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London: Macmillan, 1916. Pp. viii + 268. 1

The Egoist, 4 (Aug 1917) 102-03

I hope that in a few years we shall have another edition of these plays, an edition of Fenollosa’s notes separately, and an edition of the plays separately. Then the importance of the plays as literature, and in their present translation as English literature, will be more evident. This edition is necessarily, and in the best sense, a textbook; it has, therefore, excited reviewers to dwell on its informative character, rather than on its intrinsic value: they have made the book appear a service to literature, like a good doctor’s thesis, rather than as literature itself.

Translation is valuable by a double power of fertilizing a literature: by importing new elements which may be assimilated, and by restoring the essentials which have been forgotten in traditional literary method. There occurs, in the process, a happy fusion between the spirit of the original and the mind of the translator; the result is not exoticism but rejuvenation. I have no direct knowledge of how much in these Noh plays is Noh, and how much is Fenollosa, and how much is Pound. But I think that I have found a test, which so far as it goes is trustworthy. I find that when the writing is most like Mr. Pound, it also presents the appearance of being most faithful to the original. The first play, for instance, which is one of the least interesting, is the one which is most remote from the idiom of Mr. Pound. The Times, in a serious review of the book, found in the following passage a “not unpleasant reminder” of The Well of the Saints:

Tsure. I say they were very fine prayers. I will not come back without a struggle.

Shite. I’ve a sad heart to see you looking up to Buddha, you who left me alone, I diving in the black rivers of hell. Will soft prayers be a comfort to you . . .? 2

The semi-comic “fine,” the infinitive after “I’ve a sad heart,” and the Celtic present participle serve here only as a distraction. One feels that the original is not rendered because the translation is not English. I have no prejudice against the Irish drama, although I think that a large part of its popularity is due to tricks of idiom, just as I suspect that the reputation of Irish girls for beauty is due to their being called “colleens.” But I should not read the Epistles of St. Paul in the language of Robert Burns, and I prefer the Noh in English. 3 And Mr. Pound has no need of these accessories, for when he translates into English (and the Irish lapses are only occasional) he not only produces very fine poetry, but seems to bring us much nearer to the Japanese.

The ghosts of the dead lovers who were never united:

Tangled, we are entangled. Whose fault was it, dear? tangled up as the grass patterns are tangled in this coarse cloth, or as the little Mushi that lives on and chirrups in dried seaweed. We do not know where are to-day our tears in the undergrowth of this eternal wilderness. We neither wake nor sleep, and passing our nights in a sorrow which is in the end a vision, what are these scenes of spring to us? this thinking in sleep of some one who has no thought of you, is it more than a dream? and yet surely it is the natural way of love. In our hearts there is much and in our bodies nothing, and we do nothing at all, and only...

Published By:   Johns Hopkins University Press