What is the theme of Masks by Ezra Pound?

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To a considerable extent, "Masks" is very much the archetypal Modernist poem, giving voice to the concerns of the so-called "Lost Generation" of the post-WWI era. During this period of rapid social and political change, countless artists like Pound effectively lived double lives. They threw themselves into a maelstrom of...

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To a considerable extent, "Masks" is very much the archetypal Modernist poem, giving voice to the concerns of the so-called "Lost Generation" of the post-WWI era. During this period of rapid social and political change, countless artists like Pound effectively lived double lives. They threw themselves into a maelstrom of hedonistic excess in the fleshpots of Europe, while at the same time attempting to find stability and meaning in the only place they knew where to find it: their art.

Yet in "Masks" Pound expresses profound skepticism of this approach. The modern-day poet is trying to recapture some semblance of a vanished wisdom. To that end, he dons a mask, taking on a whole new identity. He puts on the mantle of an ancient seer or prophet whose art grants him privileged access to the profoundest truths. But the modern poet has been cut off from the past, severed from his cultural origins to such an extent that he lacks the capacity to articulate those truths.

To be sure, the modern poet does possess the remarkable ability to penetrate hidden depths to see the truth of the world as it really is. But without the language of the past, he cannot put this truth into words, at least not adequately. When all is said and done, all he can really do is ponder the universe and all its mysteries in silence:

All they that with strange sadness in their eyes
Ponder in silence o'er earth's queynt devyse?

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