Hugh Selwyn Mauberley

Hugh Selwyn Mauberley

by Ezra Pound

View All Available Formats & Editions

Hugh Selwyn Mauberley (1920) is a long poem by Ezra Pound. It has been regarded as a turning point in Pound's career (by F.R. Leavis and others), and its completion was swiftly followed by his departure from England. The name "Selwyn" might have been an homage to Rhymers' Club member Selwyn Image. The name and personality of the titular subject is also reminiscent of…  See more details below


Hugh Selwyn Mauberley (1920) is a long poem by Ezra Pound. It has been regarded as a turning point in Pound's career (by F.R. Leavis and others), and its completion was swiftly followed by his departure from England. The name "Selwyn" might have been an homage to Rhymers' Club member Selwyn Image. The name and personality of the titular subject is also reminiscent of T. S. Eliot's main character in The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.

The poem comprises eighteen short poems which are grouped into two sections. The first is a capsule biography of Ezra Pound himself, as indicated by the title of the first poem, which reads: "Ezra Pound: Ode for the Choice of His Sepulchre". The second section introduces us to the struggling poet Mauberley's character, career and fate. Hugh Selwyn Mauberley addresses Pound's alleged failure as a poet. F.R. Leavis considered it "quintessential autobiography."

Speaking of himself in the third person, Pound criticises his earlier works as attempts to "wring lilies from the acorn", that is to pursue aesthetic goals and art for art's sake in a rough setting, America, which he calls "a half-savage country". "For three years, out of key with his time/He strove to resuscitate the dead art/Of poetry" resonates with Pound's efforts to write in traditional forms and subsequent disillusionment. Pound in his mock-epitaph is said to be "wrong from the start", but this is quickly qualified: "No, hardly-". The rest of the poem is essentially a defense of Pound, who, like Capaneus, was fighting against the unsurmountable flood of philistinism.

In the third stanza, Pound is said to have listened to the song of Homer's Syrens: "We know all the things that belong to Troy", to have confronted dangers and ignored the warnings of the prudent. This has led inevitably to his being dismissed as an outsider and forgotten by the literary establishment, "in the 31st year of his life", circa 1916, when Pound published Lustra.

In Poems II and III, Pound turns the tables upon the philistine modern age, denouncing its materialism, consumerism, bad taste and betrayal of tradition. Poems IV and V express Pound's outrage at World War I, a murderous product of that very age that has dismissed him. This section can be read as a wider attack upon the attitudes of society in the post-war period, on a "botched civilisation" and seems to be a quip at the expense of those who continue to revere the idealistic "lies" and to dismiss works that draw on valuable traditional texts, such as Pound's own Homage to Sextus Propertius.

Poems VI-XII are a brief overview of British culture as Pound found it when he arrived in London in 1908, starting with the Preraphaelites and the Rhymers' Club, and closing with vignettes of three writers (Max Beerbohm, Arnold Bennett, Ford Madox Ford), a suburban wife and a literary hostess. Poem XII formally closes with a criticism of the current tastes and concerns of society.

The second part of the poem, "Mauberley 1920," introduces the character Hugh Selwyn Mauberley, a minor poet who perfects refined but irrelevant artworks, or "medallions". Ironically, his defeat is told (by Pound) in Poem I in short minimalist lines, of the kind that Mauberley himself would write. Poem II tells us of Mauberley's love-troubles, suggesting that he observed beauty but could not act at the right moment. Poem III is a narrative criticism of Mauberley as aesthete, and Poem IV closes his story by telling us that he retired and expired in the Pacific islands. Like Part I, Part II has a farewell poem, "Medallion", the description of a female singer, seen as a work of art rather than as a woman. This poem has usually been read by critics as "written by Mauberley", an example of his kind of frosty albeit perfect writing. Mauberley in his passiveness is distinct from Pound, who however pursued for a while similar ideals of artistic perfection, and was attracted by life in beautiful and remote natural surroundings.

Product Details

Balefire Publishing
Publication date:
Sold by:
Barnes & Noble
File size:
1 MB

Meet the Author

Ezra Weston Loomis Pound (30 October 1885 – 1 November 1972) was an American expatriate poet, critic and a major figure of the early modernist movement. His contribution to poetry began with his promotion of Imagism, a movement that derived its technique from classical Chinese and Japanese poetry, stressing clarity, precision and economy of language. His best-known works include Ripostes (1912), Hugh Selwyn Mauberley (1920), and his unfinished 120-section epic, The Cantos (1917–1969).

Working in London in the early 20th century as foreign editor of several American literary magazines, Pound helped to discover and shape the work of contemporaries such as T. S. Eliot, James Joyce, Robert Frost, and Ernest Hemingway. He was responsible for the publication in 1915 of Eliot's "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock," and for the serialization from 1918 of Joyce's Ulysses. Hemingway wrote of him in 1925: "He defends [his friends] when they are attacked, he gets them into magazines and out of jail. ... He writes articles about them. He introduces them to wealthy women. He gets publishers to take their books. He sits up all night with them when they claim to be dying ... he advances them hospital expenses and dissuades them from suicide."

Outraged by the loss of life during the First World War, he lost faith in England, blaming the war on usury and international capitalism. He moved to Italy in 1924 where throughout the 1930s and 1940s, to his friends' dismay, he embraced Benito Mussolini's fascism, expressed support for Adolf Hitler, and wrote for publications owned by the British fascist Oswald Mosley. The Italian government paid him during the Second World War to make hundreds of radio broadcasts criticizing the United States, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and in particular Jews—broadcasts that were monitored by the U.S. government—as a result of which he was arrested for treason by American forces in Italy in 1945. He spent months in detention in a U.S. military camp in Pisa, including 25 days in a six-by-six-foot outdoor steel cage that he said triggered a mental breakdown: "when the raft broke and the waters went over me." Deemed unfit to stand trial, a decision disputed for decades after his death, he was incarcerated in St. Elizabeths psychiatric hospital in Washington, D.C., for over 12 years. While in custody in Italy he had begun work on sections of The Cantos that became known as The Pisan Cantos (1948).

Customer Reviews

Average Review:

Write a Review

and post it to your social network


Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See all customer reviews >