- In a Station of the Metro
"In a Station of the Metro" is a poem by
Ezra Poundconsisting of two non-rhyming lines.
IN A STATION OF THE METRO
The apparition of these faces in the crowd;
Petals on a wet, black bough.
The poem was first published in 1913 is considered one of the leading poems of the
Imagisttradition. Written in a Japanese haikustyle, Pound’s process of deletion from thirty lines to only fourteen words typifies Imagism’s focus on economy of language, precision of imagery and experimenting with non-traditional verse forms. The poem is Pound’s written equivalent for the moment of revelation and intense emotion he felt at the Metro at La Concorde, Paris. Pound explains in his article “ Vorticism”, found in the April 1916 publication ‘Gaudier Brzeska’ that upon seeing faces in the crowd he was inspired by such beauty. He wished to convert this into language but all he could see was ‘splotches of colour’, ideal for expression in a painting. It took Pound two years to find an ‘equation’ to translate this vision into a poem. The poem’s brevity means that no word works independently but when used collectively they create tension and emotion. The thought process Pound used to reach this abbreviated ‘revelation’ is accomplished without the use of a single verb. Pound’s minimalist approach perhaps revisits his original speechlessness of the vision that mystified him at the metro station. Despite its meager physical appearance, the poem has spawned much literary criticism and controversy over its meaning, intention and value. The poem is essentially a set of images that have unexpected likeness and convey the rare emotion that Pound was experiencing at that time. Arguably the heart of the poem is not the first line, nor the second, but the mental process that links the two together. "In a poem of this sort," as Pound explained, "one is trying to record the precise instant when a thing outward and objective transforms itself, or darts into a thing inward and subjective." This darting takes place between the first and second lines. The pivotal semi-colon has stirred debate as to whether the first line is in fact subordinate to the second or both lines are of equal, independent importance. Pound contrasts the factual, mundane image that he actually witnessed with a metaphor from nature and thus infuses this “apparition” with visual beauty. There is a quick transition from the statement of the first line to the second line’s vivid metaphor; this ‘super-pository’ technique exemplifies the Japanese haiku style. The word “apparition” is considered crucial as it evokes a mystical and supernatural sense of imprecision which is then reinforced by the metaphor of the second line. The plosive word ‘Petals’ conjures ideas of delicate, feminine beauty which contrasts with the bleakness of the ‘wet, black bough’. What the poem signifies is questionable; many critics argue that it deliberately transcends traditional form and therefore its meaning is solely found in its technique as opposed to in its content. However when Pound had the inspiration to write this poem few of these considerations came into view. He simply wished to translate his perception of beauty in the midst of ugliness into a single, perfect image in written form.
* Ezra Pound, "Vorticism", in "The Fortnightly Review", Sept. 1, 1914
* [http://www.english.uiuc.edu/maps/poets/m_r/pound/metro.htm Extensive criticism page] (including some of Pound's own comments)
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