Hugh Selwyn Mauberley (1920)

Kim Hallows on “Hugh Selwyn Mauberley: Autobiographical Poem of Expatriate Ezra Pound”

Hugh Selwyn Mauberley, written by Ezra Pound in 1920, is a long poem comprised of eighteen short poems written in third person narration. Pound completed the work amidst his move from England to Italy and it reflects his “disillusionment with England” (Nadel 13). The narrator discusses the propaganda fed to young men during times of war and the effect the war had on soldiers who did or did not return home. Many of the opinions on war expressed by Mauberley (Pound’s narrator) parallel those expressed by Pound, causing the reader to question if Hugh Selwyn Mauberley is actually Ezra Pound, thus making the poem autobiographical.

Pound was American by birth, but he became widely known for taking a strong political stance against the U.S. after WWI. Mauberley was completed just two years after World War One had ended.  In the long poem, the narrator refers to his homeland as “a half-savage country,” which is similar to statements Pound would make about the U.S. on live radio during the Second World War. He referred to the actions of President Roosevelt as “criminal acts,” and also hinted that he did not believe the president was qualified for his duties (O’Connor, Stone 132). What provoked Pound’s strong opinions towards war was the loss of some of his dearest friend’s to battle during WWI.

In “A Preface to Ezra Pound,” Wilson describes the loss of Pound’s friends to the war, and the effect it had on him. “Pound had met most of those with whom he had a major artistic and/or emotional relationships in the first half of his life.” He then goes on to say that many of them died “in the trenches of the First World War” (19).  He claims “Pound would respond to such loss with a bitter and obsessive rage against those he reckoned to be responsible for the deaths of his friends,” which describes the stance Pound makes in Mauberley (20).

In lines 28 through 31 of Mauberley, the narrator describes this loss:

There died a myriad,

And the best, among them,

For an old bitch gone in the teeth,

For a botched civilization,

Many of Pound’s friends did not return home from battle, after initially being drawn into battle by false patriotic propaganda. These lives were lost to preserve a culture of money, consumerism, and mass reproduction, but the men were convinced they were fighting for something more important.

In Exile’s Return, Cowley describes the propaganda that was fed to young men so that they would fight in the war. Professors were “preaching patriotism” to students (Cowley 36). Some of these students were the close friends Pound lost to the war. Mauberley explains similar deceit of soldiers in lines 13-17 of the poem:

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;

Mauberley’s` descriptions of the events of The World Wars in Hugh Selwyn Mauberley, including propaganda enticing men to join the military and the trauma affecting those returning home, mirror the author’s real life opinions. While Ezra was quoted denying any author/narrator connection by stating “I’m no more Mauberley than Eliot is Prufrock … Mauberley is a mere surface,” it is as easy to make connections between the life of Pound and that of his character Mauberley (Wilson 156). Both make negative commentary on false patriotism, World Wars, and the crushing affects those wars had on the soldiers who fought in them.

Works Cited

Cowley, Malcolm. Exile’s Return: A Literary Odyssey of the 1920’s. New York: Penguin, 1994 [1934].

Nadel, Ira Bruce. The Cambridge Introduction to Ezra Pound. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2007. Print.

Pound, Ezra. “Hugh Selwyn Mauberley.” New Selected Poems and Translations. Ed. Richard Sieburth. New York: New Directions, 2010. 109-123. Print.

Wilson, Peter. A Preface to Ezra Pound. New York: Longman, 1997. Print.


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