"Hugh Selwyn Mauberley" is broken into two parts, and the second is sort of a poetic response to the first. In part one, Pound writes about the "Life and Contacts" of good ol' Huey Mauberley. Now Mauberley is a fine enough guy. The problem is that he's trying to make poetry cool again, and the world doesn't really have any interest in seeing that happen.
So Mauberley spends most of his twenties basically "out of key with his time," trying to make people appreciate how great poetry is, while modern culture just wants something ugly and simple, or "an image of its accelerated grimace." It's like trying to explain to kids today how funny Woody Allen is. It doesn't matter how right you are; it's tough to make people care.
But at the same time, Pound isn't totally satisfied with returning to the past. In section V of Part One, he actually goes on at length about how the Victorians (who lived around 1840-1890) were a bunch of stuffy weenies with no passion. No, Pound is interested in the mixture of classic beauty and intense passion (usually sexual and violent) that you find in the world of Greek myths.
In section IX of Part One, Pound also rants about a conversation that his character Huey once had with a bestselling novelist. As it turns out, the novelist's books only sell out because he is a sellout, who cares more about what his reviewers think than the quality of his work. For Pound, this is one of the biggest reasons for why mass culture will never be able to produce great art. The artists and publishers only care about sales.
In Part Two, Hugh keeps ranting on how great Greek myths are. But guess what? People still don't look as though they're going to start caring any time soon. At the end of the day, Huey was just born a few centuries (or millennia) too late. But poor Huey (and Pound) forge onward, bravely fighting to make the dumb modern world take notice and start learning about the great art of its past. Yeah, good luck with that, guys.
"Vocat aestus in umbram"
--Nemesianus, Ec. IV.
E.P. Ode pour l'Election de Son Sepulchre
For three years, out of key with his time,
He strove to resuscitate the dead art
Of poetry; to maintain "the sublime"
In the old sense. Wrong from the start—
No, hardly but, seeing he had been born
In a half savage country, out of date;
Bent resolutely on wringing lilies from the acorn;
Capaneus; trout for factitious bait;
Idmen gar toi panth, os eni Troie
Caught in the unstopped ear;
Giving the rocks small lee-way
The chopped seas held him, therefore, that year.
His true Penelope was Flaubert,
He fished by obstinate isles;
Observed the elegance of Circe's hair
Rather than the mottoes on sun-dials.
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.
The age demanded an image
Of its accelerated grimace,
Something for the modern stage,
Not, at any rate, an Attic grace;
Not, not certainly, the obscure reveries
Of the inward gaze;
Than the classics in paraphrase!
The 'age demanded' chiefly a mould in plaster,
Made with no loss of time,
A prose kinema, not, not assuredly, alabaster
Or the 'sculpture' of rhyme.
The tea-rose tea-gown, etc.
Supplants the mousseline of Cos,
The pianola 'replaces'
Christ follows Dionysus,
Phallic and ambrosial
Made way for macerations;
Caliban casts out Ariel.
All things are a flowing,
Sage Heracleitus says;
But a tawdry cheapness
Shall outlast our days.
Even the Christian beauty
We see Toh Kalon
Decreed in the market place.
Faun's flesh is not to us,
Nor the saint's vision.
We have the press for wafer;
Franchise for circumcision.
All men, in law, are equals.
Free of Peisistratus,
We choose a knave or an eunuch
To rule over us.
O bright Apollo,
Tin andra, Tin eroa, Tina theon
What god, man, or hero
Shall I place a tin wreath upon!
These fought in any case,
And some believing, pro domo, in any case ..
Some quick to arm,
some for adventure,
some from fear of weakness,
some from fear of censure,
some for love of slaughter, in imagination,
some in fear, learning love of slaughter;
Died some, pro patria, non dulce et non decor..
walked eye-deep in hell
believing in old men's lies, then unbelieving
came home, home to a lie,
home to many deceits,
home to old lies and new infamy;
usury age-old and age-thick
and liars in public places.
Daring as never before, wastage as never before.
Young blood and high blood,
Fair cheeks, and fine bodies;
fortitude as never before
frankness as never before,
disillusions as never told in the old days,
hysterias, trench confessions,
laughter out of dead bellies.
There died a myriad,
And of the best, among them,
For an old bitch gone in the teeth,
For a botched civilization,
Charm, smiling at the good mouth,
Quick eyes gone under earth's lid,
For two gross of broken statues,
For a few thousand battered books.
Gladstone was still respected,
When John Ruskin produced
'Kings' Treasuries'; Swinburne
And Rossetti still abused.
Foetid Buchanan lifted up his voice
When that faun's head of hers
Became a pastime for
Painters and adulterers
The Burne-Jones cartons
Have preserved her eyes;
Still, at the Tate, they teach
Cophetua to rhapsodize;
Thin like brook-water,
With a vacant gaze,
The English Rubaiyat was still-born
In those days.
The thin, clear gaze, the same
Still darts out faun-like from the half-ruined face,
Questing and passive….
"Ah, poor Jenny's case"…
Bewildered that a world
Shows no surprise
At her last maquero's
"Siena Mi Fe'; Disfecemi Maremma"
Among the pickled foetuses and bottled bones,
Engaged in perfecting the catalogue,
I found the last scion of the
Senatorial families of Strasbourg, Monsieur Verog.
For two hours he talked of Gallifet;
Of Dowson; of the Rhymers' Club;
Told me how Johnson (Lionel) died
By falling from a high stool in a pub…
But showed no trace of alcohol
At the autopsy, privately performed—
Tissue preserved—the pure mind
Arose toward Newman as the whiskey warmed.
Downson found harlots cheaper than hotels;
Headlam for uplift; Image impartially imbued
With raptures for Bacchus, Terpischore and the Church.
So spoke the author of 'The Dorian Mood."
M. Verog, out of step with the decade,
Detached from his contemporaries,
Neglected by the young,
Because of his reveries.
The sky-like limpid eyes,
The circular infant's face,
The stiffness from spats to collar
Never relaxing into grace;
The heavy memories of Horeb, Sinai and the forty years,
Showed only when the daylight fell
Level across the face
Of Brennbaum "The Impeccable."
In the cream gilded cabin of his steam yacht
Mr. Nixon advised me kindly, to advance with fewer
Dangers of delay. "Consider
"Carefully the reviewer.
"I was poor as you are;
"When I began I got, of course,
"Advance royalties, fifty at first," said Mr. Nixon,
"Follow me, and take a column,
"Even if you have to work for free.
"Butter reviewers. From fifty to three hundred
"I rose in eighteen months;
"The hardest nut I had to crack
"Was Dr. Dundas.
"I never mentioned a man but with the view
"Of selling my own works.
"The tip's a good one, as for literature
"It gives no man a sinecure.
"And no one knows, at sight a masterpiece.
"And give up verse, my boy,
"There's nothing in it."
Likewise a friend of Bloughram's once advised me:
Don't kick against the pricks,
Accept opinion. The "Nineties" tried you game
And died, there's nothing in it.
Beneath the sagging roof
The stylist has taken shelter,
At last from the world's welter
Nature receives him
With a placid and uneducated mistress
He exercises his talents
And the soil meets his distress.
The haven from sophistications and contentions
Leaks through its thatch
He offers succulent cooking;
The door has a creaking latch.
"Conservatrix of Milésien"
Habits of mind and feeling,
Possibly. But in Ealing
With the most bank-clerkley of Englishmen?
No, "Milésien" is an exaggeration.
No instinct has survived in her
Older than those her grandmother
Told her would fit her station.
"Daphne with her thighs in bark
Stretches toward me her leafy hands,"—
Subjectively. In the stuffed-satin drawing-room
I await The Lady Valentine's commands,
Knowing my coat has never been
Of precisely the fashion
To stimulate, in her,
A durable passion;
Doubtful, somewhat, of the value
Of well-gowned approbation
Of literary effort,
But never of the Lady Valentine's vocation:
Poetry, her border of ideas,
The edge, uncertain, but a means of blending
With other strata
Where the lower and higher have ending;
A hook to catch the Lady Jane's attention,
A modulation toward the theatre,
Also, in the case of revolution,
A possible friend and comforter.
Conduct, on the other hand, the soul
"Which the highest cultures have nourished"
To Fleet St. where
Dr. Johnson flourished;
Beside this thoroughfare
The sale of half-hose has
Long since superseded the cultivation
Of Pierian roses.
Go, dumb-born book,
Tell her that sang me once that song of Lawes;
Hadst thou but song
As thou hast subjects known,
Then were there cause in thee that should condone
Even my faults that heavy upon me lie
And build her glories their longevity.
Tell her that sheds
Such treasure in the air,
Recking naught else but that her graces give
Life to the moment,
I would bid them live
As roses might, in magic amber laid,
Red overwrought with orange and all made
One substance and one colour
Tell her that goes
With song upon her lips
But sings not out the song, nor knows
The maker of it, some other mouth,
May be as fair as hers,
Might, in new ages, gain her worshippers,
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.
Turned from the "eau-forte
To the strait head
"His true Penelope
And his tool
Pisanello lacking the skill
To forge Achaia.
"Qu'est ce qu'ils savent de l'amour, et qu'est ce qu'ils peuvent comprendre?
S'ils ne comprennent pas la poèsie, si'ils ne sentient pas la musique, qu'est ce qu'ils peuvent comprendre de cette passion en comparaison avec laquelle la rose est grossière et le parfum des violettes un tonnerre?" -- CAID ALI
For three years, diabolus in the scale,
He drank ambrosia,
All passes, ANANGKE prevails,
Came end, at last, to that Arcadia.
He had moved amid her phantasmagoria,
Amid her galaxies,
Asking time to be rid of….
Of his bewilderment; to designate
His new found orchid….
To be certain….certain….
(Amid aerial flowers).. time for arrangements—
To the final estrangement;
Unable in the supervening blankness
To sift TO AGATHON from the chaff
Until he found his seive. …
Ultimately, his seismograph:
—Given that is his "fundamental passion"
This urge to convey the relation
Of eye-lid and cheek-bone
By verbal manifestations;
To present the series
Of curious heads in medallion—
He had passed, inconscient, full gaze,
The wide-banded irises
And botticellian sprays implied
In their diastasis;
Which anaesthesis, noted a year late,
And weighed, revealed his great affect,
Of Eros, a retrospect.
Mouths biting empty air,
The still stone dogs,
Caught in metamorphosis, were
Left him as epilogues.
For this agility chance found
Him of all men, unfit
As the red-beaked steeds of
The Cytheraean for a chain bit.
The glow of porcelain
Brought no reforming sense
To his perception
Of the social inconsequence.
Thus, if her colour
Came against his gaze,
Tempered as if
It were through a perfect glaze
He made no immediate application
Of this to relation of the state
To the individual, the mouth was more temperate
Because this beauty had been.
The coral isle, the lion-coloured sand
Burst in upon the porcelain revery:
Of his imagery.
Mildness, amid the neo-Neitzschean clatter,
His sense of graduations,
Quite out of place amid
Resistance to current exacerbations,
Invitation, mere invitation to perceptivity
Gradually led him to the isolation
Which these presents place
Under a more tolerant, perhaps, examination.
By constant elimination
The manifest universe
Yielded an armour
Against utter consternation,
A Minoan undulation,
Seen, we admit, amid ambrosial circumstances
Strengthened him against
The discouraging doctrine of chances,
And his desire for survival,
Faint in the most strenuous moods,
Became an Olympian apathein
In the presence of selected perceptions.
A pale gold, in the aforesaid pattern,
The unexpected palms
Destroying, certainly, the artist's urge,
Left him delighted with the imaginary
Audition of the phantasmal sea-surge,
Incapable of the least utterance or composition,
Emendation, conservation of the 'better tradition'
Refinement of medium, elimination of superfluities,
August attraction or concentration.
Nothing, in brief, but maudlin confession
Irresponse to human aggression,
Amid the precipitation, down-float
Of insubstantial manna,
Lifting the faint susurrus
Of his subjective hosanna.
Ultimate affronts to human redundancies;
Non-esteem of self-styled 'his betters'
Leading, as he well knew,
To his final
Exclusion from the world of letters.
Not knowing, day to day,
The first day's end, in the next room;
The placid water
Unbroken by the Simoon;
Placid beneath the warm suns,
Washed in the cobalt of oblivions;
Or through dawn-mist
The grey and rose
Of the juridical
A consciousness disjunct,
Being but this overblotted
Coracle of Pacific voyages,
The unforecasted beach:
Then on an oar
And I no more exist;
Luini in porcelain!
The grand piano
Utters a profane
Protest with her clear soprano.
The sleek head emerges
From the gold-yellow frock
As Anadyomene in the opening
Pages of Reinach.
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;
The face-oval beneath the glaze,
Bright in its suave bounding-line, as,
Beneath in half-watt rays,
The eyes turn topaz.