Saturday, February 6, 2010

Short Poems We Like: Ezra Pound

"In a Station of the Metro," has to be one of the shortest poems I've ever enjoyed. It's basically a place and two metaphors.

In the Station of the Metro

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

Because the poem is only two lines, the title acts as a third line, and also is critical to form the first concrete image that the two lines of the poem use as their base on which to layer meaning and metaphor.

The first line of the poem transforms the image of the metro into one of a sea of ghostly, white or translucent faces, the second line introduces the final conflict, a transformation of the faces into an image of nature that is so divorced from the very modern, industrial underground train station.

In this conflict of image builds the opportunity of great emotional insight: even modern man is natural and beautiful at the height of his technological achievements, in a concrete hermetic bubble that has no room for organic trees and flowers. And yet at the same time, the image is one of transience and fragility, of flower petals that are rain-slicked, and this brings the feeling too at once of freshness and of the petals that are scattered even by a light storm.

Imagist poetry, sometimes pretty bad-ass.

Can you write a three line imagist poem? Take a scene that moved you, describe its literal location. Then the first metaphor, or element of the scene that appeals to you as metaphoric. Finally, think of the opposite emotion, opposite surroundings, opposite scene. Compare them. You have a three line poem full of conflict and most likely, ripe with emotional windfall.

Notes from Pound on the experience of writing the poem.


  1. Thank you so much for this. I want to share your poem assignment with a little group I work with--is that OK?! I love this Pound poem.

  2. They loved it! And feel challenged indeed!

  3. When I studied poetry at SFU, in British Columbia Canada, I took a number of courses on the poetry of Ezra Pound. When Ezra was jailed following WWII, he also once famously wrote the following lines, using a tool of some sort, into the cement floor (I believe) of his jail cell. The poem read:

    To Break the Pentameter
    That was the first heave

    Malcolm P. MacPherson

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