"At a Station of the Metro"--Imagism Considered

Let me start with truth in advertising--the Imagist school of poetry is among my very favorite.

The only poem most people encounter by Ezra Pound, "At a Station of the Metro" is also almost the only poem anyone mentions when talking about the imagist school of poetry. As it happens, the imagist school is among my very favorite, largely because it derives much of its power and motivation from what gives most Japanese and Chinese poetry that sense of otherness and serenity that pervades the poetry from the Classical periods.

Imagism prides itself on "not taking sides."  It is the photography of the poetry world.  If there is a charged, "hidden" meaning, it is well hidden.  For example, it is hard to take much from the ambiguous stance of Mr. Pound's opus:

At a Station of The Metro
Ezra Pound

The apparition of these faces in the crowd;
petals on a wet black bough.

What are you to make of this? Is the apparition bad, good?  Are the people bland and shapeless and formless, or do they contribute to a pattern of profound beauty? What is being said here?  You can make and tear down twenty or thirty different cases.

Another very famous example:

The Red Wheel Barrow
William Carlos Williams

so much depends
upon

a red wheel
barrow

glazed with rain
water

beside the white
chickens.


What exactly depends upon it?  And do we understand depends in the more modern sense, or in the deeper etymological sense as in "suspended from."  Is the red wheelbarrow good, bad, indifferent?  Is it a symbol of the Tao?  Does is signify existence?  Most importantly of all--do any of the questions really matter?  When you read the poem, you can see, in both cases what is described.  To me, these are among the most successful possible poems.  If the image is impressed upon the retina of the eye, it remains with the reader and colors future experience. One can begin to think through these images and in these images.  Imagist poetry allows the reader to enter into the experience and formulate the meaning, or just sit and contemplate as in a placid pond, or a smooth-flowing stream.  All meaning is beneath the surface and entirely unimportant to the aesthetic appreciation of the surface.  Must it mean anything other than what it says?  So long as the language is crafted and beautiful, it would seem that such diving for meaning is secondary.

Comments

  1. I read once that Williams said he got the idea when he was at a farmhouse where there was a young child very ill with a fever. He had done all he could and was looking out the window, waiting.

    I wonder if the situation was at that point when a doctor would say that it's in God's hands now. All we can do is pray.



    "So much depends upon" the will of God?


    Perhaps God's decisions are is as inscrutable as--

    a red wheel
    barrow


    glazed with rain
    water


    beside the white
    chickens.



    A thought anyway. It's a favorite of mine also, as well as the Pound haiku. (It is 19 syllables and even Basho occasionally went over 17, and if the Haiku Poet can do this, surely Pound can also. [g]

    ReplyDelete

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