mjj (flemmings) wrote,

Deep diving

Reading The Pound Era which is... quite indescribable. Fun, but not at all what one expects of either an exegesis of a poet's works or a literary history of his times. Am glad it's not about someone I like, because Kenner's grasshopper approach and linguistic games would probably make me gnash my teeth if it were. As it is, if he wants to blather on about Henry James and James Joyce and Bernart de Ventadorn and Wyndham Lewis while dissecting Pound's Cantos, that's great, because Pound's polyglot Cantos never did anything except annoy me. (And the rest of those guys are pretty annoying too.)

Kenner does clear up one thing that long puzzled me: why English people of Pound's generation are given to referencing and quoting troubadour poetry as if Provençal were a required school subject along with Greek and Latin. Kenner explains:
Some things were current once that are current no longer. A public for an inexpensive bilingual Dante-- Italian text, notes, and a facing version in unpretentious prose-- was once discoverable in England in sufficient numbers to circulate thousands upon thousands of elegant pocket-sized volumes, price one shilling. ...It was not presumed that the reader knew Italian, but that, "possessing some acquaintance with Latin or one of the Romance languages", he would welcome a prose guide "to the very words of the master in the original."

In 1902 the numerous students of Dante (where are they now?) could buy H.J. Chaytor's The Troubadours of Dante, which offered as much "as any one is likely to require who does not propose making a special study of Provençal." This meant working through 46 poems with a glossary, a grammar, and notes, unassisted by translation. People with Latin and French, who had been sipping at old Italian, seem not to have thought this formidable. Atop Pound's 1908 "Na Audiart" a note on the story of Bertrans' "borrowed lady" begins "Anyone who has read anything of the troubadours knows..." That was not swank: it was easy then to read something of the troubadours.
Swelp me: I could have sworn it *was* swank.

This does shed some light on Arthur Waley's light-hearted undertaking to teach himself Chinese and Japanese simultaneously. Clearly this was just something middle-class people did at the time.
Tags: language, reading_16

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