Monday, March 17, 2008

Pound’s “Mauberley”

I don't know Greek and only a small amount of Italian (enough to know that I need to know more), and it seems like that would be a problem for someone reading Ezra Pound – but especially the "Cantos" or "Hugh Selwyn Mauberley" (where every tenth line is in a different language). Normally, that would really agitate me. I would feel like I had to run to the computer to look things up. However, I have come to accept (from my reading of Eliot) that I don't know what Eliot and Pound knew.

Actually, I don't think anyone does, and that seems like it is the point. In terms of references, they were drawing on the worlds they knew to create their "art emotions" ("Tradition and the individual talent"), and they didn't care about who got their obscure references or whether or not they were "accessible" to the general readership – they were finding the correlatives for their feelings. And the more a reader knows what Pound knew, the closer she can get to his poem. In that sense, to get bogged down in the references (ie, throw the book in the trash because you don't know Greek and can't understand the entire poem) is to miss the parts of the poems, which you could know.

"Mauberly," I think, is exactly this same way – a sort of poetic barometer by which to measure yourself against Pound. But even on the first reading, without the references, it is clearly a revolutionary poem about the inadequacy of poetry and Pound's own inadequate ramblings. He seems to denounce the "thoroughfare" of poetry which has "long since superseded the cultivation of Pierian Roses" – of people who don't value the art but the "sculpture" of rhyme – as if poetry is some old ritual to be performed by men in robes at secret clubs and not by beautiful women. "The age demands," he repeats constantly; as poets, we need to live up to the demands of our own time and not paraphrase the classics. And so, by being entirely contemporary to his own ideas and knowledge, pound created poems that were emotions of his experience, and ironically believed that he too will "pass from men's memories." So in a sense, to toss his book out because it doesn't match your understanding is also to ironically prove his point in "Hugh Selwyn Mauberley."

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