Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

The thematic basis of Homage to Sextus Propertius is reflected in the poem’s most obvious feature: that it is a creative translation by one poet of another poet’s work. The key, then, to what Pound was attempting with this poetic form lies in the word “homage” of the title. The poem is an attempt by Pound to recapture the living spirit of Sextus Propertius, to enable a modern English audience to understand how an ancient Latin audience would have read, and appreciated, this classical poet. Thus, “homage” means “a loving tribute” by the modern writer “in the manner of” the ancient one.

Moreover, Pound has chosen to translate Propertius’s Elegies because the Latin poet’s themes coincide closely with Pound’s own cultural concerns. A clue to this coincidence lies in Pound’s many modern, idiomatic renderings of Latin passages having to do with Roman Imperial politics. Pound’s “celebrities from the Trans-Caucasus,” for example, uses the twentieth century “celebrities” to focus on the parallels between ancient imperialism and the modern British variety.

Like Propertius, Pound believed that many popular contemporary writers were little more than public relations experts for the powerful. Homage to Sextus Propertius was written during the close of World War I, when the war’s futility and horror had become widely known. In the aftermath, the prewar colonial empires began to collapse,...

(The entire section is 442 words.)