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.)