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Analysis

Commerce and Merchandise

Symbol Analysis

What do London and the Sargasso Sea have in common? Being important locations for commerce. The Sargasso Sea is located east of the Caribbean islands, placing it smack in the middle of important trade routes between Europe and the Americas. To say that Pound dabbled in economics is a serious understatement – economic theory is a constant motif in his poetry and the subject of several of his essays. "Portrait d'une Femme" is no exception; we can clearly see here his fixation with price, value, and payment.

  • Lines 3, 5: As discussed under "Conversation," the ships that pass through the Sargasso Sea must pay a fee, but rather than money, gold, or other valued goods, they leave snippets of conversation. The speaker keeps his language ambiguous, calling these fees "dimmed wares of price." According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, "ware" can refer both to a manufactured good or a type of merchandise, or to an intangible service or ability.
  • Lines 13-15: The speaker describes the woman paying, just like the ships do. In fact, he says she "richly" pays. Again, however, this payment isn't your conventional money or gold, but a "strange gain." She, too, seems to pay through conversation, and the speaker goes out of his way to point out that her payment isn't that valuable or useful. So what does he mean by saying that she "richly" pays? Does he see some other type of merit to her kind of payment, or is he simply being ironic?
  • Line 24: The speaker's unclear use of "richly" is followed by an equally unclear use of "riches." He describes the woman's riches, her "great store," but then paradoxically concludes, "No! there is nothing! In the whole and all,/ Nothing that's quite your own" (28-29). So which is it? The poem itself is a long list of various goods traded between the woman and those she interacts with, but are all of these goods actually worthless? Do you think the speaker, through writing this poem about her, is trying to value these goods, or is he the one making them worthless?
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