How would you characterize the tone of Pound’s Hugh Selwyn Mauberley?

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thanatassa | College Teacher | (Level 1) Distinguished Educator

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Ezra Pound’s “Hugh Selwyn Mauberly”, like many classic modernest poems, mixes an elegaic tone with biting satire. Pound saw himself as a crusader against the conventionality of Victorian poetry, but despite his revulsion against the previous generation, he was no more enthusiastic about modern society than he was about Tennyson; in fact, despite his radicalism, his dominant voice was, like that of his Victorian forebears, one of nostalgia for antiquity. In a manner similar to Eliot, he did not see innovation as occurring ex nihilo but as evolution within a tradition (cf. ABC of Reading and Tradition and the Individual Talent).

The subject of the poem is portrayed as a poet of the fin de siecle, enamoured of the pre-Raphaelites, and uncomfortable in the modern world of commercial literature. The figure of Nixon, like the anti-hero of Trollope’s The Way We Were, epitomized the commercialization and degradation of literature by the periodical press, which makes it possible for the writer to earn a modest living by doing superficial and mediocre work.

The narrator, despite satirizing his protagonist’s nostalgia, still symapthizes with the dilemma of “being caught between two worlds, one dying and one unable to be born”, and reserves his harshest condemnation for the crudely materialistic modern world, rather than the protagonist’s retreat to nostalgia.

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