Diptych Rome-London presents the two undisputed masterpieces of Pound's pre-Cantos work––the long poems "Homage to Sextus Propertius" and "Hugh Selwyn Mauberley."Created in the aftermath of World War I, the poems ironically consider the place of the artist in "a botched civilization." "Homage to Sextus Propertius" (1917) is a free translation from the Latin, an homage to the Roman poet; praising its "enormous freedom and range of tone," Hugh Kenner remarked that "few more original poems exist in English." "Hugh Selwyn Mauberly" (1920) is described in A. Walton Litz's clear and helpful introduction as a "master document of literary modernism." It was also T.S. Eliot's favorite Pound poem: "I am quite certain of 'Mauberley,' whatever else I am certain of... a great poem, a document of an epoch."
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New Directions has been the primary publisher of Ezra Pound in the U.S. since the founding of the press when James Laughlin published New Directions in Prose and Poetry 1936. That year Pound was fifty-one. In Laughlin’s first letter to Pound, he wrote: “Expect, please, no fireworks. I am bourgeois-born (Pittsburgh); have never missed a meal. . . . But full of ‘noble caring’ for something as inconceivable as the future of decent letters in the US.” Little did Pound know that into the twenty-first century the fireworks would keep exploding as readers continue to find his books relevant and meaningful.From Publishers Weekly:
Pound ( Personae ) always intended for his two great early poems, Homage to Sextus Propertius and Hugh Selwyn Mauberley , to appear as a diptych, and here they do. Written toward the end of the first World War and just following it, they are Pound's farewell to London and his early period, and in a larger sense are a swan song to an era. In Homage , Pound's often free translation and interpretation, he uses the Latin poet's ironic sensibility to suggest the crumbling of an age and its weariness: "Dry wreaths drop their petals, / their stalks are woven in baskets, / To-day we take the great breath of lovers, / to-morrow fate shuts us in." Pound called Mauberley "the poor man's Propertius" and "an endeavour to communicate with a blockheaded epoch." But while Propertius looks backward to 1890s decadence, Mauberley looks forward to high modernism. It has become the quintessential expression of the shattering of 19th-century optimism, summed up in Pound's famous lines: "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." Mauberley is the more disillusioned--and the stronger--of the two poems; it captures the cynicism and emptiness that would prepare the way for horrors yet to come. And while it is useful to read the two works in the arrangement that Pound planned, the effect will not greatly change our understanding of either.
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