Hugh Selwyn Mauberley
by Ezra Pound
Part Two, Medallion Summary
Get out the microscope, because we’re going through this poem line-by-line.
Luini in porcelain!
The grand piano
Utters a profane
Protest with her clear soprano.
- Okay, we've got another shift of voice here. No more calm coral islands. Now we're just listening to someone yelling about someone named Luini. Here, Pound is talking about Bernardino Luini, a painter from Milan who followed Leonardo da Vinci and lived around 1481 to 1532. The mention of porcelain takes us back to Pound's earlier references to porcelain, which serves as a symbol for the hard, yet delicate nature of classic beauty.
- Next, we're listening to a grand piano putting up some sort of protest with high notes (soprano). We're not sure why the piano's protesting; but judging by the rest of this poem, it probably has something to do with modern people not appreciating true beauty.
The sleek head emerges
From the gold-yellow frock
As Anadyomene in the opening
Pages of Reinach.
- Now there's some sort of "sleek head" emerging into our vision wearing a gold-yellow frock. It turns out that the head belongs to the goddess Anadyomene, which is another name for Venus. Pound is talking specifically about a drawing that appears in a book called Apollo by Salomon Reinach in 1904.
- It looks like Pound is bringing us back to the image of Venus, who might be his ideal as far as classic beauty is concerned.
Honey-red, closing the face-oval,
A basket-work of braids which seem as if they were
Spun in King Minos' hall
From metal, or intractable amber;
- So there's something that's "Honey-red" that closes an oval-shaped face and looks like a basket-work of braids. So we can probably assume that the honey-red stuff Pound's talking about is Venus' hair, which looks as if it were spun in the hall of the Great King Minos, and made out of metal or some sort of amber. Don't forget that amber in this poem is a symbol of beauty being preserved for a very long time. So Pound's definitely trying to close this poem by returning to his ideals of beauty.
The face-oval beneath the glaze,
Bright in its suave bounding-line, as,
Beneath in half-watt rays,
The eyes turn topaz.
- If Venus' face is supposed to be a symbol of classic beauty, then it seems to really be doing it for Pound. The face if bright, for starters, but also smooth at its edges or "bounding-line."
- But with the next line, you get the sense that Pound is looking at this image of Venus under the light of a modern desk lamp, maybe in his private office. We can know this because "half-watt rays" would only come from a pretty weak light bulb.
- Nonetheless, the Venus' eyes turn the color of topaz even beneath the weak light of Pound's lamp. Can anyone guess at the significance of Venus' topaz eyes? It's pretty important, since it's the closing image of a really long poem.
- Well if you remember all the way back to line 102, that's where Pound talked about the beauty of the "sea-green" eyes that he found in a painting by Dante Gabriel Rossetti. In this earlier section, he also says that these sea-green eyes are a symbol of perfect beauty that has been preserved for hundreds of years by art.
- So Pound wants to end the poem with this same image, telling us one last time that there is definitely such a thing as true beauty, and that we need to get back in touch with it if we're going to do anything meaningful with our modern art. There might be a lot of easy roads we could take instead; but for Pound, we have to do what's right and celebrate beauty, even if the world doesn't appreciate what we're doing.