Ezra Pound

from Decade of Sheng Min

 THE CREATION (of mankind, or of the Chou clan)
HOU TSI, John Barleycorn, settles in T’ai.
DUKE LIU, the magnaminous, in Pin (allegedly about
   1796 B.C.).
THE DUKE SHY OF SHAO addresses King Ch’eng
  (possibly 1109 B.C. or thereabouts).
DUKE MU OF SHAO, in time of disorder under King Li
   (the “changed odes” IX, X) 877-841.

“Prince Millet,” J. Barleycorn,  Hou Tsi

Mankind began when Kiang Yüan poured wine
to the West sun and circling air
and, against barrenness, trod the Sky’s spoor.
Then, as a sudden fragrance funnelled in
and to its due place,
a thunder-bolt took body there to be
and dawn Hou Tsi, whom she bare on his day
and suckled presently.

Saith legend: was full moon, and effortless
the first birth was as a lamb’s no pain, no strain,
slit, rent, in auspice of the happy spirit in the child;
the upper sky unstill, unslaked by sacrifice?
intent on this kindling birth.

And, by tradition, he was “Cast-away”
in narrow lane to lie
suckled between the legs of kine and ewes.
There be to attest
that he was Cast-away in flat forest
wherein the woodmen found
(hacking at trees) Hou Tsi upon the ground
and on cold ice, warmed by a bird’s plumes
till the bird took flight
whereon he howled to welkin with such might of sound
it filled the wood-paths and the forest around.

Then crept aloft to the hill-paths of K’i
and to High Crag
whereon, to eat and mouth, planted broad beans
which gave leaf suddenly.
Rice was his servant, ripe, more ripe;
hemp and wheat stood
over the fields like tent cloths,
melons gat laughing brood.

Was Hou Tsi’s harvest mutual process?
Howkt out thick choking grass,
put in the sound yellow grain
that squared to husk, filled out its sleeve to full
as it would burst the ears, unmoulding and tasteable
bent there with weight of head
durable; so had in T’ai his stead.

From him we have first-class seed, our classic grain:
blacks, doubles, reds and whites.
To keep blacks, doubles, they be stacked a-field.
Red and white yield
we bear a-back to barn
or shoulder high,
wherefore Hou made the rite yclept “return.”

What is our rite, become traditional?
Some hull, some take from mortar, winnow or tread,
some soak (or sift with ever shifting sound)
and boil till steam and rising fumes abound.
Some turn to augury or plunge in thought
and kindle southern-wood with moon-like fat
leading the ram to cross-road sacrifice
on spit to turn, heating the seeds a-field
so to insure next year full harvest-yield.

From heaped plate and clay dish the odours rise
to please, in season, the power above the skies
by their far-searching smell that fits the time.
Hou Tsi began these rites. The folk of Chou
unblemished have maintained them until now.