Ezra_Pound.gif (49290 bytes) Some Aspects of Ezra Pound's Theories of Poetry and Translation
John Dryden originally proposed the following basic possibilities for translation in the late seventeenth-century::
  1. a metaphrase that translates word-for-word the original, which often results in a wooden text that doesn't entirely make sense in the receptor language
  2. a paraphrase that seeks to keep the sense of the original, but also adapt itself to the needs of the translator's own language
  3. an imitation that builds a new work off the basic idea, themes, or structure of the original.

In addition to Dryden's nomenclature, one should add a subspecies of imitation like parody.

Pound's Terminology

imagism: "an intellectual and emotional complex in an instant of time."  The goal of imagist poetry was to present a firm, concrete picture that combined together an intellectual and emotional response.

vorticism: an abstraction which frees the poet from a direct imitation of nature, yet results in an intellectually and emotionally charged form.

logopoeia: "the context we expect to find with the word."  Pound chose a word in translation because of the history, culture, and tone we associated with it. 

phanopoeia: the power of language to create visual imagery in the mind of the reader.

excernment: this was Pound's willingness as a translator to order and even eliminate repetitions from the original text.

Pound's Theory of Translation

  1. A true translation must reject "Wardour-Street English," the pseudo-archaic language of Victorian translators associated with William Morris and F. W. Newman.  Pound was willing to experiment with a variety of poetic style and diction.  He made free-verse translations of classical works acceptable.
  2. Each translation is a kind of criticism of the original.  It stresses the strengths of the original, but it also shows what its limits may have been.
  3. No translation has to reproduce all aspects of the original.  It can choose to concentrate on only some aspects.  It can leave part of the original out.  It may even add to it or rearrange it in order to accomplish the translator's purpose.
  4. Modern topical allusions may be used to bring across the emotions associated with the original's allusions.
  5. Translations should be new poems in their own right.  They should be artistically well-done.
  6. History is a product of the present.  All knowledge of the past is experienced in our current recption and reading of it.  In this sense, all translation is both a continuity and a re-reading of past texts and authors.

George Steiner's Model

Steiner argues that every good translator seeks to "keep faith" with the original, but that every translation has to make adjustments in order to bring even part of the message into the new language:

  • Initiative: The translator begins with trust in his or her understanding of the original, as well as his or her sense of the receptor language.
  • Aggression: The translator makes a move towards a comprehension of the original
  • Incorporation: The translator seeks an inclusion of the original work into the worldview of the receptor language with some sense of resulting loss.
  • Reciprocity/ Restitution: The translator attempts to make-up for this loss with something that compensates.


  1. How does Pound's "Portrait d'une Femme" use its imagery to accomplish its purposes?
  2. How does Pound's translation of "The River-Merchant's Wife: A Letter" differ from other translations?  How much of Pound's theory does it exhibit?  Is reciprocity and restitution at work in Pound's translation?
  3. What does Pound's translation of book eleven of The Odyssey in Canto I say about his view of history and poetry?
  4. Why does Pound chose the tone and word choice he uses in Canto XLV?

"All manner of thing shall be well/ When the tongues of flame are in-folded/ Into the crowned knot of fire/ And the fire and the rose are one." -- T.S. Eliot, Little Gidding