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This article is taken from PN Review 117, Volume 24 Number 1, September - October 1997.

'A Tricky Turn': Basil Bunting and Kamo no Chomei Sasha Hoare

Basil Bunting's translation of Kamo no Chomei's Hojoki was written in 1932, during the five-year period in which he lived in Rapallo, in close proximity to Ezra Pound. As is widely acknowledged, Pound's influence on Bunting was profound, and the older writer's theory and practice of translation played a significant part in shaping the ideas and experiments of his younger 'disciple' or 'Poundling'. Pound believed that not only was translation 'good training' for a poet, providing lessons in style and structure ('A Retrospect', Literary Essays of Ezra Pound, 1954), but that it was essential to the health of a nation's literature: 'English literature lives by translation, it is fed by translation; every new exuberance, every new heave is stimulated by translation' ('How to Read'). In 1932, Bunting described Pound's book of translations, Cathay, as providing for 'every subsequent translator a method and a model'.1 Bunting's choice of a medieval Japanese text for his first major work of translation could be seen as directly influenced by the example of Pound's work with another Oriental writer.

In the early 1930s, Japanese literature was relatively new to the Western world. As Donald Keene points out in the preface to his Anthology of Japanese Literature to the Nineteenth Century (1968), 'Japanese literature first became accessible to the Western world in the twentieth century'. Arthur Waley's influential translations of poetry were published in 1919, and remained the standard English text until 1955. Bunting, however, found an Italian translation (by Marcello Muccioli, published ...


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