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Notions of image and emotion across culture and time.

In classical Chinese poetry, imagery always occupies a central position, and nature serves as a source for imagery. As a concrete carrier of an abstract idea, an image can create both a visual picture and an aesthetic pleasure for a reader; therefore, the connection between human feelings and nature is essential to the Chinese poetic tradition. Liu Hsieh (465-520), a literary critic in the fifth century, elaborates on this notion in Wen-Hsin Tiao-Lung (Literary Mind: Dragon Carvings), a systematic treatise on literature and literary thought that consists of forty-nine chapters. The following passage is quoted from Chapter 46, "The Sensuous Colors of Physical Things":

When poets were stirred by physical things, the categorical associations were endless. They remained drifting through all the images of the world, even to their limit, and brooded thoughtfully on each small realm of what they saw and heard. They sketched ch'i and delineated outward appearance, as they themselves were rolled round and round in the course of things; they applied coloration and matched sounds, lingering on about things with their minds. (Owen 279) (1)

This passage is, as Stephen Owen points out, "one of the most beautiful and important passages in Wen-hsin tiao-lung, describing the all-important relation between the human mind and the outer world" (279). This relationship, in other words, can be understood as the fusion of emotion and scene. With this fusion, a poet integrates emotion and scene. He can transcend his personal feelings and individual thoughts by objectifying them and, furthermore, penetrate the outward form of an object to grasp chi, the spirit or inner quality that a good poem should possess.

Wang Changlin (698-757), a poet and literary scholar in the Tang Dynasty, describes more clearly the relationship between the human mind and the outer world in his famous essay "Precepts of Poetry":

Poetry has three worlds. The first is called the world of objects. When one wishes to write a landscape poem, then one sets forth a world of streams and rocks, clouds and peaks--the utmost in beauty and elegance. As the spirit is in the mind, when one situates one's body in the world one sees the world in the mind, as if shimmering in one's palm. Only afterward does one use one's thinking to fully comprehend the world's images and thereby attain a formal likeness. The second is called the world of feelings. Pleasure and joy, grief and resentment are all set forth in one's ideas and situated in one's body. Then one presses one's thinking forward to deeply get to those feelings. The third is called the world of ideas, which also involves setting things forth in one's ideas and contemplating them in one's mind, so that the truth will be attained. (Yu 186) (2)

Among the three poetic worlds discussed in "Precepts of Poetry," the first one--the world of objects--seems the one Wang Changlin favors most. He advocates here an ideal poem in which emotion and scene are integrated, and such integration is the main characteristic of much of the Tang Dynasty poetry. For instance, in the following quatrain by Meng Haoran (689-740), one of Li Po's friends and a famous Chinese poet of the eighth century:
   While I moor my boat by a mist-veiled isle,
   The day leaves, my homesickness arrives.
   Far across wilderness the sky lowers behind the trees,
   In clear water the moon is close to me. (3)

The first couplet describes the loneliness of a solitary traveler. As he moors by a misty island, an acute homesickness rises to take hold of him. The second centers on the scene alone, but the emotion hides behind images that offer much for rumination: The traveler gazes in the direction of his home, but his eyes meet only the sky and distant trees and vast wilderness. He then looks down at the moon in the water, which may be his only company and, ironically, a non-human one; it is close but aloof and makes the traveler even lonelier.

The relationship between emotion and scene is deeply rooted in the Chinese poetic notion of the essential unity of man and nature. This unity invites a poet to connect the internal and the external by means of imagery. That is to say, an integration of emotion and landscape will reflect the inner being through the external world. Wang Fu-chih (1619-92) remarks on this integration in "Discussions to While Away the Days at Evening Hall":

Affection [emotion] and scene have two distinct names, but in substance they cannot be separated. Spirit in poetry compounds them limitlessly and with wondrous subtlety. At the most artful there is scene-within-affections and affections-within-scene. An example of affection-within-scene is [Li Po's] "A sheet of moonlight in Ch'ang-an." This is naturally the sentiment of lodging alone and recalling someone far away. (Owen 472-3) (4)

According to Wang Fu-chih's notion, there must be a wholeness or inseparable element of emotion and scene or the reflection of the inner being through an "objective correlative" in the external world. This is the spirit of all things in the world. In other words, to maintain the inseparable unity of the two distinct concepts, images should be bound to a state of mind or a state of mood. Wang Fuchih offers a fuller explication of the unity of emotion and scene in another discussion:

Scene is put together by the affection, and the affections are generated by the scene. Initially they are not distinguished and are nothing more than what coincides with one's thoughts. If you separate them into two independent categories, then the affections will not be adequate to stir, and the scene will not be one's own scene. (Owen 475) (5)

According to Wang, scene and affection are identical to each other. To describe a scene, the one describing the scene must have affection/emotion. Without affection, it is difficult to present the scene. The scene-within-affection does not mean abstract expression of affection; it must contain the scene that matches the affection. In the same way, it is difficult to describe emotion or affection without the scene. In Owen's interpretation, "Thus, the particular integration of a scene is a product of a given person's 'circumstance' or 'state of mind'" (476).

A good example is "Autumn Thoughts" by Ma Zhiyuan (12601325), a short lyric that combines images into a perfect scene to reflect human feelings:
   Withered vines
   Old trees
   Evening crows,

   Tiny bridge
   Sluggish creek
   Scattered houses,

   Ancient roads
   Westerly wind
   A lean horse.

   The sun is setting,
   A tired man travels,
   Far from home. (6)

This poem produces a composite scene from a sequence of fragments of objects. There is an internal relationship between the bleak landscape and the heart-broken traveler. Words such as "withered," "old" and "evening" intensify the human loneliness. In regard to sensibility to landscape, Ma is particularly good at selecting the autumn images to express his poetic ideas. This poem is a painting of feelings, and its superb expression lies in the revelation of feelings through images that become visible.

Classical Chinese poetics on the integration of emotion and scene, as well as the two poems by Meng Haoran and Ma Zhiyuan, suggest the use of landscape as a bridge between a poet and a reader.

Poetry, as an art of imagination, should dissolve personal ideas into impersonal objects. The Chinese poetic notion of the integration of emotion and scene is echoed in T. E. Hulme's essay, "A Lecture on Modern Poetry." Hulme says that a poet "is moved by a certain landscape, he selects from that certain images which, put into juxtaposition in separate lines, serve to suggest and to evoke the state he feels" (Further Speculations 73). He goes on to say that the two images can form a visual chord in the mind as a mental image:
   To this piling-up and juxtaposition of distinct images in different
   lines, one can find a fanciful analogy in music. A great revolution
   occurred in music when, for the melody that is one-dimensional
   music, was substituted harmony which moves in two. Two visual
   images form what one may call a visual chord. They unite to suggest
   an image which is different than both. (73)

Hulme suggests here that the juxtaposition of the two objects creates a mental image, or a visual chord of harmony, that conveys meaning. He himself is a practitioner in writing a few imagistic poems, one of which, "Autumn," is worth mentioning:
   A touch of cold in the Autumn night--
   walked abroad,
   And saw the ruddy moon lean over a hedge
   Like a red-faced farmer.
   I did not stop to speak, but nodded;
   And round about were the wistful stars
   With white faces like town children. (Pratt 47)

This short imagistic poem presents unexpected freshness through an unconventional analogy: the ruddy moon is compared to a red-faced farmer who leans over a hedge for a talk, and the wistful stars to the white faces of the town children. The distinction of this poem from the norm of Romantic poems is that the image of the moon does not evoke feelings of melancholy and loneliness. Instead, this "red-faced" moon "seems well-fed, healthy, comfortable and neighborly, and is humorously regarded" (Perkins 337). This poem shows that "the great aim is accurate, precise and definite description," the poetic principle proposed by Hulme in his essay, "Romanticism and Classicism" (732). It also stands as a good example of what Hulme says about the use of fresh imagery in another essay, "Bergson's Theory of Art": "The thing that concerns me here is of course only the feeling which is conveyed over to you by the use of fresh metaphors. It is only where you get these fresh metaphors and epithets employed that you get this vivid conviction which constitutes the purely aesthetic emotion that can be got from imagery" (737). However, Hulme's major contribution is not the several imagistic poems he writes, but his theory about the characteristics of the ideal poetry he describes, which can be crystallized in a poetic line from his poem "The Poet": "Of gems, colors, hard and definite" (Pratt 49).

Another echo of classical Chinese poetic ideas is T. S. Eliot's "objective correlative," set forth in his influential essay, "Hamlet and His Problems":
   The only way of expressing emotion in the form of art is by finding
   an objective correlative; in other words, a set of objects, a
   situation, a chain of events which shall be the formula of that
   particular emotion; such that when the external facts, which must
   terminate in sensory experience, are given, the emotion is
   immediately evoked. (766)

Here, Eliot tries to express the "emotion he chooses as the subject of his work by finding the appropriate objective correlative" (Christ 82), and this expression bears similarities to Hulme's "visual chord." Both Eliot and Hulme underscore the expression of emotion through the fusion of disparate objects, but Eliot's notion seems more resonant with Wang Fu-chih's. In fact, his notion of "objective correlative" is presented in an effective way in the opening lines of "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock":
   Let us go then, you and I,
   When the evening is spread out against the sky
   Like a patient etherized upon a table.

In the image of the evening as a patient etherized upon a table, Eliot conveys a controlled expression, not a spontaneous overflow, of the persona's inner state, which is reflected in his view of the world he sees. Therefore, the "particular emotion" objectified to the landscape through the persona's "sensory experience" suggests a complete fusion of the two. Even though Eliot sees the importance of expressing emotion by using an "objective correlative," he is more interested in stressing impersonality, a detachment from the personal experience, which he elaborates in an equally influential essay, "Tradition and the Individual Talent":
   The business of the poet is not to find new emotions, but to use
   the ordinary ones and, in working them up into poetry, to express
   feelings which are not in actual emotions at all. And emotions
   which he has never experienced will serve his turn as well as those
   familiar to him.... Poetry is not a turning loose of emotion, but
   an escape from emotion; it is not the expression of personality,
   but an escape from personality. But, of course, only those who have
   personality and emotions know what it means to want to escape from
   those things. (764)

Eliot wants to say that emotion is not something a poet injects into an object; it is something one can have when an object strikes a chord in his heart. Eliot's "objective correlative" and his notion of impersonality echo Pound's idea of treating the "thing" directly, whether subjectively or objectively. In other words, both of them try to present definite objects in which emotion is not described, but experienced; therefore, they stress the impersonal consciousness of emotion.

In fact, the Chinese poetic notion of fusion of emotion and scene, Hulme's "visual chord" and Eliot's "objective correlative" all present similar ideas about the relationship between the subjective and the objective, even though their focal points may be different. Although it does not mean that Hulme and Eliot are necessarily influenced by Chinese poetics, it does indicate that critics with different cultural backgrounds and living in different times may come to the same conclusions. However, Ezra Pound, who also reaches the same conclusion, is influenced by Chinese poetics. Even before the start of Imagism, Pound already showed an interest in Chinese poetry. He adapts some Chinese poems from H. A. Giles's History of Chinese Literature. His adaptations, including "After Ch'u Yuan," "Liu Ch'e," and "Fan-Piece, for Her Imperial Lord," challenge him to see things in a new way that uses fresh images to create an effect of juxtaposition. In the early autumn of 1913 Pound's interest in classical Chinese and Japanese poetry becomes fruitful and more significant when he meets Mrs. Fenollosa in London. He receives from her the late Ernest Fenollosa's manuscripts on Chinese poetry and written characters because she, as T. S. Eliot states in To Criticize the Critic, "recognize[s] that in Pound the Chinese manuscripts would find the interpreter whom her husband would have wished" (177). Editing Fenollosa's manuscripts under the title The Chinese Written Character as a Medium for Poetry fascinates Pound so much that by the summer of 1914 he begins to explain Imagism "in terms that involved the ideogram" (Coffman 15). In December 1914 Pound writes his father that he "got a little book out of Fenollosa's Chinese notes" (Nolde 21). This little book is Cathay, a small collection of English renderings of classical Chinese poems, published by Elkin Mathews in April 1915. The publication of Cathay marks Pound's discovery of China and reinforces his Imagist principles. Ford Madox Ford, who was Pound's literary mentor and friend, gives his praise: "The poems of Cathay are things of supreme beauty. What poetry should be, they are" (Lindberg-Seyersted 25).

It is evident that Pound's Cathay, as well as Fenollosa's essay on Chinese written characters, has influenced him because he sees the inspiration in classical Chinese poetry and written characters: precise, concrete and clear images that convey exact ideas. We can see from his translations of Chinese poems and from some of his Cantos that classical Chinese poetry has inspired Pound through its juxtaposition of images and through the images he deciphers from the ideograms. Among these, what intrigues Pound most are the ideogrammic images, since he believes ideograms present things in visual imagery. For example, in line 430 of Canto LXXIV: "a man on whom the sun has gone down" (SelectedPoems of Ezra Pound 155), Pound digs out "man" ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII.]) and "sun" ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII.]) from the character "[TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII.]" which means "no" in English. Mainly through his compilation of Fenollosa's Chinese Written Character as a Medium for Poetry and his translation of classical Chinese poems, Pound develops his "ideogrammic method." He explains clearly in Guide to Kulchur that "the ideogramic method consists of presenting one facet and then another until at some point one gets off the dead and desensitized surface of the reader's mind, onto a part that will register" (51). Pound's "ideogrammic method" also shows his misconception that Chinese ideogram "is still the picture of a thing; of a thing in a given position or relation, or of a combination of things. It means the thing or the action or situation, or quality germane to the several things that it pictures" (ABC of Reading 21).

However, his misconception seems a lucky one since he talks from a poet's, not a linguist's, view. We need to understand that even though Pound's notion of Chinese written characters is "misconceived," it is "understood well enough" by the poets "who incorporated the principle into their own work" (Bush 196). Obviously Pound's explanation indicates that Fenollosa's essay on Chinese written characters has served as a guiding principle of ABC of Reading. He regrets that Fenollosa "died before getting round to publishing and proclaiming a 'method'" (ABC of Reading 22) and probably feels it is his obligation to adapt Fenollosa's poetic notion of the Chinese ideograms into his "ideogrammic method." In ABC of Reading, Pound goes on to explain the method by using the term phanopoeia. He says, "the maximum of phanopoeia [throwing a visual image on the mind] is probably reached by the Chinese, due in part to their particular kind of written language" (42). Pound's elaboration shows that his ideogrammic poetics is one of China's most important contributions to his thought, and, through him, a permanent contribution to modern English poetry.

To summarize, classical Chinese poetics on the integration of emotion and scene, Hulme's "visual chord," Eliot's "objective correlative" and Pound's "ideogrammic method" all suggest the use of imagery as a vehicle for expressing fresh ideas, because imagery is a bridge between a poet and a reader. Poetry, as an art of language, should present new ideas and, as an art of imagination, should dissolve personal ideas into impersonal objects. In other words, the power of language reflects images through objects when ideas are concrete to senses. To a poet, the process of his creative writing is from the invisible idea to the visible image; but to a reader, the process of his creative reading is from the visible image to the invisible idea. This essay reviews a few basic aspects of classical Chinese and modern English poetics with the intention of making them comparable and accessible. It also analyzes the impact of imagery in classical Chinese poetry and written characters on Pound. It is fortunate, I should say, that Pound turns to classical Chinese poetry and ideograms to find a way to cleanse the decadence of the late Victorian poetry and blow a fresh wind into the modern western poetry in the early 1910s. I believe we can still hear a resonance in these poetics.


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Pratt, William. 2001. The Imagist Poem: Modern Poetry in Miniature, rev. ed. Ashland: Story Line Press..

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Author:Zheng, Jianqing
Publication:East-West Connections
Date:Jan 1, 2010
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