, Volume 43, Issue 1, pp 233–249 | Cite as

Beyond the pictogram: echoes of the Naxi in Ezra Pound’s Cantos

  • Duncan PoupardEmail author


Two unusual characters appear in the closing lines of Ezra Pound’s Canto CXII (from his “Drafts and Fragments”), characters that may offer up the most complete example of Pound’s much-discussed “ideogrammic method”. The characters discussed in this paper belong to the Naxi dongba script, the logographic writing system of a tribe in China’s south-western province of Yunnan. Pound’s sources are analysed and a new theory of the origin of the two characters—from Joseph Rock’s translation of a Naxi ritual text—is put forward. The two Naxi dongba characters in Canto CXII unlock the meaning of the canto within which they appear, and echo themes that run through the Cantos when taken as a whole. But we can also see Pound using both pictorial and phonetic elements of the script to create a “cumulative ideogram”, and through this comparative Poundian lens we can update our historically limited understanding of the Naxi writing system.


Ezra Pound Naxi Ideogram Dongba Pictogram 


  1. Bacot, J., & Chavannes, É. (1913). Les Mo-so: Ethnographie des Mo-so, leurs religions, leur langue et leur écriture. Leiden: E.J. Brill.Google Scholar
  2. Boltz, W. G. (2001). The invention of writing in China. Oriens Extremis, 42, 1–17.Google Scholar
  3. Boodberg, P. (1937). Some proleptical remarks on the evolution of archaic Chinese. Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies, 2, 329–372.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Brooke-Rose, C. (1971). A ZBC of Ezra Pound. Oakland: University of California Press.Google Scholar
  5. Carne-Ross, D. S. (1979). Instaurations: Essays in and out of literature, Pindar to Pound. Oakland: University of California Press.Google Scholar
  6. Chao, Y. R. (1968). Language and symbolic systems. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  7. Chen, Z. (2008). Ideographic versus phonetic: A debate over the nature of Chinese writing in the 1930’s. Monash University Linguistics Papers, 1(3), 3–29.Google Scholar
  8. Davie, D. (1975). Articulate energy; an inquiry into the syntax of English poetry. London: Routledge & Paul.Google Scholar
  9. DeFrancis, J. (1986). The Chinese language: Fact and fantasy. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press.Google Scholar
  10. DeFrancis, J. (1989). Visible speech: The diverse oneness of writing systems. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press.Google Scholar
  11. Fang, G., & He, Z. (1981). Naxi xiangxing wenzipu. Kunming: Yunnan Renmin Chubanshe.Google Scholar
  12. Fenollosa, E., & Pound, E. (2008). The Chinese written character as a medium for poetry: A critical edition. New York: Fordham University Press.Google Scholar
  13. Géfin, L. (1982). Ideogram, history of a poetic method. Austin: University of Texas Press.Google Scholar
  14. Jackson, A. (1979). Na-khi religion: An analytical appraisal of the Na-khi ritual texts. The Hague: Mouton. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Kennedy, G. A. (1964). Selected works. New Haven: Far Eastern Publications, Yale University.Google Scholar
  16. Lanciotti, L. (1970). The Na-khi religious tradition and Ezra Pound. East and West, 20(3), 375–379.Google Scholar
  17. Li, Q. (2008). Ezra Pound’s poetic mirror and the “China Cantos”: The healing of the West. Southeast Review of Asian Studies, 30, 41–54.Google Scholar
  18. Li, J. (2009). Naxi dongba wenzi gailun. Kunming: Yunnan Minzu Chubanshe.Google Scholar
  19. Perloff, M. (2012). Refiguring the Poundian ideogram: From Octavio Paz’s Blanco/Branco to Haroldo de Campos’s Galáxias. Modernist Cultures, 7(1), 40–55.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Porteus, H. G. (1950). Ezra Pound and his Chinese character: A radical examination. In P. Russell (Ed.), Ezra Pound: A collection of essays to be presented to Ezra Pound on his 65th birthday (pp. 203–217). New York: P. Neville.Google Scholar
  21. Pound, E. (1971). How to read. New York: Haskell House.Google Scholar
  22. Pound, E. (1975). The Cantos of Ezra Pound. London: Faber and Faber.Google Scholar
  23. Pound, E. (1991). ABC of reading. London: Faber and Faber.Google Scholar
  24. Qian, Z. (2003). Ezra Pound and China. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Qian, Z. (2008). Ezra Pound’s Chinese friends: Stories in letters. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  26. Ramsey, S. R. (1987). The languages of China. Princeton: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  27. Rock, J. F. C. (1939). The romance of K’a-Mä-Gyu-Mi-Gkyi. Bulletin de l’Ecole Française d’Extrême-Orient, 39(1), 1–152.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Rock, J. F. C. (1948). The Mùan Bpö ceremony; or, the sacrifice to heaven as practiced by the Na-Khi. Peiping: Catholic University.Google Scholar
  29. Rock, J. F. C. (1963). A Na-Khi—English encyclopedic dictionary. Rome: Instituto italiano per il Medio ed Estremo Oriente.Google Scholar
  30. Saussy, H. (1997). The prestige of writing: Wen2, letter, picture, image, ideography. Sino-Platonic Papers (Vol. 75), February 1997.Google Scholar
  31. Stoicheff, P. (1995). The hall of mirrors: Drafts & fragments and the end of Ezra Pound’s Cantos. Michigan: University of Michigan Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Terrell, C. F. (1984). A companion to the Cantos of Ezra Pound. Oakland: University of California Press.Google Scholar
  33. Tryphonopoulos, D. P., & Adams, S. (2005). The Ezra Pound encyclopedia. Westport: Greenwood Publishing Group.Google Scholar
  34. Yang, F. (1991). Xifang Naxi Dongba Wenhua Yanjiu Shuiping. Social Sciences in Yunnan, 4, 55–61.Google Scholar
  35. Yu, S. (2003). Naxi dongbawen yanjiu conggao. Chengdu: Bashu Shushe.Google Scholar
  36. Yu, S. (2008). Naxi dongbawen yanjiu conggao (Vol. 2). Chengdu: Bashu Shushe.Google Scholar
  37. Zhao, C. (1993). Jiagu wenzixue gangyao. Shanghai: Commercial Press.Google Scholar
  38. Zhou, Y. (1998). Bijiao wenzixue chutan. Beijing: Language and Culture Press.Google Scholar
  39. Zou, X., Li, T., & Feng, L. (1999). Jiagu wenzixue shuyao. Beijing: Yuelu Shushe.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Akadémiai Kiadó, Budapest, Hungary 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Room 126, Department of TranslationThe Chinese University of Hong KongShatinHong Kong

Personalised recommendations