Themes and Meanings

(Literary Essentials: Poets and Poetry)

Hugh Selwyn Mauberley is a poem about poetry. Unlike many such poems, however, it is not so much a justification of its own existence as a speculation into what poetry might become. In Pound’s poetry leading up to Hugh Selwyn Mauberley, Hugh Kenner has said in The Poetry of Ezra Pound (1951), one can see “the history of the purification of our post-Victorian speech.” In this poem, Pound self-consciously charts that purification by evaluating the state of the art (part 1, I-V), discussing the recent history of English poetry (part 1, VI-IX), examining the cultural climate of poetry’s audience (part 1, X-XII), recapping the tradition (“Envoi”), exorcizing one aspect of his own poetic weaknesses in the form of Mauberley himself (part 2, I-IV), and then, dropping the masks of E. P. and Mauberley, finally offering an example in his own voice of what the future of poetry might be in “Medallion.”

As Pound’s own footnote to the poem explained, Hugh Selwyn Mauberley is a “farewell to London,” but it is also a farewell to all that the “obstinate isles” of Britain offered him in the way of literary influence and society. Like John Ruskin’s “Kings’ Treasuries,” this is Pound’s indictment of a society inimical to the arts. E. P. had come to London from a “half savage country,” it is true, with only the rudiments of a poetic sensibility: He had the passions without the craft, and so was “wrong from the start.” As his craft grew, the age demanded something more than the “obscure reveries” of the Romantic’s “inward gaze,” but something less than “the ‘sculpture’ of rhyme.”...

(The entire section is 681 words.)


(Poetry for Students)

“Aestheticism” was the nineteenth-century term for the desire to live one’s life completely in pursuit of...

(The entire section is 774 words.)