The scarlet curtain throws a less scarlet shadow; Lamplight at Buovilla, e quel remir, And all that day Nicea moved before me And the cold gray troubled her not For all her naked beauty, bit not the tropic skin, And the long slender feet lit on the curb's marge And her moving height went before me, We alone having being.
It's time to talk about curtains. Make that scarlet curtains. And apparently Pound wants to talk about how a scarlet curtain creates a shadow that's less scarlet. Which makes total sense, considering that shadows are usually just black.
But when you think about it, Pound is probably being symbolic here (isn't he always?). He's talking about the shadow of something being less colorful than the original. And when you think about what Pound's been talking about throughout Canto VII, he's probably referring to the way that modern attempts at classical beauty are mere "shadows" that are way less colorful and beautiful than the things they're trying to imitate.
And of course, we're not done with jumping around yet. Not by a long shot. Now we're hearing about "Lamplight at Buovilla."
And yes, it's another totally obscure reference. Buovilla is an allusion to Guillem de Buovilla, a French dude who lived in the 1100s. A famous poet named Arnaut Daniel (whom Pound adored) decided that he really liked Buovilla's wife. This line is quoted from one of Daniel's poems, where he dreams about finding Mrs. Buovilla by lamplight and kissing her. So Pound's giving us a nice bit of romance here, even though it's a romance that can never come to anything. Hopefully Pound doesn't feel the same way about finding love and beauty in the modern world. But he might.
Pound's not done with his reference to beautiful women just yet, either. In line 63 he alludes to "Nicea" who moves in front of him. Nicea is another name for Helen of Troy, and Pound seems to see her in a dreamlike vision, where the "cold gray" of the boring modern world doesn't give her any trouble. Her beauty is too strong to be affected by it.
And Helen doesn't need any fancy makeup or clothes to look beautiful. For Pound, she has a "naked beauty" and "long slender feet." In other words, Helen has a natural, classical beauty that the modern world should appreciate better, but doesn't. People just want whoever's on the cover of Maxim magazine.
And as the dream-image of Helen moves in front of Pound, he feels like the two of them "alone [have] being." In other words, he's sort of saying that only Helen and himself actually exist, compared to everyone and everything else. But we know for a fact that other people exist, so what's Pound getting at? Well he's probably saying that there's a substance to beauty that makes him and Helen more real than superficial people. Helen is beautiful, and Pound feels like he's the only one who can appreciate her beauty. So in this sense, he feels like he and Helen are the only ones who "have being."
And all that day, another day: Thin husks I had known as men, Dry casques of departed locusts speaking a shell of speech… Propped between chairs and table… Words like the locust-shells, moved by no inner being, A dryness calling for death.
After a break in the poem, Pound takes us to another place and time, signaling the shift by talking about "another day." But he definitely doesn't seem to be happy in this new place. Here, he talks about "Thin husks [he] had known as men." But what does he mean by this?
Well a husk is basically a shell or outer covering, so for him to say that he's in the company of shells he had known as men suggests that the men he's talking about have totally lost their substance for him. They aren't quite human or real to him, not in the same way the ghost of Helen's beauty is.
And when it comes to seeing the men he knows as less real than himself, Pound compares them to the "Dry casques of departed locusts / speaking a shell of speech…" For starters, locusts are bugs that look like this. They're known as pests because they tend to destroy crops and lead to famines. But another thing you should know about them is that every now and then, they shed their shells and grow fresh ones, leaving their old shells or "casques" behind.
So for Pound to compare these men and the words they speak to the dry shells left behind by locusts suggests that there's absolutely no substance to their personalities or to what they say. Plus, the connection to locusts suggests that these men actually affect humanity in a negative way. After all, when farmers talk about locusts, they usually have plans of exterminating them.
So yeah, the men Pound is talking about here are probably representatives of the modern world. They have no substance in their personalities, since they are "moved by no inner being" or spirit. They are like dry shells, and their words have a "dryness calling for death." Or in other words, Pound is asking us what the point of living is if there is no worth to who we are or the things we say?
It's pretty darn harsh, but then again, so is Pound. In the modern world, we make a bunch of small talk with each other about superficial things, like our new phones or the clothes we wear. Pound thinks we should focus on more important things, or else we're doomed to be like the dried shells of locusts, mere husks of the people we could have been.