Original Research

Ezra Pound’s orientalist poetry, natural rootedness, and Lepidoptera

J.E. Terblanche, R.F. Terblanche
Literator | Vol 23, No 3 | a345 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/lit.v23i3.345 | © 2002 J.E. Terblanche, R.F. Terblanche | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 06 August 2002 | Published: 06 August 2002

About the author(s)

J.E. Terblanche, School of Languages (English), Potchefstroom University for CHE, South Africa
R.F. Terblanche, School of Environmental Sciences and Development, Potchefstroom University for CHE, South Africa

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In this article, we focus on the outward purpose (Umberto Eco) and natural rootedness of Ezra Pound’s translation of Li Tai Po’s “The River Merchant’s Wife: a Letter.” Natural rootedness – a sign actively conditioned by and into a dynamic ecosystem – is a central aspect of Taoist poetics and modernist orientalism (Gary Snyder). We follow the outward purpose of the sign, in further exploration of a zone of between-ness: between the opposites of culture and nature (William Howarth). In particular, we focus on the butterfly image in this poem. An interdisciplinary, ecosemiotic reading is made of this image within its poetic and natural context. We argue that this image is related to actual (ecological and evolutionary) butterfly colouration and behaviour in the (Chinese) ecosystem. Although no historical evidence of either Pound’s or Li Po’s interest in butterflies exists as far as could be determined, the middle ground between English and Chinese that Pound occupies (Eric Hayot) in this translation, could partially explain the interlevel correspondence between this image and actual butterfly behaviour. The article demonstrates that the image ties in well with an autumnal orpimentation or “enyellowment” of butterflies, as well as their sexual behaviour. It concludes that the significance of the sign is enhanced by its outward purpose towards and interpenetration with and within active nature, culminating in this central natural image in this important and creative poetic translation by Pound.


Ezra Pound; Modernist Orientalist Poetry; Lepidoptera; Colouration And Behaviour; Natural Rootedness


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