Yeats, Pound, Asia, and the Music of the Body

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Yeats, Pound, Asia, and the Music of the Body

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Title: Yeats, Pound, Asia, and the Music of the Body
Author: Albright, Daniel
Citation: Albright, Daniel. 2010. Yeats, Pound, Asia, and the Music of the Body. The Meaning of the Flute in Modernist Music and Poetry. Guangzhou University. June 11, 2010.
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Abstract: In June 2009 news appeared concerning a 33,000-year-old flute, found in a cave in southern Germany, made of the wing bone of a griffon vulture. The idea that the most profound art comes from the innermost recesses of the body was familiar to the Modernist poets, such as William Butler Yeats and Ezra Pound. Yeats’s play The Herne’s Egg concerns a flute made from a heron’s thigh-bone, and Yeats liked the bone’s perspective on human life: in one poem wrote of looking at the bitter old world through a hole bored in a hare’s collar-bone, and in another poem he wrote, “He that sings a lasting song / Thinks in a marrow-bone.” Pound (a composer as well as a poet) also examined the deep resonances of flute music: in his opera Le testament, the brothel music is played by a nose flute, and in a number of his Chinese poems flutes play uncanny roles. For example, in his translation from Li Po, “The River Song,” the nightingales’ song mixes into the sound of the flute, as if artifice and nature had attained a perfect counterpoint, a metaphysical unison; and in Canto 90 the flute tone comes hoi chthonioi, a Greek term meaning “the earth-born”—as if it were the music of spirits of the underworld. For both Yeats and Pound, flute music is at once the most celestial, the most unearthly of sounds, and also the expression of the bloodiest, most carnal life.
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