Kenner has noted that the women in Pound's poetry tend to merge into two basic archetypes: the goddess, radiant with a virtú which organizes the world about her; and the fragmented woman, lacking identity and organized by her environment. . . .
The subject of "Portrait" is a modern woman without identity or virtú. She is but "a sort of nodal point in the flux," defined by her environment. Whereas the lady of "Apparuit" is organically inseparable from her setting ("Green the ways, the breath of the fields is thine there"), the London femme gains no identity from her oddments ("No! There is nothing ... that's quite your own"). She is the cultural "Sargasso Sea" of London, and her "spars of knowledge" are lifeless and stationary in that backwater. The light in her world is not self-generated, but reflected from above, shifting and uncertain: "the slow float of differing light and deep." Yet despite her lack of unity, the lady is not nothing. The poem is a study of the second-rate qualified by the poet's implied awareness of third, fourth, and fifth rates. If we say that this fragmented lady is the prototype of the figures satirized in Lustra, we must add that the perspective and balance of the "Portrait" are missing from most of Pound's later sketches. It was probably this poem that Eliot had most in mind when he spoke of "the effect of London" and said that Pound had become "more mature."
From The Poetry of Ezra Pound: Forms and Renewals, 1908-1920. Copyright © 1969 by Hugh Witemeyer.