenollosa's notes that came into Pound's possession in 1913. At first Pound used the notes to translate Noh plays and then to translate Chinese poetry to English, despite a complete lack of knowledge of the Chinese language. The volume's 15 poems are seen less as strict translations and more as new pieces in their own right; and, in his bold translations of works from a language he was unfamiliar with, Pound set the stage for modernist translations.

Pound worked on the poems in Cathay during the period he made a move from imagism to vorticism. Pound critic Zhaoming Qian calls "The River Merchant's Wife: A Letter", "The Jewell Stairs' Grievance" and "The Exile's Letter" "imagist and vorticist masterpieces".


The opening poem, "Song of the Bowmen of Shu", shows the dominant themes of separation and loneliness, especially the loneliness of the soldier. This is evident also in "Lament of the Frontier Guard", and is perhaps suggestive of Pound's great distress at the loss of life during World War One. Pound used imagery to convey inarticulate emotions in the poems. For example, in "The Jewel Stairs Grievance" a woman waits impatiently; yet her impatience is never directly mentioned and is instead subtly suggested and conveyed through the poem's images. Eventually Pound would use Fenollosa's work as a starting point for what he called the ideogrammic method.

Book Details



Original Language

Classical Chinese

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Ezra Pound

United States

Ezra Weston Loomis Pound was an expatriate American poet and critic, a major figure in the early modernist poetry movement, and a fascist collaborator in Italy during World War II. His works include R...

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