Friday, November 15, 2013

Carpe Diem's Distillation #5, Ezra Pound's ''The River-Merchant's Wife''

Dear Haijin, visitors and travelers,

I love to share a new episode of our ''Distillation''-feature in which the goal is to ''distil'' haiku from another poem. This month I have chosen a poem written by Ezra Pound (1885-1972), a modern poet who also was interested in the Chinese and Japanese poetry. I will give a brief biography here-after.

Ezra Pound (1885-1972)

Ezra Pound is generally considered the poet most responsible for defining and promoting a modernist aesthetic in poetry. In the early teens of the twentieth century, he opened a seminal exchange of work and ideas between British and American writers, and was famous for the generosity with which he advanced the work of such major contemporaries as W. B. Yeats, Robert Frost, William Carlos Williams, Marianne Moore, H. D., James Joyce, Ernest Hemingway and especially T. S. Eliot. His own significant contributions to poetry begin with his promulgation of Imagism, a movement in poetry which derived its technique from classical Chinese and Japanese poetry - stressing clarity, precision, and economy of language, and foregoing traditional rhyme and meter in order to, in Pound's words, "compose in the sequence of the musical phrase, not in the sequence of the metronome." His later work, for nearly fifty years, focused on the encyclopedic epic poem he entitled The Cantos.
Ezra Pound was born in Hailey, Idaho, in 1885. He completed two years of college at the University of Pennsylvania and earned a degree from Hamilton College in 1905. After teaching at Wabash College for two years, he traveled abroad to Spain, Italy and London, where, as the literary executor of the scholar Ernest Fenellosa, he became interested in Japanese and Chinese poetry. He married Dorothy Shakespeare in 1914 and became London editor of the Little Review in 1917. In 1924, he moved to Italy; during this period of voluntary exile, Pound became involved in Fascist politics, and did not return to the United States until 1945, when he was arrested on charges of treason for broadcasting Fascist propaganda by radio to the United States during the Second World War. In 1946, he was acquitted, but declared mentally ill and committed to St. Elizabeth's Hospital in Washington, D.C. During his confinement, the jury of the Bollingen-Library of Congress Award (which included a number of the most eminent writers of the time) decided to overlook Pound's political career in the interest of recognizing his poetic achievements, and awarded him the prize for the Pisan Cantos (1948). After continuous appeals from writers won his release from the hospital in 1958, Pound returned to Italy and settled in Venice, where he died, a semi-recluse, in 1972.

His poem ''The River-Merchant's Wife'' is a translation of a poem by Li Po (an ancient Chinese poet)

River Merchant's Wife - woodblock 

Well ... let us take a look at this poem by Ezra Pound:

While my hair was still cut straight across my forehead
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.
And we went on living in the village of Chokan:
Two small people, without dislike or suspicion.

At fourteen I married My Lord you.
I never laughed, being bashful.
Lowering my head, I looked at the wall.
Called to, a thousand times, I never looked back.

At fifteen I stopped scowling,
I desired my dust to be mingled with yours
Forever and forever and forever.
Why should I climb the lookout?

At sixteen you departed,
You went into far Ku-to-en, by the river of swirling eddies,
And you have been gone five months.
The monkeys make sorrowful noise overhead.

You dragged your feet when you went out.
By the gate now, the moss is grown, the different mosses,
Too deep to clear them away!
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.
If you are coming down through the narrows of the river Kiang,
Please let me know beforehand,
And I will come out to meet you
As far as Cho-fo-Sa.

Merchant's Wife at Tea - Boris Kustodiev 1918
A wonderful poem I think and because it's a translation from a Chinese poem it's easy (I think) to distil from this poem a haiku, senryu, tanka or kyoka. I have given it a try and this is my haiku distilled from the poem by Ezra Pound.

youngsters playing
in the backyard garden -
cherry blossoms bloom

falling in love
feels like a waterfall of joy -
newly weds dreams

married youngsters
eyes blinded by their love -
weeping willows

love remains strong
she is turning grey without him -
leaves are falling

finally winter
once she was a young woman -
still waiting for him

I like these a lot, I think these haiku are telling in a short way what the poem tells, but that's how I see it of course. I like this feature it learns you new things ... for example ''looking towards other poetry forms can be fun too''.
Well .... it''s up to you now ... Share your distilled haiku, senryu, tanka or kyoka inspired on the poem by Ezra Pound with us all here at Carpe Diem Haiku Kai. This episode of "distillation'' will stay on until Decmeber 15th 11.59 AM (CET). This episode of ''distillation'' is now open for your submissions.


  1. I will give this a try.. I find it interesting to condense Ezra Pound as that was one of his key words to condense words into something powerful... loved the poem.

  2. You have transformed the poem in haiku so ell Kristjaan.

  3. What gorgeous distillation Kristjaan-loved them all and as JRB says above,you have really condensed the whole poem as Haiku-wow!

  4. Your distillaiton so skillfully made .. I just wanted to bring it down to a single haiku...

  5. yours flows quite nicely. A challenge indeed!

  6. i love your distillation - it almost follows the master's poem. thank you for the bio on Ezra Pound - good to refresh the memory. it is, as Bjorn says, a very beautiful poem.