six refined scholars chinese painting



The canto presents the ways Pound situates Confucius in relation to the West along the axes of education, philosophy, religion, arts and morals. He implicitly contrasts Kung’s philosophy, oriented toward society, ethics and politics, to that of his Greek near-contemporaries, Socrates and Plato, whose discussions handled abstract distinctions and “cosmological guesses” (GK 97). Later, Pound would single out Aristotle as Kung’s Western equivalent, since Aristotle had been the only one of the Greeks to think in terms of real politics, not ideal republics: “Aristotle compiled or caused to be compiled descriptions of the constitutions of 158 Greek states” (GK 341).        

From a religious point of view, Pound compares Confucianism to Christianity, emphasizing Kung’s orientation towards the life on this earth: Confucius aimed to cultivate in his disciples a sense of community through the performance of rituals and a responsibility for a life of service to the society they live in, not their individual salvation after death. Pound saw the Christian maxim of "love thy neighbour" as an implicit permission to intrude in another person's private affairs. He invites us to consider the Confucian concept of "brotherly deference," which respects the private sphere, as a corrective to the Christian value.

Finally, Pound opposes Kung as educator to the pedagogy of his own day, a system inspired by German practice, designed to pursue knowledge for its own sake, not as a preparation for life. Pound felt this knowledge was irrelevant to vital questions and damaging to individuals, since by directing knowledge solely from teacher to students, it subjected the latter to a uniform system, turning them into potential slaves to a tyranny. In “Provincialism, the Enemy II” (1917), Pound aligned Kung with Flaubert and Henry James against unseen, customary enslavement brought about by “hammering the student into a piece of mechanism for the accretion of details, and [...] habituating men to consider themselves as bits of mechanism for one use or another: in contrast to considering first what use they are in being” (Provincialism; P&P II: 233-34). 

By contrast, as can be seen from the central scene of the canto taken from The Analects 11.25, Kung’s interaction with students is designed to draw out what they know about themselves and focused on what is most vital to their future. He does not tell them in advance what to think, but only asks a relevant question—the students come up with answers that are neither censored nor aligned to a standard of correctness. It is important to know that Kung does express preferences and judge each student’s answer in The Analects 11.25, but Pound cuts the passages where he does so. Thus, the canto is not a collage of translations designed to illuminate the Confucian text, or recover a “true” Confucius, but is rather what Mary Paterson Cheadle called a “pastiche of passages knit elegantly together,” governed by Pound’s own ideas about the meaning and scope of Confucianism and the lessons it has to offer to Western culture. These emerge in the distinctions between the canto and its source, the minute but highly significant ways in which Pound departs from it to present his position. This is Pound’s original point of view and has little or nothing to do with Confucian studies traditionally perceived.

Pound’s only source for this canto is the French translation of the Four Chinese Classics by G. M. Pauthier entitled Doctrine de Confucius, which contains Le Ta Hio (“La Grande Étude”), Tchong Young (“Invariabilité dans le milieu”), Lun Yu (“Entretiens Philosophiques” [“Philosophical Conversations” or Analects]), and Meng-Tseu (“Mencius”).   

The central episode of the canto (the conversation with the disciples) is taken out of Entretiens 11.25 in Pauthier’s translation. Newer editions of The Analects (Lau, Eno, Chin) split 11.2 into two parts, so that 11.25 has become 11.26. 

In his “Mr. Villerant’s Morning Outburst,” Pound published a prose translation of the episode in the Little Review in November 1918 ([V], P&P III: 221-223) which is given in the glosses and can be found in the Sources.



Pound followed the romanization of names and Chinese terms provided by his sources (Cheadle 7), whereas newer research on both Confucian works and Pound’s translations has followed the pinyin system (Cheadle, Lan, Chin). The Cantos Project will therefore follow the practice of including the Chinese word first in the romanization Pound used, and then in pinyin, in square brackets. For canto XIII, Pound uses the French romanization which he found in his source: Doctrine de Confucius: Les Quatre livres de philosophie morale et politique de la Chine. Traduite par M. G. Pauthier. Paris 1814. Pdf.

The information on Confucius’ disciples is taken from Annping Chin’s "Appendix" and commentaries to her translation of The Analects (Penguin 2014) and Robert Eno’s online translation of The Analects.