Asia Online (TAO)
Ezra Loomis Pound (1885-1972)
IN A STATION OF THE METRO
apparition of these faces in the crowd:
Petals on a wet, black bough.
Poetry 2:1, Chicago, April 1913.
Original Text: Ezra Pound, "Contemporania," Poetry: A Magazine of Verse, 2.1 (April 1913): 6. Ezra Pound, Lustra (London: Elkin Mathews, 1916). See also Ezra Pound's Poetry and Prose: Contributions to Periodicals, prefaced and arranged by Lea Baechler, A. Walton Litz, and James Longenbach (New York and London: Garland, 1991), I (1902-1914): 137.
First Publication Date: 1913.
Representative Poetry On-line: Editor, I. Lancashire; Publisher, Web Development Group, Inf. Tech. Services, Univ. of Toronto Lib.
Edition: RPO 1998. © I. Lancashire, Dept. of English (Univ. of Toronto), and Univ. of Toronto Press 1998.
Composition Date: ca. 1911-12.
the metro: the Paris subway system.
See Pound's commentary on this poem in his article "Vorticism," The Fortnightly Review 571 (Sept. 1, 1914): 465-67:
Three years ago in Paris I got out of a "metro" train at La Concorde, and saw suddenly a beautiful face, and then another and another, and then a beautiful child's face, and then another beautiful woman, and I tried all that day to find words for what this had meant to me, and I could not find any words that seemed to me worthy, or as lovely as that sudden emotion. And that evening, as I went home along the Rue Raynouard, I was still trying, and I found, suddenly, the expression. I do not mean that I found words, but there came an equation ... not in speech, but in little spotches of colour. It was just that -- a "pattern," or hardly a pattern, if by "pattern" you mean something with a "repeat" in it. But it was a word, the beginning, for me, of a language in colour. I do not mean that I was unfamiliar with the kindergarten stories about colours being like tones in music. I think that sort of thing is nonsense. If you try to make notes permanently correspond with particular colours, it is like tying narrow meanings to symbols.
That evening, in the Rue Raynouard, I realised quite vividly that if I were a painter, or if I had, often, that kind of emotion, or even if I had the energy to get paints and brushes and keep at it, I might found a new school of painting, of "non-representative" painting, a painting that would speak only by arrangements in colour. ....
That is to say, my experience in Paris should have gone into paint ...
The "one image poem" is a form of super-position, that is to say it is one idea set on top of another. I found it useful in getting out of the impasse in which I had been left by my metro emotion. I wrote a thirty-line poem, and destroyed it because it was what we call work "of second intensity." Six months later I made a poem half that length; a year later I made the following hokku-like sentence: --
"The apparition of these faces in the crowd:
Petals, on a wet, black bough."
I dare say it is meaningless unless one has drifted into a certain vein of thought. In a poem of this sort 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 particular sort of consciousness has not been identified with impressionist art. I think it is worthy of attention.
See also a republication of this essay in Pound's Gaudier-Brzeska: A Memoir (1916; London: New Directions, 1960): 86-89).
The lines have no spaced words in 1916.
Richard Aldington, 1892-1962
The apparition of these poems in a crowd:
White faces in a black dead faint.
"Penultimate Poetry" appeared in Egoist 1 (January 1914), p. 36.
A parody of Pound and the preoccupations of the Imagists, including their Oriental interests. The last of nine sections finds its humour at the expense of the hokku-derived In a Station of the Metro and the form of super-position.
Selected Short Poems
petals fall in the fountain,
the orange-coloured rose-leaves,
Their ochre clings to the stone.
cool as the pale wet leaves
She lay beside me in the dawn.
. . . . . . . . .
Too long . . . . . . . .
Gongula . . . . . . . . .
Fan-Piece, for Her Imperial Lord
fan of white silk,
clear as frost on the grass-blade,
You also are laid aside.
arsenic smeared on an egg-white cloth,
Crushed strawberries! Come, let us feast our eyes.
Pagani’s, November 8
discovering in the eyes of the very beautiful
The eyes of the very learned British Museum assistant.
The New Cake of Soap
how it gleams and glistens in the sun
Like the cheek of a Chesterton.
Women Before a Shop
gew-gaws of false amber and false turquoise attract them.
'Like to like nature': these agglutinous yellows!
I carefully consider the curious habits of dogs
I am compelled to conclude
That man is the superior animal.
I consider the curious habits of man
I confess, my friend, I am puzzled.
Why do you look so eagerly and so curiously into
Will you find your lost dead among them?
rustling of the silk is discontinued,
Dust drifts over the court-yard,
There is no sound of footfall, and the leaves
Scurry into heaps and lie still,
And she the rejoicer of the heart is beneath them:
A wet leaf that clings to the threshold.
"Ione, Dead the Long Year"
are the ways,
Empty are the ways of this land
And the flowers
Bend over with heavy heads.
They bend in vain.
Empty are the ways of this land
Walked once, and now does not walk
But seems like a person just gone.
Ancient Wisdom, Rather Cosmic
And having dreamed that he was a bird, a bee, and a butterfly,
He was uncertain why he should try to feel like anything else,
Hence his contentment.
the while they were talking the new morality
Her eyes explored me.
And when I arose to go
Her fingers were like the tissue
Of a Japanese paper napkin.
And the Days Are Not Full Enough
the days are not full enough
And the nights are not full enough
And life slips by like a field mouse
Not shaking the grass
my songs, seek your praise from the young
and from the intolerant,
Move among the lovers of perfection alone.
Seek ever to stand in the hard Sophoclean light
And take you wounds from it gladly.
The Bath Tub
a bathtub lined with white porcelain,
When the hot water gives out or goes tepid,
So is the slow cooling of our chivalrous passion,
O my much praised but-not-altogether-satisfactory lady.
Post Mortem Conspectu
brown, fat babe sitting in the lotus,
And you were glad and laughing
With a laughter not of this world.
It is good to splash in the water
And laughter is the end of all things.
is a model parent,
Her children have never discovered her adulteries.
Lalage is also a model parent,
Her offspring are fat and happy.
Horae Beatae Inscripto
will this beauty, when I am far hence,
Sweep back upon me and engulf my mind!
will these hours, when we twain are gray,
Turned in their sapphire tide, come flooding o'er us!
join these words for four people,
Some others may overhear them,
O world, I am sorry for you,
You do not know these four people.
Separation On The River Kiang
goes west from Ko-kaku-ro,
The smoke-flowers are blurred over the river.
His lone sail blots the far sky.
And now I see only the river,
The long Kiang, reaching heaven.
us build here an exquisite friendship,
The flame, the autumn, and the green rose of love
Fought out their strife here, 'tis a place of wonder;
Where these have been, meet 'tis, the ground is holy.
who intended a Grand Passion,
Ends with a willingness-to-oblige.
is scrawny but amorous,
Thus have the gods awarded her,
That in pleasure she receives more than she can give;
If she does not count this blessed
Let her change her religion.
passed and left no quiver in the veins, who now
Moving among the trees, and clinging
in the air she severed,
Fanning the grass she walked on then, endures:
Grey olive leaves beneath a rain-cold sky.
black panther treads at my side,
And above my fingers
There float the petal-like flames.
Unbend from the holly-trees,
And their snow-white leopard
Watches to follow our trace.
eyes of this dead lady speak to me,
For here was love, was not to be drowned out.
And here desire, not to be kissed away.
The eyes of this dead lady speak to me.
family position was waning,
And on this account the little Aurelia,
Who had laughed on eighteen summers,
Now bears the palsied contact of Phidippus.
thing, that hath a code and not a core,
Hath set acquaintance where might be affections,
And nothing now
Disturbeth his reflections.
spirits came to me
And drew me apart
To where the olive boughs
Lay stripped upon the ground:
Pale carnage beneath bright mist.
am I to condemn you, O Dives,
I who am as much embittered
As you are with useless riches ?
rests me to be among beautiful women
Why should one always lie about such matters?
It rests me to converse with beautiful women
Even though we talk nothing but nonsense,
purring of the invisible antennae
Is both stimulating and delightful.
is another of our ancient loves.
Pass and be silent, Rullus, for the day
Hath lacked a something since this lady passed;
Hath lacked a something. 'Twas but marginal.
Chen-ou Liu, Canada
Three Readings of Ezra Pounds Metro Haiku
first published in the January 2010 issue of Magnapoets, reprinted in Haiku Reality and Haijinx Quarterly, April, 2010
Throughout the history of English poetry, there seldom is a poem like Ezra Pounds In a Station of the Metro (hereafter referred to as metro poem) that has been endlessly researched by scholars, literary critics, and poets alike 1. Most of his readers are familiar with at least two versions of his metro poem: the original version published in the April 1913 issue of Poetry as follows:
The apparition . . . of these faces . . in the crowd :
Petals . . . on a wet, black bough.
and one of the revised versions published in his 1916 book entitled Lustra as follows:
The apparition of these faces in the crowd;
Petals on a wet, black bough.
Everyone may have his/her own reading of this ever-famous poem from different perspectives. But due to the limited space of this article and for Magnapoets readers who are interested in the Asian poetic traditions, I will discuss two major popular readings the haikuesque and ideogrammatic ones -- in the following sections.
The Haikuesque Reading
In his most widely-read book, The Haiku Handbook: How to Write, Share, and Teach Haiku, William Higginson rightly emphasizes that Ezra Pounds metro poem is the first published hokku in English 2 and very important to its author s development 3. In his essay on Vorticism in the September 1914 issue of The Fortnightly Review, Pound explicitly credits the technique of the Japanese hokku in helping him work out the solution to a metro emotion:4
The Japanese have evolved the form of the hokku I found it useful in getting out of the impasse in which I had been left by my metro emotion. I wrote a thirty-line poem, and destroyed it because it was what we call work "of second intensity." Six months later I made a poem half that length; a year later I made the following hokku-like sentence:
The apparition of these faces in the crowd:
bbb.Petals, on a wet, black bough.
Higginson first points out that the main effect of the change between the 1913 version and 1914 one is to smooth the rhythm, making the poem less choppy, 5 and then he focuses the discussion on the most recognizable version by haiku readers, the one that was published in his book, Lustra, as follows:
The apparition of these faces in the crowd;
Petals on a wet, black bough.
From the perspective of a haiku poet, Higginson singles out the most important change Pound made: that is the one from the colon at the end of the first line to a semicolon. In his view, a colon tells the reader that the statement made in the first line introduces the statement made in the second, making one a metaphor for the other. Conversely, a semicolon shows that two statements are independent of each other, though maybe related, and that both images -- faces and petals -- portrayed in the poem are real and stand out against its own background 6. As Higginson stresses, by revising the poem Pound turned an otherwise sentimental metaphor into a genuine haiku This is a haiku that Shiki would have been proud to write. 7 But based on Bashos teaching of what a real haiku is in the case regarding his revision of the dragonfly haiku by his pupil, Kikaku, when composing a haiku by contrasting and comparing two images of different importance, the poet should utilize the lesser image in a manner which will make it seem to suggest the greater image 8. Thus, if Pounds poem is changed to the following:
Petals on a wet, black bough;
The apparition of these faces in the crowd.
I think this will be a haiku that Basho would have been proud to write.
The Ideogrammatic Reading
However, Higginsons reading of the metro poem is chiefly through the haiku lens, and he doesnt consider the contexts of Pounds struggle with a new kind of poetry, not just with one poem, and of the growing impacts of the Chinese language in general, and Chinese poetry in particular, upon his view of writing poetry. Outside the haiku community, the metro poem is viewed as a haiku-like, yet a new kind of poem: the most influential imagist poem based on his ideogrammatic poetics. In the introduction of The Norton Anthology of American Literature (Volume D), it firmly states: "Pound first campaigned for 'imagistic,' his name for a new kind of poetry. Rather than describing something - an object or situation - and then generalizing about it, imagist poets attempted to present the object directly, avoiding the ornate diction and complex but predictable verse forms of traditional poetry."
Following Ernest Fenollosa's view of the Chinese written language as a medium for poetry, Pound bases his ideogrammic poetics on the false assumptions that Chinese characters are essentially ideographic and non-phonetic in nature , and that the sense of individual characters is visually generated by the juxtaposition of their graphic components 9. The famous example used by his mentor, Fenollosa, is the following:
MAN SEES HORSE
First stands the man on his two legs. Second, his eye moves through space; a bold figure represented by running legs under an eye, a modified picture of an eye, a modified picture of running legs, but unforgettable once you have seen it. Third stands the horse on his four legs ... Legs belong to all three characters; they all alive. The group holds something of the quality of a continuous moving picture. 10 Fenollosa claims, and Pound echoes him, that the Chinese ideogram presents a necessary relationship between its components: eye on legs can only mean see, because in this process of compounding, two things added together do not produce a third thing but suggest some fundamental relation between them. 11
The 1913 original printing of the poem, which is completely not discussed by Higginson, Pound emphasizes the intervals that punctuate the poem, each semantic unit of words functioning as a discrete character, three characters to each line. His ideogrammic juxtaposition of images is relatively simple and straightforward, and through the metaphoric suggestion of the catalyzing word apparition, Pound combines the mundane image of "faces in the crowd," with an image possessing visual beauty and the rich cultural-aesthetical connotations of countless poems about spring. There is a quick transition from the factual statement of the first line to the vivid metaphor of the second one. As Carol Percy emphasizes, what Pound wants is to bring out some fundamental relation between things: the two lines are juxtaposed, and this should enable one to read them in much the same way that he believed a Chinese person would read eye on legs as see. 12
For anyone who is interested in understanding the writing process of an innovative poet, no matter which reading of Pound's metro poem one would adopt, the heart of the poem lies in relation. In his view, relations are more real and more important than the things relate, on which Pound adds a footnote: Compare Aristotles Poetics: Swift perception of relations, hallmark of genius. 13 " As one who is an English learner as well as a struggling poet, I can identify with Pounds six-year epic struggle with one poem, which embodies his audacious proclamation of Make it new! Every time when I confront the following impasse:
is whispered into my left ear
Make it new
into my right --
the page remains blank
I always think of Ezra Pound:
unties tangled threads
of Chinese ideograms
and weaves them anew
1 For anyone who is interested in getting a glimpse into the different readings of Pounds metro poem, MAPS offers a helpful webpage entitled On "In a Station of the Metro," which can be accessed at http://www.english.illinois.edu/Maps/poets/m_r/pound/metro.htm
2 Higginson, William J. (with Penny Harter). The Haiku Handbook: How to Write, Share, and Teach Haiku. McGraw-Hill Book. 1989. p. 51
3 Ibid, p. 134.
4 Ibid, p. 135.
5 Ibid, p. 135.
6 Ibid, pp. 135-6.
7 Ibid, p.136.
8 In his book entitled An Introduction to Haiku: An Anthology of Poems and Poets from Basho to Shiki, Harold Henderson talks about a story about how to write a real haiku. One day, while walking with his teacher, Basho, on a country road, Kikuka was deeply moved by the sight of the dragonflies flying about and wrote the following haiku:
Red dragonflies! Take off their wings,
and they are pepper pods!
Basho relied that such a haiku was not a real one, and he revised it as follows:
Red pepper pods! Add wings to them,
and they are dragonflies!
For further details, see pp. 17-8.
And Richard Eugene Smith gives a good analysis of this story in his essay titled Ezra Pound and the Haiku (College English, Vol. 26, No. 7 (Apr., 1965), pp. 522-527)
9 Weinberger, Eliot and Williams, William Carlos, ed. The New Directions Anthology of Classical Chinese Poetry. New Directions. 2003. pp. xviii-xxiii.
10 Fenollosa, Ernest. The Chinese Written Character as a Medium for Poetry. Ed. Ezra Pound. City Lights. 1936. pp. 8-9.
12 Percy , Carol. Ezra Pound and the Chinese Written Language. http://www.chass.utoronto.ca/~cpercy/courses/6362Pickard2.htm
13 Fenollosa, Ernest. p. 22.
translations & transformations by Heinz Insu Fenkl
Codhill Press, New Paltz ≈ New York, 2007