Henri Gaudier-Brzeska, “The Red Stone Dancer,” 1913
(Davenport, under the title “The Red Stone Dancer”: “Nos fesses ne sont pas les leurs. Il faut être absolument moderne.”)
(Davenport, under the title “The Red Stone Dancer”: “Nos fesses ne sont pas les leurs. Il faut être absolument moderne.”)
“The Bowmen of Shu” begins with a letter from Henri Gaudier-Brzeska, written from the trenches in 1915, that John Cournos showed me one evening in Haverford, taking it from its envelope, while remembering introducing Gaudier to Pound fifty years before.That’s Guy Davenport, in the “Postscript” to Twelve Stories (1997). Prior mention of the story led recently to some exchanges with Marilyn Schwinn Smith, who alerted me to Davenport’s letterpress printing of the Gaudier-Brzeska letter in 1965 under the title Ezra’s Bowmen of Shu. Joan Crane, in Guy Davenport: A Descriptive Bibliography, 1947-1995 (Green Shade, 1996) lists the item (“Double broadside; two sheets stitched to the inner sides of a single folded cover sheet” with a “nude male drawing by Henri Gaudier-Brzeska, printed in blue”) and details its colophon thus:
[Lowell House escutcheon: argent, three arrows proper, grasped in a dexter hand, couped; the crest, a stag’s head caboshed with the riband motto, “Occasionem cognosce” (Know thy opportunity” or “Strike while the iron is hot”)] | Both the drawing and the letter are here printed for the | first time—the drawing through the generosity | of the Fogg Art Museum, and the letter through | the generosity of Mr. John Cournos. The text | is printed in 14-point Bulmer Roman and Italic | by the | Adams House & Lowell House Printers | in Harvard Yard, March, 1965. | This is No. [number supplied by hand in red ink] of eighty-seven copies. | [Adams House escutcheon: five oak branches, single-leafed and fruited with acorns, proper](Later that year Davenport joined up again with collaborator Laurence Scott—under the “As Sextant Press” imprint—to complete the first printing of Ezra Pound’s Canto CX. Crane: “According to GD, Pound had given this and several other late cantos to Donald Hall with the injunction to ‘touch them up and print ’em.’” As Sextant Press, with Davenport editing Pound’s work, and Scott drawing a frontispiece portrait, thus printed 118 copies of the canto for Pound’s eightieth birthday.)
Davenport’s 1983 story “The Bowmen of Shu”—“in 42 individually titled short sections”—begins:
27 December 1914(Out of Gaudier-Brzeska’s “Vortex,” out of Blast (1914). Davenport’s assemblage, too, is a vortex. Crane quotes a Davenport letter (25 February 1984): “The text is a collage of all sorts of things: Gaudier’s letters, Cathay, Rodin’s notebooks—one would never identify all the pieces. The history of Sophie reads like satire, but is simply the facts as she told them. The last two sentences are two lines of Rimbaud, from different poems.”*) Later in the piece:
Here we are picking the first fern shoots and saying when shall we get back to our country, away from das Trommelfeurer, the gunners spent like winded dogs, white smoke and drizzle of sparks blowing across barbed wire in coils, the stink of cordite. 27 December 1914. Avalanches of shrapnel from field guns firing point-blank with fuses set at zero spray down in gusts, an iron windy rain. Here we are because we have the huns for our foemen. It’s with pleasure, dear Cournos, that I’ve received news from you. We have no comfort because of these Mongols. You must have heard of my whereabouts from Ezra to whom I wrote some time ago. Since then nothing new except that the weather has had a change for the better. We grub the soft fern shoots, the rain has stopped for several days and with it keeping the watch in a foot deep of liquid mud, the crazy duckwalks, hack and spit of point guns.
Hooge Richebourg Givenchy
The smell of the dead out on the wire is all of barbarity in one essence. Also sleeping on sodden ground. The frost having set it, we have the pleasure of a firm if not warm bed, and when you have turned to a warrior you become hardened to many evils. When anyone says return the others are full of sorrow. Anyway we leave the marshes on the fifth January for a rest behind the lines, and we cannot but look forward to the long forgotten luxury of a bundle of straw in a warm barn or loft, also to that of hot food, for we are so near the enemy and they behave so badly with their guns that we dare not light kitchen fire within two or three miles, so that when we get the daily meal at one in the morning it is necessarily cold, but like the chinese bowmen in Ezra’s poem we had rather eat fern shoots than go back now, and whatever the suffering may be it is soon forgotten and we want the victory.
Sculptural Energy Is the Mountain
Sculptural feeling is the appreciation of masses in relation. Sculptural ability is the defining of these masses by planes. The Paleolithic Vortex resulted in the decoration of the Dordogne caverns. Early stone-age man disputed the earth with animals.
Smoking Rivers of MudWith no, or minor, fuss, just to see what Davenport rearranged, what he added, what he put down straight, one assembles some of the sources.** Davenport’s own editing (with prefatory note) of John Cournos’s original 27 December 1914 letter to Gaudier-Brzeska, the letterpress document “Ezra’s Bowmen of Shu: A Letter from Henri Gaudierbrzeska”:
We say will we be let to go back in October. There is no ease in royal affairs. We have no comfort. Our sorrow is bitter. But we would not return to our country. What flower has come into blossom. We have time to busy ourselves with art, reading poems, so that intellectually we are not yet dead nor degenerate. Whose chariot, the General’s horses, his horses even, are tired. They were strong. We have no rest. Three battles a month. By heaven, his horses are tired. The generals are on them, the soldiers are by them. If you can write me all about the Kensington colony, the neo-greeks and neo-chinese. Does the Egoist still appear? What does it contain? My best wishes for a prosperous and happy 1915. Yours Sincerely Henri Gaudierbrzeska.
The Renaissance of 1910 was the springtime of our age. All that comes from that clear and virile year is still bright: Brancusi, Strawinsky, Picasso, Ives, Pound, Cocteau, Lipchitz, Modigliani, Epstein, Eliot, Wyndham Lewis, Gertrude Stein, Gaudierbrzeska, whose hard, clean imagination was the firmest the world had seen since Paolo Uccello. He was the first sculptor in a thousand years to work in modes that had been all that Homer, Ptahotep, Confucius and Sappho knew as beauty in stone. He worked but a few years, leaving us The Red Dancer, The Stags, The Birds, the Ezra Pound, the Boy with Coney, the Imp. He died, still an adolescent though master of his difficult art, a corporal in the French army, on 5 June 1915, fighting back the German attack on Neuville Saint Vaast.There is, at Houghton Library, a single typed sheet containing the 27 December 1914 letter (differing in some minuscule particulars—“frost having set in” for “frost having set it”; “Chinese” for “chinese”; “neo-Greeks and the neo-Chinese” for “neo-greeks and the neo-chinese”; “Gaudier Brzeska for “Gaudierbrzseka”; &c.) and an earlier letter to Cournos dated 5 November 1914. The provenance of the sheet isn’t clear. If Cournos had typed it for Davenport’s use, or if Davenport had typed it for himself, wouldn’t it be likely that Davenport would’ve used it for context in “The Bowmen of Shu” and “Ezra’s Bowmen of Shu”? The letter:
This letter, published for the first time, was written to the young Russian poet and journalist who had introduced him to Ezra Pound, John Cournos. The Kensington colony he asks about are those artists who called themselves Vorticists and sought to make an art formal, direct, and objective, and to oppose that evasiveness which still blights the arts in our time. Never has so clear a springtime been withered by a bitterer frost.
27 December 1914
It’s with pleasure that I received news from you. You must have heard of my whereabouts from Ezra to whom I wrote some time ago. Since then nothing new except that the weather has had a change for the better. The rain has stopped for several days & with it keeping the watch in a foot deep of liquid mud, also sleeping on sodden ground. The frost having set it we have the pleasure of a firm if not a warm bed & when you have turned to a warrior you become hardened to many evils. Anyway we leave the marshes on the 5th January for a rest behind the lines and we cannot but look forward to the long forgotten luxury of a bundle of straw in a warm barn or loft—also to that of hot food for we are so near the enemy and they behave so badly with their guns that we dare not light kitchen fire within 2-3 miles—so that when we get the daily meal at one in the morning it is necessarily cold but alike the chinese bowmen in Ezra’s poem we had rather eat fern shoots than go back now & whatever the suffering may be it is soon forgotten and we want the victory. In between we have time to busy ourselves with art reading poems etc.—so that intellectually we are not yet dead nor degenerate.
If you can write me all about the Kensington colony the neo-greeks and the neo-chinese. Does the Egoist still appear? What does it contain?
With my best wishes for a prosperous & happy 1915
5 Nov. 1914For ease in examining Davenport’s distribution of energies and harmonies in the early sections of “The Bowmen of Shu,” here’s Pound’s “Song of the Bowmen of Shu”—with its tag that reads “By Kutsugen / 4th Century B.C.”:
I have not had much opportunity to write lately. I have been going in and out of the trenches and have spent many nights out patrolling. I nearly got made prisoner 3 days ago by 15 Germans but I escaped & led them to one of our trenches where 4 got killed 4 prisoners and 7 did a bunk. Patrolling makes one very tired and leaves no mind for writing but I hope you had news thro’ Ezra. I have also written to Richard a few days ago. Tell Richard I should be very glad if he could send me a few old Egoists & to know something about your artistic activities. I shall write from time to time. I have escaped death many a time since I have started the campaign on 20 Sept. & will continue to do so.
Here we are, picking the first fern-shootsRichard Sieburth, in the notes to Pound’s New Selected Poems and Translations (2010), points to the “heavy tan wrappers” of the “1915 edition of Cathay” possibly alluding to the “military apparel of World War I.” Of Pound’s “Song of the Bowmen of Shu,” Sieburth writes: “When Pound sent this poem together with ‘Lament of the Frontier Guard’ and ‘South-Folk in Cold Country’ to his friend the sculptor Henri Gaudier-Brzeska who was stationed at the French front, the latter wrote back: ‘The poems depict our situation in a wonderful way. We do not yet eat the young nor old fern shoots, but we cannot be over-victualled where we stand.’” (In Gaudier-Brzeska, Pound dates that letter 18 December 1914.) Later, Gaudier-Brzeska writes Pound: “When we took to the trenches after the march it was a sight worthy of Dante, there was at the bottom a foot deep of liquid mud in which we had to stand two days and two nights.” And out of a letter dated 11 April 1915, addressed “to Mrs. Shakespear”: “E . . . has sent me the Chinese poems. I like them very much. I keep the book in my pocket, indeed I use them to put courage in my fellows. I speak now of the ‘Bowmen’ and the ‘North Gate’ which are so appropriate to our case.”
And saying: When shall we get back to our country?
Here we are because we have the Ken-nin for our foemen,
We have no comfort because of these Mongols.
We grub the soft fern-shoots,
When anyone says “Return,” the others are full of sorrow.
Sorrowful minds, sorrow is strong, we are hungry and thirsty.
Our defence is not yet made sure, no one can let his friend return.
We grub the old fern-stalks.
We say: Will we be let to go back in October?
There is no ease in royal affairs, we have no comfort.
Our sorrow is bitter, but we would not return to our country.
What flower has come into blossom?
Whose chariot? The General’s.
Horses, his horses even, are tired. They were strong.
We have no rest, three battles a month.
By heaven, his horses are tired.
The generals are on them, the soldiers are by them.
The horses are well trained, the generals have ivory arrows and quivers
ornamented with fish-skin.
The enemy is swift, we must be careful.
When we set out, the willows were drooping with spring,
We come back in the snow,
We go slowly, we are hungry and thirsty,
Our mind is full of sorrow, who will know of our grief?