The Poem

(Literary Essentials: Poets and Poetry)

Hugh Selwyn Mauberley is a sequence in two parts. The first part consists of thirteen poems dated 1919; the second part contains five additional poems dated 1920. The quatrain is the dominant stanza in both parts.

The title concerns the career of Hugh Selwyn Mauberley, an aesthetic poet of the old school. The name, like “J. Alfred Prufrock” in T. S. Eliot’s poem, suggests a somewhat stuffy, old-fashioned, Milquetoast character (mauviette means “Milquetoast” in French). The subtitle, “Life and Contacts,” suggests affinities with the tradition of the novel, and also a certain modern superficiality to Mauberley’s career.

Mauberley is only one of the poem’s poet personae. As K. K. Ruthven explains in A Guide to Ezra Pound’s Personae (1969), “Self-analysis produced the two personae in the poem, Mauberley and E. P., each of whom is an oversimplification of radically different elements in Ezra Pound himself.” E. P., the poet concerned with renewing rather than reiterating the poetic tradition, is the dominant persona in part 1.

Sections I-V introduce E. P. and state the present situation of poetry after World War I. Having studied poetry in the “obstinate” British isles, the American E. P. is “out of key with his time” in striving to “resuscitate the dead art/ Of poetry” and to wring “lilies from the acorn,” an impossibility in an age of “tawdry cheapness” which demands an image of “its accelerated grimace.” The modern age believes only in “the market place,” not in the beautiful, in either pagan or Christian form. The apostrophe to Apollo asks, ironically, who deserves the “tin wreath” in this “botched civilization,” which sacrificed a generation “For a few thousand battered books.” The next four sections (titled but unnumbered) assess the recent history of English poetry, from the Pre-Raphaelite aestheticism of Dante Gabriel Rossetti and Algernon Charles Swinburne in “Yeux Glauques” to the raptures of the Decadents Ernest...

(The entire section is 837 words.)

Forms and Devices

(Literary Essentials: Poets and Poetry)

Pound is a master of poetic technique. T. S. Eliot called him “the superior craftsman.” As a student, Pound vowed to know “everything” about verse and meter, and in Hugh Selwyn Mauberley he gives a virtuoso performance. The “Envoi,” for example, is a creative adaptation of Edmund Waller’s seventeenth century “Go, Lovely Rose,” to his modern purposes. Pound offered Hugh Selwyn Mauberley’s quatrains, modeled on Théophile Gautier’s Émaux et camées (1852), as a “countercurrent” to the excesses of free verse. Pound’s quatrains are masterful in their fluidity and in their variation of meter and rhyme.

Off-rhyme is used to satiric effect, often bilingually or in conjunction with an ironic use of myth. In part 2, the modern age’s “accelerated grimace” is contrasted with the ancient Greek’s “Attic grace.” A similar effect is achieved in “The sale of half-hose has/ Long since superseded the cultivation/ Of Pierian roses.” Ancient names are rhymed with present vulgarities: “Samothrace” with “market place”; “Pisistratus” with “rule over us”; “Milesien” with “Englishmen.” Bilingual rhymes are also used: “Tpoin/leeway” and “Oeou/upon” (Greek); “later/patria” and “slaughter/decor” (Latin); “trentuniesme/diadem” (French).

At first glance, Hugh Selwyn Mauberley may seem to be an intimidating...

(The entire section is 543 words.)

Historical Context

(Poetry for Students)

World War I
Pound’s poem provides a number of brief vignettes and portraits of literary London in the 1890s and 1900s. The...

(The entire section is 542 words.)

Literary Style

(Poetry for Students)

Point of View
The most enduringly difficult aspect of “Hugh Selwyn Mauberley” is the maddening way that Pound creates two...

(The entire section is 748 words.)

Compare and Contrast

(Poetry for Students)

1920s: Calvin Coolidge is elected President of the United States. After Woodrow Wilson—an intellectual who tried to persuade the...

(The entire section is 486 words.)

Topics for Further Study

(Poetry for Students)

How did various writers respond to World War I? Compare and contrast the works of two writers of the time. Examples are the poems of Rupert...

(The entire section is 281 words.)

Media Adaptations

(Poetry for Students)

In 1958, after being released from St. Elizabeth’s Hospital in Washington, D.C., Pound made a series of recordings that feature him reading...

(The entire section is 63 words.)

What Do I Read Next?

(Poetry for Students)

After finishing “Hugh Selwyn Mauberley,” Pound stopped writing short poems and focused his literary attention almost exclusively on...

(The entire section is 195 words.)

Bibliography and Further Reading

(Poetry for Students)

Berryman, Jo Brantley, Circe’s Craft: Ezra Pound’s “Hugh Selwyn Mauberley,” UMI Research Press, 1983....

(The entire section is 347 words.)


(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Espey, John. Ezra Pound’s Mauberley. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1974. In this major full-length study devoted exclusively to Mauberley, Espey focuses on the Mauberley persona, Pound’s sources, and the poem’s overall structure. Concludes that Hugh Selwyn Mauberley is a summing up of all Pound had achieved up to that point and prefigures the Cantos.

Hoffmann, Frederick J. The 20’s: American Writing in the Post-War Decade. New York: Macmillan, 1962. The definitive treatment on that rich literary decade, Hoffmann’s study discusses Hugh Selwyn Mauberley in its social, literary, and...

(The entire section is 254 words.)