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Hugh Selwyn Mauberley

Hugh Selwyn Mauberley


by Ezra Pound

Analysis: Sound Check

The sound of this poem is pretty interesting. On the one hand, you have clusters of four lines with a straightforward rhyme. But on the other hand, the poem doesn't have any clear meter, and Pound likes to throw out a lot of million-dollar words that don't really fit into the poem all that smoothly. A case in point:

Christ follows Dionysus
Phallic and ambrosial
Made way for macerations;
Caliban casts out Ariel
. (37-40)

Now there's a good rhyme in there ("ambrosial" and "Ariel"), and that's just great. But it doesn't change the fact that you sound like you're teaching a college seminar if you read this thing out loud.

Pound's constant ellipses (…) and section breaks also make the poem feel like it's always starting and stopping, never settling into a rhythm. Classical poetry, you see, always tended to have a tight and intricate structure, and you'd never catch one of the old poets dead using an ellipsis or leaving a thought unfinished. Pound also would have known that all of that structure and organization was supposed to reflect the fact that the universe was an orderly thing that was structured by the greatest poet of them all (God).

But Pound also knows that the modern world can't rely on the same sorts of meanings and structures that the old world did. Sure, he's happy to stick his poetry into quatrains. But you're never going to feel like this poem settles into a comfortable rhythm. Just when things seem nice and calm, he'll jam in a word like "resuscitate" or end a line with an ellipsis. This gives the sound of the poem a lack of closure, which for Pound is exactly what the modern world gives us: total lack of closure. And that can take its toll on our poor souls, which still secretly yearn for beauty and a sense of order.

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