Kung walked
by the dynastic temple
and into the cedar grove,
and then out by the lower river,
And with him Khieu Tchi
and Tian the low speaking
And “we are unknown,” said Kung,
“You will take up charioteering?
“Then you will become known,
“Or perhaps I should take up charioterring, or archery?
“Or the practice of public speaking?”
And Tseu-lou said, “I would put the defences in order,”
And Khieu said, “If I were lord of a province
“I would put it in better order than this is.”
And Tchi said, “I would prefer a small mountain temple,
“With order in the observances,
with a suitable performance of the ritual,”
And Tian said, with his hand on the strings of his lute
The low sounds continuing
after his hand left the strings,
And the sound went up like smoke, under the leaves,
And he looked after the sound:
“The old swimming hole,
“And the boys flopping off the planks,
“Or sitting in the underbrush playing mandolins.”
And Kung smiled upon all of them equally.
And Thseng-sie desired to know:
“Which had answered correctly?”
And Kung said, “They have all answered correctly,
“That is to say, each in his nature.”
And Kung raised his cane against Yuan Jang,
Yuan Jang being his elder,

or Yuan Jang sat by the roadside pretending to
be receiving wisdom.
And Kung said
“You old fool, come out of it,
“Get up and do something useful.”
And Kung said
“Respect a child’s faculties
“From the moment it inhales the clear air,
“But a man of fifty who knows nothing
Is worthy of no respect.”
And “When the prince has gathered about him
“All the savants and artists, his riches will be fully employed.”
And Kung said, and wrote on the bo leaves:
If a man have not order within him
He can not spread order about him;
And if a man have not order within him
His family will not act with due order;
And if the prince have not order within him
He can not put order in his dominions.
And Kung gave the words “order”
and “brotherly deference”
And said nothing of the “life after death.”
And he said
“Anyone can run to excesses,
“It is easy to shoot past the mark,
“It is hard to stand firm in the middle.”

And they said: If a man commit murder
Should his father protect him, and hide him?
And Kung said:
He should hide him.

And Kung gave his daughter to Kong-Tchang
Although Kong-Tchang was in prison.
And he gave his niece to Nan-Young
although Nan-Young was out of office.
And Kung said “Wan ruled with moderation,
“In his day the State was well kept,
“And even I can remember
“A day when the historians left blanks in their writings,
“I mean, for things they didn’t know,
“But that time seems to be passing.
A day when the historians left blanks in their writings,
But that time seems to be passing.”
And Kung said, “Without character you will
“be unable to play on that instrument
“Or to execute the music fit for the Odes.
“The blossoms of the apricot
“blow from the east to the west,
“And I have tried to keep them from falling.”

Analysis, meaning and summary of Ezra Pound's poem Canto XIII


  1. Sheryl Skoglund says:

    And Kung said, “Without character you will
    “be unable to play on that instrument
    “Or to execute the music fit for the Odes.
    “The blossoms of the apricot
    “blow from the east to the west,
    “And I have tried to keep them from falling.”
    The poem speaks of needing character for music and to execute music but he still has not been able to keep the apricots from falling off the trees and blowing from the east to the west. Maybe character is needed for music but not to execute the music for the Odes.

  2. James Harris says:

    Much of the Cantos seems to me rather incomprehensible and distilled as to be illegible unless you were Ezra Pound himself or someone who had read and studied exactly the same works as him. Nonetheless, the Canto here shows parts of the poem are extremely lucid and clearly argued, as Confucius himself would have advised.

    In fact, sections like this and Canto 81 make me feel that some kind of justification has to be put in place for the serious reading and study of the Cantos as an essential part of contemporary literature. It is, simply put, beautiful; clear, limpid and also sucessful in finding an unaffected modern idiom. Pound’s views were inexcusable, disgusting, insane, but I cannot convincedly condemn someone whose own poetry has given me so much pleasure, as here.

  3. Roland John says:

    The three disciples of Confucius represent three arms of the state. Tseu-Lou is a soldier, Khieu the government official and Tchi embodies the spirit through philosophy and religion. They each answer the master correctly offering the best they can do, whether this is putting the ‘defences in order’ or by performing rituals ‘with order in the observances.’ Pound attempts to give this alien philosophy an American feel, as they sit near ‘The old swimming hole./ And the boys flopping off the planks,’. This is Pound’s first attempt to suggest that the earthly paradise is about sound ghovernment, a theme that is dominant thoughout The Cantos. The Cantos is the major poem of the 20th Century, one of the few that investigates how government works and how much state control is compatible with civilisation. It is a plea for individualism within a system of justice that is the same for all.

  4. Paul Bard says:

    Fruits of a lifetime of reading, this is a attemt to subjectivize sayings from the Analects to that the voice of Master Kung, shorn of device, becomes clear in all it’s luminous vitality.

    My understanding of Pound’s treatement of Confucius is that here is a teacher who is treated in modern Asia as a demagogue and a praiser of tyrants. But if you were to actually listen to the man, Master Kung, you would see a proponent of individualism, integrity, vigor, and sprightly vitality emerge. Kung is not some stiff puppet here but a man willing to content for the truth.

    This, at least, is how Pound seeks to present him.

    The context of Pound’s treatment of Kung here is the wider criticisms in the Canto’s of money manipulations, usury, and centralized banking as undercutting human dignity and freedom. Sanctimonious tut-tutting of his “views” really are beside the point of the central thesis of human dignity and freedom.

    This quote, from Kung, is one attempt to marshall evidence to this thesis. Personally I think Pound fails. Simon Ley’s transliteration of the Analects captures the exciting true vigor of Confucious without the distortion of Pound’s pounderous political loyalties.

  5. Ioannis Iolaos Maniatis says:

    A pure essence of poetry by the poetic genius of ezra.idisagree with his political view i have the deep feeling that Canto XIII is closer to philosophy than poetry.

  6. John Harries says:

    Utterly beautiful, this poem has lasted all my life. I fail to grasp why critics do not accord Pound the position he so richly deserves.

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