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This article is taken from PN Review 97, Volume 20 Number 5, May - June 1994.

From the Twenties to the Nineties: Pound, Beerbohm and the making of Mauberley Vincent Sherry

'Have done Cantos five, six, and seven,' Ezra Pound wrote to his father on 13 December 1919, 'each more incomprehensible than the one preceding it; don't know whats to be done about it'. On the same dayhe confided to John Quinn that his cantos were becoming 'too too too abstruse and obscure for human consumption.' After eight months of intense activity the project suddenly stopped.' no further progress on the cantos is reported until 1922. It was in the early days of this hiatus that the poems of Hugh Selwyn Mauberley, began to form into a coherent, two-part sequence. Featuring the disappearance of the two poets, E. P. and Mauberley its fiction holds a mirror up to Pound's worst fears about his own emergent life-work: the increasing obscurity of the Cantos will merit him an oblivion similar to theirs . The link between his apparent failure in the new cantos and the demise of the two protagonists accounts as well for the sequencing of pieces in Poems 1918-21. Here the fiction of artistic collapse in Hugh Selwyn Mauberley immediately precedes its dramatic fact (as Pound perceived it in 1919): the text of Cantos IV-VII.

The source of his anxiety lay in the dangers of a poetic invention first perfected in Canto IV, then extended in V-VII: the ideogrammic method. Laying image against image, ply against ply, it brings discrete pieces of information -radicals -into dramatic juxtaposition, thus building up a vision of history the poet hopes, through ...


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