Hugh Selwyn Mauberley
by Ezra Pound
Part One, Section IV Summary
Get out the microscope, because we’re going through this poem line-by-line.
These fought in any case,
And some believing, pro domo, in any case ..
- At first glance, you might think there's something a little different about this section, and that's because for the first time in "Hugh Selwyn Mauberley," Pound has broken from his classic quatrain (four lines, ABAB rhyming—check out "Form and Meter" for more). Instead, Section IV starts us with two lines and a weird sort of ellipsis that means "yadda yadda yadda…"
- The lines are about people fighting "in any case," which suggests that these unnamed people fought in spite of something. But we don't know what yet. Readers of Pound's time would have probably known right away, though, that he was talking about "The Great War" or World War I, since it ended only two years before Pound wrote "Mauberley."
- When Pound says "in any case" here, he might be referring to what he's written so far about the modern word. In other words, he might be saying that the soldiers in WWI fought even though there's not much in the modern world worth fighting for.
- In the next line (62), Pound gives us a further hint about what he means when he says that soldiers fought believing in "pro domo." Pro domo is Latin for "for home." So he's saying that soldiers fought and died in World War I out of love for their homelands. But Pound is trying to ask us if their sacrifice was worth the crummy world they were fighting for, and leaves us with this thought by ending on an ellipsis.
Some quick to arm,
some for adventure,
some from fear of weakness,
some from fear of censure,
some for love of slaughter, in imagination,
- In these lines, Pound starts talking about adventure, fear of weakness, fear of censure, and so on. And after a few seconds, it starts to become clear that he's giving us a short list of all the reasons why guys were rushing to sign up for World War I.
- Some had no clue what they were getting into, and wanted a sense of "adventure." Some were afraid of feeling like they were weak ("fear of weakness"); or worse yet, some were afraid of being "censured" and getting called a chicken by their friends and neighbors. Some might have even gone off to war because, in their "imagination," the thought of killing someone was really cool. But Pound ends the stanza with "learning later…," which means that the war didn't end up being what these guys thought it would be.
some in fear, learning love of slaughter;
Died some, pro patria, non dulce et non decor..
walked eye-deep in hell
believing in old men's lies, then unbelieving
came home, home to a lie,
home to many deceits,
home to old lies and new infamy;
usury age-old and age-thick
and liars in public places.
- Some of the dudes who went into WWI might have even been "in fear" at first, but after "learning love of slaughter," they might've liked the fact that the war gave them an excuse to kill people. In line 70, Pound references the phrase "Dulce et Decorum est pro patria mori," which is Latin for "It is sweet and fitting to die for one's country" (Wilfred Owen wrote a pretty famous anti-war poem using the same phrase). But his writing retranslates the phrase to mean that the soldiers died "for their country, not sweet and not fitting."
- For Pound there's nothing all that glorious about walking "eye-deep in hell," which is what the war was like. It's especially not glorious when you go to war because of "old men's lies." What Pound means by this is that World War I was fought basically because a bunch of countries thought they were really tough, and figured they wouldn't mind flexing their muscles in a battle royale. The leaders of these countries told their soldiers that they were fighting for freedom, country, and blah, blah, blah. But it was all pretty much make-believe.
- So even after the soldiers were busy fighting in WWI, the ones who were lucky enough to live came home "to a lie," which was basically the phony modern world they all had to live in. In the new world, there was a lot of "usury age-old and age-thick" and "liars in public places." Usury is the practice of lending out money and charging the person a ton of interest. In simple terms, it's a great way to make a lot of money for doing absolutely nothing, and Pound wasn't a fan of that at all. He also wasn't a fan of modern politicians, whom he considered to be liars in public places.
Daring as never before, wastage as never before.
Young blood and high blood,
Fair cheeks, and fine bodies;
- When Pound says "Daring as never before," he might actually being throwing down some props for the young men who died in WWI. But even though these people might have been daring and brave, their deaths were also a form of "wastage as never before."
- When he talks about the "young blood" and "fair cheeks" of these young men, Pound also seems to be giving a mournful celebration of these soldiers, who died in the prime of their lives.
fortitude as never before
frankness as never before,
disillusions as never told in the old days,
hysterias, trench confessions,
laughter out of dead bellies.
- Pound keeps up his compliments for the people who fought in World War I, saying that they showed "fortitude" or strength as never before. But all of these compliments ring sadly in our ears, since all of this fortitude was shown for stupid reasons (like dumb politicians who wanted to tell each other, "Hey, my country could beat up your country").
- But what does Pound mean when he says the folks who came back from WWI showed "frankness as never before"? Well many of these guys were pretty angry about how the whole thing went down, and they weren't afraid to tell people about it.
- To this extent, they were willing to talk publicly about how fed up they were with the world they were living in. In this sense they talked about their disillusionment, or "disillusion as never told in the old days."
- But there was more to the soldiers' return than just plain grouchiness. People came back with "hysterias, trench confessions."
- Hysteria is a really serious mental disorder that can be caused by trauma, which the soldiers in the trenches no doubt felt their own share of. Just imagine living like this for four years. Who wouldn't be messed up after that?
- When Pound talks about trench confessions, he's probably referring to the horrible things that people had to do while living in the trenches. Who knows? Maybe they had to saw off someone's limb after it got infected? Maybe they killed two dozen Germans. No matter what way you slice it, chances are that people in the trenches had to do their fair share of regrettable things.
- The last line of this section, "laughter out of dead bellies," ends the whole thing on a really morbid note. There doesn't seem to be anything funny about World War I, but the creepy thing here is that the laughter Pound is talking about is probably hysterical laughter. In other words, it's the kind of laughter you feel when the world has completely gone to hell, and there's nothing left for you to do but laugh at the insanity of it all.
- The fact that this laughter is coming out of dead bellies might even mean that the people who died in WWI are still laughing at the pointlessness of their deaths.