A few days ago it struck me that too little is known about Achilles Fang, aka 方志浵, the man on the far left above, who wrote the introductions to several of Ezra Pound’s more important works, incl. Confucius, the Confucian Odes, and others. Turns out he was a brilliant, eccentric polyglot Chinese scholar at Harvard who taught famed sinologists like Arthur Wright, Francis Woodman Cleaves, and others how to read and interpret classical Chinese. Moreover, he was one of Qian Zhongshu’s (錢鐘書) few friends at Tsinghua University in the 1930s, so it’s really a pity so little has been written about him, especially considering he held major influence across a number of fields and intellectual undertakings in both China and the US during the 1950s. Plus, he’s just a fascinating personality who is central to American and Chinese Modernism. I don’t know if it’s true or not, but the story goes that he was hired by Harvard’s East Asian studies program to work on their Chinese-English dictionary but got sacked for making too many cryptic references to James Joyce’s Finnegan’s Wake. He didn’t publish very much, but Fang’s papers and letters, archived at Yale Univ. in Connecticut, would probably reveal a dissertation’s-worth of important cross-cultural material.
Rexroth, a poet and translator I’ve long admired, was also a fascinating individual. He was orphaned at an early age and sent to live with his aunt in Chicago in the 1910s, dropped out of school, studied painting at the Chicago Inst. of Art with Wen Yiduo, and traveled to Europe where he met the DADA poet Tristan Tzara among other people. A lifelong anarchist, his poems are often lyrics about the wilderness and his experiences traveling. Later in life he was a kind of big brother figure to some of the Beat poets, Gary Snyder esp., and because of a native ability with languages began translating Roman, Chinese, and Japanese poetry. His most famous translations are Women Poets of China and The Collected Poems of Li Ch’ing-zhao, a female poet of the Song Dynasty, both done in cooperation with scholar Chung Ling. Fortunately there’s a good bit of material on Rexroth on the web. The venerable, invaluable Rexroth site The Bureau of Public Secrets has been around forever. Morgan Gibson’s book, “Revolutionary Rexroth: Poet of East/West Wisdom,” has long been available online and my favorite chapter is the one on “Translation as an Act of Sympathy.”
This is a pic of poet Wen Yi-duo taken while he was studying art in Chicago in the early-1920s, at approximately the time he was writing his famous collection Red Candle 《紅燭》. As some readers may know, Wen was murdered before the eyes of his son by Kuomintang thugs in 1946. A tragic loss because he was a brilliant poet, an excellent literary scholar, and a gifted illustrator in the Art Deco style. (See below).