‘Poetry in ordinary language’: Evans-Pritchard on ideophones

If one had to sum up their character in a short phrase one might say that they are poetry in ordinary language ; and one feels that no other sounds would serve the purpose equally well of evoking sensations which compose the meaning, just as one cannot think that any possible line could be substituted for, shall we say, “For ever piping songs for ever new”.
(Evans-Pritchard 1962:145)

The reference to Keats’ Ode on a Grecian Urn is particularly apt because Ezra Pound (ABC of reading, p. 63ff.) discusses Keats’ poetry in a chapter on the means of charging language to the utmost possible degree — which is exactly what ideophones do.

  1. Evans-Pritchard, E. E. 1962. Ideophones in Zande. Sudan Notes and Records 34: 143-146.
  2. Pound, Ezra. 1934. ABC of Reading. London: Routledge.

Le Ton Beau de Ta Hio

Reading about the two translations of the Confucian Ta Hio by Ezra Pound, the earlier one first published in 1928 and the later one created in 1945, I was reminded of Hofstadter’s Le Ton Beau de Marot. Though Hofstadter’s book on the problem of translation is personal and impressive, I also found it annoyingly ignorant of the work of countless others in the same field.

Ezra Pound is an example of someone who was acutely aware of the intricacies of the art of translation. Nowhere is this seen more clearly than in his two versions of the Ta Hio, a careful comparison of which would bring home many of the points developed at greater length (and at the expense of clarity) in Le Ton Beau. This will be obvious to anyone who takes some time to compare the following passages: Continue reading

Out of comptrol

An ironic typographical error thwarts Hugh Kenner’s exposition of the Ching Ming ideograph in The Poetry of Ezra Pound:

The Ching Ming ideograph has levels of signification beginning with orthography and ending with the most intimate moral discriminations. ‘Call things by their right names.’ Don’t, for example, call a man Comptroller of the Currency unless he really controls it. (Kenner 1951:38)

Alas, the Comptroller of Typesetting (now of course deprived of his title) was not at his post to save Kenner from recursivity breaking loose, and that on the very page where a Pound quote reminds us that ‘orthography is a discipline of morale and of morals.’ A lovely strange loop it is.

Update: Helpful readers point out that the function of ‘Comptroller’ actually exists in the American system. This gives away two things: first, that I am currently writing posts offline (as I am in the field); second, that I am unforgivably ignorant of English typographic history. In my defense, I may note that the strange recursivity in Kenner’s passage still does hold; and that the title of my post tried to joke that not the noun (Comptroller) but the verb (control) is misspelled. I do admit guilt on the charge of trying to construct English puns as a non-native speaker.


  • Kenner, Hugh. 1951. The Poetry of Ezra Pound. New York: New Directions.