The Use Of Allusion

'Hugh Selwyn Mauberley' presents a challenge to the reader that is not presented by Pound's imagist poems. In addition to questions of

Allusion, Deliberate reference to, or quotation from, sources outside the text, The sources may be literary or non-literary, and they may or may not be textual, The source is not usually identified explicitly, but is intended to enrich the text by inviting the reader to make a comparison between the subject of the text and the source, general interpretation, every page presents local difficulties: English words outside our vocabulary, words in other languages, quotations for which no source is given, unknown names. If this is less true of Eliot's quatrain poems, the title of the volume itself (^ra vos Prec) presents the same kind of difficulty, and The Waste Land, published two years later, presents at least as intimidating a surface as 'Mauberley'. Pound's Cantos multiply these difficulties further.

Why is Eliot's and Pound's mature poetry so difficult in this way? It is worth emphasizing that it is difficult for everyone: there is no ideal reader who encounters these poems for the first time with total comprehension, no one whose education has been so complete that they can recognize every source. Perhaps we ask the wrong question when we ask why the poetry is difficult. It might be more productive to first ask why we imagine we should be able to understand poetry immediately. After all, there are many types of writing we do not expect to understand at first glance: advanced mathematical treatises, for example, or eighteenth-century philosophy. Why should poetry be different? The good poet is a specialist, someone who has trained in an art, and, like the mathematician and the philosopher, works within a discipline developed by others over many years. Just as the mathematician and the philosopher make advances in their field by building on their predecessors' research, so the poet's choice of each phrase is informed by their knowledge of how previous poets have dealt with such a topic, used such a word, worked in such a form. Eliot's and Pound's allusions have the effect of highlighting the fact that their work does not stand alone, but rather exists within a literary network.

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