Ezra Loomis Pound (1885-1972)

Portrait d'une Femme


Your mind and you are our Sargasso Sea,
London has swept about you this score years
And bright ships left you this or that in fee:
Ideas, old gossip, oddments of all things,
Strange spars of knowledge and dimmed wares of price.        
Great minds have sought you -- lacking someone else.
You have been second always. Tragical?
No. You preferred it to the usual thing:
One dull man, dulling and uxorious,
One average mind -- with one thought less, each year.
Oh, you are patient, I have seen you sit
Hours, where something might have floated up.
And now you pay one. Yes, you richly pay.
You are a person of some interest, one comes to you
And takes strange gain away:
Trophies fished up; some curious suggestion;
Fact that leads nowhere; and a tale for two,
Pregnant with mandrakes, or with something else
That might prove useful and yet never proves,
That never fits a corner or shows use,
Or finds its hour upon the loom of days:
The tarnished, gaudy, wonderful old work;
Idols and ambergris and rare inlays,
These are your riches, your great store; and yet
For all this sea-hoard of deciduous things,
Strange woods half sodden, and new brighter stuff:
In the slow float of differing light and deep,
No! there is nothing! In the whole and all,
Nothing that's quite your own.
Yet this is you.

Poem page: http://rpo.library.utoronto.ca/poem/1662.html

First publication Date: 1912

         The poem I am going to analyse is “Portrait d´une Femme” by Ezra Pound published in 1912.            
             The poem is formed by just one Stanza (30 verses). We can appreciate that the poem has an iambic structure where the rhythm is present and maintained along the poem. Concerning the rhyme, we can observe that there is almost no rhyme (Blank Verse). The poem concludes with a final and centric verse which states the whole meaning of the poem, which is the description of the Femme: “Yet this is you”.

            While I was reading this poem several times, I have had a dilemma about the real purpose of the poet and the meaning of the poem. I do not know if the author is just criticising the girl, or somehow, he feels pity for her and the whole poem is a mixture of that praise and critic of the girl. I will try to give my final conclusion within this analysis.
            The first feature that looks strange is the title, which is written in French. Maybe the author uses this as a symbol of Europe, Revolution, culture, upper-classes… However, the poet sets the scene in London (L.2). As the title says, the poem is a “Portrait of a lady”, but the description of that lady is not a romantic or pleasant one. It is more a satirical description of one type of ladies, the kind of ladies that pretend to be what they are not. They approach the people pretending they are intelligent, but people only use them to tell and hear about gossip. It is a sad description of the lady.
            The poem starts with the author presenting and identifying himself with one of those who use the girl (L.1 “our”).The poem starts with a couple of metaphorical verses about the girl and her mind (L.1-2). The Sargasso Sea is a North Atlantic Sea, which is considered to be lifeless and only covered with some mosses floating over the surface (www.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sargasso_sea). The author uses this metaphor to indicate that the girl is not more than an empty recipient only filled with gossip, useless ideas… (L.3-6) which is the only knowledge and culture that the girl has, and that she gets it only because people uses her as an intermediate of information about other people’s lives
            Then, after this terrible critic where the author claims that people only talk to the girl when there is no one else to talk to (L.6), the poet changes into a sarcastic and ironic tone, in which we can appreciate a slight feeling of pity for the girl in the next following verses. He praises the girl, because she has preferred that kind of life to the one of getting married and being behind the shadow of a man (L.8-9), fact that, at least, makes her different from the rest. But afterwards, the poet declares what the real condition of the girl is, which is to be sitting patiently waiting for people to come and go to talk about the last gossip and other insignificant details about other people. Somehow, the poet claims that it is also admirable just to be there seated waiting for someone to talk to you, remarking the real loneliness of the girl. Indeed the author feels mercy towards her, because behind that mask of superficiality that the girl has, there is a woman who is suffering because nobody is really interested in her as a person.    
            Nevertheless, the author continues criticising the girl, because he feels that this way of being someone interesting is not the correct one. He writes some very beautiful and metaphorical images about the real nonsense of what she talks about other people (L16-23) Conversations about other members of the society which are totally ridiculous: their “trophies fished up”, maybe unreal and exaggerated stories about their lives “tales pregnant with mandrakes” and other stupid details concerning other people’s lives that she has to converse with other people in order to have any “friend”.
            The author concludes the poem summarizing that all this gossip is the only richness that the girl has (L.24-25) and with the final verses that claim that she is nothing more than a recipient of people to throw their intellectual rubbish and that she is nothing on her own and that her role in this life is not other than to afford and share that rubbish (L.28-30). In my opinion, the poem can be considered just a little critical to the girl, because it is a highly strong critical point of view of that kind of ladies I have commented before. But also, if you read the poem carefully, you must notice some verses that really denote also the pity and mercy the author feels for the girl, which I have tried to analyse in this paper. Besides, in addition to this mixture of love-pity towards the girl, I have loved this poem because of its direct and simple language and its direct and lovely ending verses.  



Seas of the Atlantic Ocean, “Sargasso sea”, Wikipedia.org,
Ed. Jimmy Wales, 22nd March 2006.

Ezra Pound “Portrait d´unne Femme”, Selected poetry of Ezra Loomis Pound, Representative Poetry Online, Ed. University of Toronto Library and Press
22nd March 2006

                         THE TYGER                                                                            TO A LADY        

             SHE WAS A PHANTOM OF DELIGHT               VS             SHE WALKS IN BEAUTY

                     THE LABORATORY                                                       THE BLESSED DAMOZEL

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