Ezra Pound’s “In a Station of the Metro”: microlecture.


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Microlecture by Michael Blackburn on Ezra Pound’s poem – par
par b In a Station of the Metrob0par
par The apparition of these face in the crowd;:par
petals on a wet, black bough.par par
What can you think about when looking at this poem?par
par FIRST: itrquote s very short, like a Japanese
haiku, focussed on a single moment of experience followed by a single moment of reflection.
This happens so quickly that itrquote s almost instantaneous. The poet presents us with two
images and no explanation.par par
SECOND: the title almost forms an integral part of the poem and provides essential information,
ie, you know straight away itrquote s PARIS. And if you want to know exactly which station
of the Metro it is, itrquote s La Concorde – we know that because Pound told us so in
later comments about the poem.par par
THIRD: it doesnrquote t fit within any conventional metrical arrangement and it doesnrquote t
rhyme.par par
FOURTH: the two lines represent two different processes: the first line registers the initial
impression the poet has of seeing the faces; the second shifts to his mental interpretation
of that sight into metaphor, ie, the faces are petals. Note that he doesnrquote t say
ldblquote likerdblquote : he prefers metaphor to simile here.par
par FIFTH: that jump from literal to metaphorical
also mirrors a jump from the urban, man-made environment, ie, the Metro in the middle of
the city, to the natural world of trees and leaves. And whereas we know exactly where
the first line is located, we have no information about where the image from the second line
comes from: it may be a specific memory of the poetrquote s or it may be something he
has imagined.par par
SIXTH: the faces are an ldblquote apparitionrdblquote , ie, like ghosts. Is this important? Why
didnrquote t he just just leave out the apparition bit and say ldblquote these facesrdblquote
?: well, it could be that herquote s playing around with the idea of the ldblquote undergroundrdblquote
, the physical reality of the metro system, and the ldblquote underworldrdblquote of
classical mythology, the place where the dead go. Hence these faces going into, returning
from, milling around within, the underworld are ldblquote apparitionsrdblquote , ghosts.
In addition, the faces are undistinguished from each other, theyrquote re in a crowd.
Pound is being rather literary here because he clearly has in mind the description of
dead souls in Danterquote s Inferno (you can follow this line up yourself). Poundrquote
s friend Eliot, of course, would use a similar image some years later in ldblquote The Waste
Landrdblquote when he refers to the crowds crossing London Bridge.par
par SEVENTH: Pound jumps from one metaphor to
another in presenting these faces; one second theyrquote re apparitions, the next second
– in his mind – they are petals. What difference does this make to us as readers? You can make
your own mind up about that, but you may want to think about the idea of a person being
transformed into a flower or plant – itrquote s something that happens frequently in classical
mythology. What are the implications with regard to human life in relation to the rest
of the natural world?par par
EIGHTH: those petals – what colour are they? We donrquote t know, because the poet hasnrquote
t told us, but we automatically assume theyrquote re either white or a pale colour, donrquote
t we? Whyrquote s that? Because theyrquote re placed against the ldblquote blackrdblquote
of the bough and itrquote s the sharp contrast of something pale against a dark background
that Pound is presenting to us. We also know that since the poet is talking about petals
the season, in his mind, is spring or summer. Now you have to ask yourself what this adds
to the overall effect: are the petals purely symbolic of renewed life against the backdrop
of death, represented by the darkness of the underground and the blackness of the bough?par
par NINTH: note the simple, stark image there
– ldblquote wet, black boughrdblquote , punchy one-syllable words which, even without the
comma to emphasise the slight gap between wet and black have to be given equal weight
when spoken. Why is it significant that the bough is wet? Obviously it makes it more likely
that the petals will stick, but is there something more it? And ldblquote blackrdblquote – is
that because the bough is decayed and rotting or is it just the result of being wet? And
ldblquote boughrdblquote ? Wouldnrquote t ldblquote branchrdblquote have worked
just as well? You need to think about the sound of the words here as well as the connotations
to get a fuller appreciation of whatrquote s happening. par
par So thatrquote s a start. What appeared to
be fairly straightforward poem without much significance because of its brevity and simplicity,
turns out to be richer and more complex when you pay attention to the words. par
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10 thoughts on “Ezra Pound’s “In a Station of the Metro”: microlecture.

  1. Thank you Mr. Blackburn for your help commenting on this poem of a such good Modernist poet. Just reading the review my book provides me (for the exam) and the poem itself is not enough for me to grasp a clear idea of its meaning. By listening you, I just learnt a lot about this poem and I reached further in my insight, developing some new ideas about several other significances. Thanks a lot again for  your own reading of this Haiku-like piece of art.
    Regards from Spain!

  2. I enjoyed this lecture very much, although I personally do not think that Pound intended to say "faces are like apparitions" and then goes on saying "faces are like petals" to my mind he compares "the fact that the faces appear" to s sharp contrast, i.e. petals on a black wet bough. To my mind, "wet" is chosen to emphasize the darkness here because wet bark tends to absorb more light than dry one.
    the word apparition is chosen because it's the only non-verbal version of "to appear" that stresses the fact that something "pops out of nowhere", wheras "appearance" is just a synonym for "looks". In my point of view, "apparition" has nothing to do with ghosts.

  3. Thank you so much, your explanation made me understand the poem and view it in a new light

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