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Ezra Pound's Confucianism

From: Philosophy and Literature
Volume 29, Number 1, April 2005
pp. 57-72 | 10.1353/phl.2005.0016

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Philosophy and Literature 29.1 (2005) 57-72

Chungeng Zhu

Emory University

To T. S. Eliot's question "What does Mr. Pound believe?" Pound's answer is explicit and categorical: "I believe the Ta Hio" (Da Xue). Confucianism, Pound believes, offers a solution to the West that, from its political institutions to its economic system, has fallen into chaos and disorder. Ideology and aesthetics are inextricable. Pound also sees in Confucianism a way of making poetry in articulating his vision of a new earthly paradise. In The Cantos, Pound covers numerous people and cultures across times and space, and Thomas Jefferson and John Adams stand out as two of Pound's preeminent Confucian heroes. Pound's view of Jefferson and Adams, of course, involves his views on politics, economics, law, and history—a host of complicated issues that cannot be all accounted for by his reading of Confucianism. Similarly, Pound's poetics is also influenced by various traditions. This study, however, focuses on the extent to which Pound's Confucianism has contributed to his reading of Jefferson and Adams and to his poetics. It specifically examines the relationship between Pound's Confucianism and his poetic form in presenting Jefferson and Adams—that is, how the poet brings his Confucianism to making heroes out of history, and how his poetic form serves to express his Confucian world-view.

I

Several aspects about Pound's Confucianism need to be addressed briefly, for they are essential to his evaluation of people and to his Confucian poetics. First of all, Pound considers Confucianism a totalizing philosophy rooted in the objective reality of organic nature. He believes that the Confucian Dao,which he refers to as the "process," not only operates as an inherent unifying principle of harmonious order manifest in nature but also sets the norm to be followed in establishing culture. Unlike other failing metaphysical religions, Confucianism, in Pound's view, does not commit "splitting"—the separation of ideas from the phenomenal or culture from nature. Greek philosophy, he thinks, commits "splitting," for the Greek philosophers "have been served up as highbrows. We know them as ideas, each handed us as a maxim." He believes "Christian thought has never offered a balanced system"(GK, p. 29). The Eleusinian elements might be present in the very early church, but the ancient wisdom "seems to have disappeared when the mysteries entered the vain space of Christian theological discussion." In contrast, Confucianism, he believes, is totalizing in the sense that "Confucius offers a way of life, an Anschauung or disposition toward nature and man and a system for dealing with both" (GK, p. 24). Because of Confucianism, he maintains, "I fail to see that the history of China, or Chinese historic process, suffers a dichotomy or split into two opposite forces, as does that of Europe" (Prose, p. 67).

Pound considers Confucianism not just a balanced system; he finds Confucianism particularly attractive because of Confucius's deep concern with man and culture, his focus on social and ethical issues, his emphasis on individual responsibility, and, above all, his strong commitment to realizing social order and harmony in this world. "The essence of religion," Pound believes, "is the present tense" (Prose, p. 70). Greek philosophy, Pound feels, ignores the question of individual responsibility and the feeling of common people, and the Greek philosophers "did not feel communal responsibilities vide infra. The sense of coordination, of the individual in a milieu is not in them" (GK, p. 38). He thinks that Greek philosophic thought "is at no point impregnated with a feeling for the whole people" (GK, p. 29). Pound is also critical of Christianity, particularly "the decline of Christian ethics" (Prose, p. 61). Christian religion, in his view, can no longer function for the West, for "Christianity has become the slogan of every oppression, of every iniquity" (Prose, p. 193). In comparison, Confucianism, Pound observes, advocates that knowledge is "to know men" and humanity is "to love men" (GK, p. 18). Confucius believes that "travel broadens the mind"; he has the "knowledge of local conditions" and is "interested in increasing agricultural production" (GK, p. 272). Confucius emphasizes "conduct" and "the value of personality" (Prose, p. 193...



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