The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“I, Mencius, Pupil of the Master . . .” is a long, open-form poem in three major sections containing twenty-five stanzas. The entire poem comprises eighty-four lines of various length. Understanding the title is crucial in detecting the voice, theme, and tone of this challenging poem. Assuming the persona of an earlier poet is a technique that Charles Olson, one of contemporary America’s first postmodernist poets, used throughout his controversial career. In this poem, he speaks through the persona of Mencius (372-289 b.c.e.), a devoted follower of the great Chinese philosopher Confucius (551-479 b.c.e.) and author of The Book of History, in which he set out the Confucian rules for a “benevolent government.” First and foremost, great rulers must be men of virtue.

In the voice of Mencius, Olson scolds his poetic master, Ezra Pound. The occasion for Olson’s outrage was the publication of Pound’s translation of one of the most venerated books of Chinese poetry, The Book of Odes (poetry written between 1000 and 700 b.c.e.). Confucius himself had gathered the 305 poems that made up The Book of Odes. What provoked Olson’s anger was that Pound translated them into ballads, an archaic form of English poetry in regular meter, rhyme, and stanzaic form. Ironically, it had been Ezra Pound himself who helped formulate the rules for a...

(The entire section is 403 words.)