Study Guide

Hugh Selwyn Mauberley Quotes

  • Art and Culture

    His true Penelope was Flaubert (13)

    In this early line, Pound compares Mauberley to Homer's Odysseus searching for home. But instead of having a loyal wife wait for him, Pound says that Mauberley's true companion was the French novelist Flaubert, whose work Pound holds up as a shining example of great literature.

    he had been born
    In a half savage country, out of date (5-6)

    Pound's making a dig at his home country, the good ol' U.S. of A., and says that compared to the civilizations of classical Europe, America is "half savage." Pound wasn't a fan of how money-driven American culture was, and he felt that America's art tended to suffer as a consequence of its obsession with moolah.

    The age demanded an image
    Of its accelerated grimace,
    Something for the modern stage,
    Not, at any rate, an Attic grace (21-24)

    When Mauberley was trying to bring poetry back to relevance, he was looking for something beautiful. But it turns out that modern art is looking for something ugly to reflect the ugliness of the modern world. Too bad for Huey.

    There died a myriad,
    And of the best, among them,
    For an old bitch gone in the teeth,
    For a botched civilization (86-89)

    So a bunch of young Englishmen went off to World War I so they could defend their great country. The only problem is that they weren't fighting for such a great nation. According to Pound, they were fighting for a "botched civilization," since Pound believed that Britain was getting barbaric and stupid in modern times. It's no surprised that he pulled up stakes and moved out of England shortly after writing this poem.

    Still, at the Tate, they teach
    Cophetua to rhapsodize (104-105)

    The painting of King Cophetua and the Beggar Maid is really beautiful to Pound. But he's pretty disappointed that nearly a hundred years have gone by, and London's Tate gallery still can't find something beautiful from more recent times. It's not totally clear if this is a problem with the gallery's selection policies, or modern art. But it's probably both.

    And no one knows, at sight a masterpiece (163)

    This is definitely one of the more bitter things you'll see from Pound in this poem. Here, he's basically saying that most modern folks think art is totally subjective, and that no one knows what's good or not at first sight. People only decide what's good after a large group of people have gotten together and decided.

  • Coming of Age

    For three years, out of key with his time,
    He strove to resuscitate the dead art
    Of poetry (1-3)

    Right off the bat, it looks like this poem is going to describe to us how its main character tried his best to make poetry relevant to the modern world. The fact that this effort only lasted for three years, though, probably suggests that it was an unsuccessful attempt.

    No, hardly but, seeing he had been born
    In a half savage country, out of date (5-6)

    Huey didn't have the easiest path toward creating or finding beautiful art. After all, he was born in the "half savage" country of America, a country that according to Pound was filled with greedy businesspeople who wanted nothing to do with art or high culture.

    Unaffected by 'the march of events,'
    He passed from men's memory in l'an trentiesme
    De son eage; the case presents
    No adjunct to the Muses' diadem (17-20)

    Huey was never one to go with the flow of history or the "march of events." He was always more of an individual who cared about stuff that was nearly older than history itself, like beauty. But unfortunately, people didn't seem to care about him after he passed age 30. Worse yet, there's nothing really all that glorious about his story, so we might all start wondering sooner or later why we're reading about him at all.

    And give up verse, my boy.
    There's nothing in it (164-165)

    When Huey goes to meet the super-rich novelist named Mr. Nixon, he hears a really painful piece of advice. He should give up writing "verse" or poetry because there's no way he'll ever make money off it. And for Mr. Nixon, this is as good as saying that poetry is completely worthless.

    Drifted…. Drifted precipitate,
    Asking time to be rid of….
    Of his bewilderment; to designate
    His new found orchid (267-270)

    When Mauberley stopped chasing girls and actually tried to get his life together, he found himself "drifting" because he wasn't sure what he was looking for. He kept hoping that time would heal all wounds and that he'd eventually figure out what he should dedicate his life to. But the answer didn't come as quickly as he'd hoped.

  • Dissatisfaction

    I await the Lady Valentine's commands,
    Knowing my coat has never been
    Of precisely the fashion
    To stimulate, in her,
    A durable passion (193-197)

    Mauberley is just as likely as any other dude to find a woman attractive. The sad part is that he doesn't wear the right kind of clothes to make women find him attractive. This passage is mostly there to symbolize how passion in the modern world is all about style over substance, and Pound thinks that's a shame.

    Beneath the sagging roof
    The stylist has taken shelter,
    Unpaid, uncelebrated,
    At last from the world's welter. (170-173)

    In modern times, it seems like there's just no place for someone with true, natural style. These poor people have to take shelter from the superficial, money-hungry modern world. For Pound, it's definitely a shame that true artists aren't appreciated, and that they have to live in poverty and sleep under a "sagging roof."

    Mr. Verog, out of step with the decade,
    Detached from his contemporaries,
    Neglected by the young,
    Because of these reveries. (134-137)

    Pound seems to really admire this old man named Mr. Verog, who comes from an old, proud family. Mr. Verog has lots of interesting stories to tell about artists who searched for some sort of higher principle in their art. But unfortunately, the modern world treats Mr. Verog as a dreamer and doesn't respect him. Pound can definitely relate.

    Beside this thoroughfare
    The sale of half-hose has
    Long since superseded the cultivation
    Of Pierian roses. (214-217)

    When Mauberley goes down to Fleet St., the old stomping grounds of great journalists and writers, he realizes that socks sell much better than beautiful roses. That's because the modern world is all about usefulness instead of beauty. Roses wither and die eventually. But hey, a good deal on socks is tough to find.

    Non-esteem of self-styled 'his betters'
    Leading, as he well knew,
    To his final
    Exclusion from the world of letters (353-356)

    There's only so much dissatisfaction a person can express before making a few enemies. As we could have predicted, all of Mauberley's "I'm right and everyone else is wrong" eventually got him in trouble with the writers and art critics of his time. It sounds like these people definitely pushed him out of their clique, or excluded him "from the world of letters."

  • Respect and Reputation

    Gladstone was still respected,
    When John Ruskin produced
    'Kings' Treasuries'; Swinburne
    And Rossetti still abused (94-97)

    Pound isn't a big fan of someone like William Gladstone, former prime minister of England. Gladstone is pretty much the ultimate symbol of your crusty, respectable British-type, and Pound sees him as a symbol of what's wrong with modern writers. Everyone seems so concerned about what others think of them. But for Pound, people need to get over themselves.

    Foetid Buchanan lifted up his voice
    When that faun's head of hers
    Became a pastime for
    Painters and adulterers (98-101)

    Robert Buchanan was a dude who didn't like poems about prostitutes or paintings with nudity in them. But Pound is all like: "Pssshtt… Come on man. Don't be such a sourpuss." It's kind of funny for Pound to say this, since he also accuses America of not being respectable enough for his liking. It seems like he's looking for something between American rudeness and British politeness.

    Some quick to arm,
    some for adventure,
    some from fear of weakness,
    some from fear of censure (63-66)

    When it came time for young men to enlist for World War I, many of them actually signed up for the army because they were worried about the "censure" of their neighbors. In other words, they were worried that people would call them weak or irresponsible if they didn't sign up. So tens of millions of people ended up getting killed because they were worried about their reputations. Was the trade-off worth it? Pound doesn't seem to think so.

    Mr. Verog, out of step with the decade,
    Detached from his contemporaries,
    Neglected by the young,
    Because of his reveries (134-137)

    Pound thinks it's pretty brutal that the man named Mr. Verog doesn't get any respect from the younger generation. Mr. Verog knows a ton about the history of European art, and he's even got a few pub stories to prove it. But at the end of the day, Mr. Verog is a dreamer who likes to think of big ideas like the meaning of life and beauty. And modern folks don't seem to have much time for that sort of thing.

    The stiffness from spats to collar
    Never relaxing into grace (140-141)

    Pound can't stand people who are "stiff" in terms of their morality of public image. But what he can't stand even more is when the whole world seems to love these people for being so witty. For Pound, you can only have beauty and grace when you relax and let people see your passion. Unfortunately, the modern world seems to love people who come across as cool or indifferent all the time. After all, look at how much people love Jay-Z or Beyonce.

  • Principles

    His true Penelope was Flaubert (13)

    Mauberley is kind of like Odysseus, in the sense that both of them are searching for some sense of "home." But instead of looking for "home" in a loyal wife, Mauberley looks for a sense of home in the beautiful writing of French novelist Gustave Flaubert.

    These fought in any case,
    and some believing, pro domo, in any case (61-62)

    A bunch of young men ran off to get slaughtered in World War I, and why? Because they believed they were fighting to defend a great country. Sure, they should have plenty of principles. But Pound thinks they all ran off to die for something not worth fighting for.

    The English Rubaiyat was still-born
    In those days (108-109)

    Okay, so there was this book published before Pound was born, and it was a translation of all these old Persian poems that Pound thought were really beautiful. The problem is that no one really paid any attention to the book until a celebrity writer gave it his stamp of approval. For Pound, this is just another terrible example of how good art doesn't speak to people in the modern world. Only marketing does.

    The haven from sophistications and contentions
    Leaks through its thatch;
    He offers succulent cooking;
    The door has a creaking latch (178-181)

    There are still plenty of great artists in the modern world. The problem is that they all have to suffer in obscurity and poverty because nobody appreciates how great they are. People just want Twilight and Fifty Shades of Grey, and no one cares about truly great writing. Pound finds this pretty despicable, but he also knows that there's not much he can do about it.

    When our two dusts with Waller's shall be laid,
    Siftings on siftings in oblivion,
    Till change hath broken down
    All things save Beauty alone (240-243)

    For Pound, one principle remains unchanging, and that's the inherent value of beauty. In these lines especially, he says that time eventually destroys all things, like buildings, cars, and even human beings. But the one thing that isn't broken down by change is beauty.