Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Grasping the Azure

Know the point of rest and then have an orderly mode of procedure; having this orderly procedure one can "grasp the azure," that is, take hold of a clear concept; holding a clear concept one can be at peace [internally], being thus calm one can keep one's head in moments of danger; he who can keep his head in the presence of a tiger is qualified to come to his deed in due hour.

The Great Digest, §2
trans. Ezra Pound

The Great Learning is a short text written by Confucius around 500 B.C. It outlines, as Pound puts it, a program of "adult study" or, perhaps more precisely, it expresses the spirit in which such study may be carried out. Pound was always trying to glean meaning from the "pictures" in the Chinese characters. In this case he apparently saw in the words "Ta Hsio" the idea of "grinding the corn in the head's mortar to fit it for use" (§1, p. 27).

The bit about the tiger may not seem very relevant to academic writers today. But the value of organizing your study as an "orderly procedure" around a "point of rest" should make sense to most of us. "Grasping the azure" has also been translated as achieving a "calm unperturbedness". (A comparison of the two translations can be found here here.) "Azure is a near synonym for the color blue. Commonly it refers to a bright blue, resembling the sky on a bright, clear day."

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