Pound, Imagism & Sentiment: A Poetic Snare, Part III

This self indulgent post is continued from Part I and Part II.

The same effect of title in The Garden is used in Pound’s poem The Tea ShopThe Tea Shop, like The Garden deals with the dismantlement of beauty.  The tea shop, a respite, a daintiness, a portrait of petite femininity is depicted as the opposite.  In Pound’s The Tea Shop, the tea shop, like the garden of The Garden becomes an unlikely setting for a development of atypically associated emotions and ideals.  The poem, The Tea Shop, frames the picture of a grim reality. The poem undetectably emits a sentiment of disillusion, death and nostalgia.  In the frame of the tea shop, the reality of what society considers beautiful is revealed as meaningless and makeshift.  The poem is small: nine dense lines.  Again, in the small scope of a short poem, Pound manages to release a flood of ideas and emotions.

The poem begins, like The Garden, with a seemingly lovely and typically associated image: “The girl in the tea shop” (Pound 116).   It is with the sudden twist of an immediate enjambment that the poem evolves into an image of mortality and age: “Is not so beautiful as she was,/ The August has worn against her./ She does not get up the stairs so eagerly;/ Yes, she will also turn middle-aged,/ And the glow of youth that she spread about us/ As she brought us our muffins/ Will be spread about us no longer./ She will also turn middle-aged” (Pound 116).  The poem in the second line directly, frankly states, “is not so beautiful as she was.”  The poem then explains why “the girl in the tea shop” is “not so beautiful” forthrightly.  It is the elements of nature, “The August has worn against her.”  August, a summer month, a month typically associated with warmth and life, becomes an antagonist of sorts.  The month has “worn against her.”  The term “worn” evokes an action of nature, an action that cannot be stopped like the sea would erode a cliff.  The use of a month to portray this action alludes to time and cycle.  August, objectively, is just a span of time, thirty one days.  August, subjectively, (“Direct treatment of the “thing,” whether subjective or objective”) represents the never-ending curse of time and age.  August does not only wear the girl out, but also it wears “against her.”  This phrase situates the girl as a victim, a victim of nature’s course, of erosion caused by time.  This loss of beauty becomes inevitable with the image of August wearing “against her.”  The reader must then leap to the conclusion that the girl “does not get up the stairs so eagerly” (Pound 116) because of the hostile August (time), or the unspoken aggressors age and recurrence.  The fourth line, “She does not get up the stairs so eagerly,” smears the image conveyed in the very first line: “The girl in the tea shop.”  The twist is subtle, yet pungent all at once.  The image of the girl faintly becomes one of a “worn” out, perhaps tired female that does not move “so eagerly.”  Unsurprisingly, but nearly too frank, the following line declares the female’s fate: “Yes, she also will turn middle-aged” (Pound 116).  The words in the fifth line are unsentimental by definition, but the pile of images that sit on this line transform the words into an announcement of loss and fixed fate.  The word, “Yes,” speaks to the reader.  It is an answer to the questions that Pound unmistakably is sure the reader will ask after reading the first four lines.  It reveals the truth, “Yes, she will also turn middle-age,” in an honest, plain arrangement, yet its placement evokes the shock and sadness of a loss.  Pound, does not tell the reader how to feel at this moment in the poem, yet, explicably, the reader experiences distress and disillusion (the illusion of the “girl in the tea shop” is ripped apart) by nothing other than a telling of reality (“Yes, she will also turn middle-aged”).

Once the reader is injured by the mental trigger of the poem, Pound almost wickedly reminds the reader of what this smudged “girl in the tea shop” used to be, only to betray the reader again with another exposure of reality.  He attempts to put back the pieces of the first line’s image: “And the glow of youth that she spread about us/ As she brought us muffins” (Pound 116) in lines six and seven.  Such a pretty picture is embodied by these two lines, chunks of delight: “glow of youth,” “spread about us,” “brought us muffins.”  A picturesque representation of a typical tea shop nearly tortures the reader.  The reader must leap from an image of beauty’s mortality back to an image of society’s splendor (“glow of youth,” “muffins”).  It is with the reader’s efforts to connect the images of this poem that he/she must recognize that society’s inclinations toward beauty, sophistication and adornment are an unattainable fantasy.  This fantasy is exposed as fruitless candidly and simply within the last two lines of the poem: “Will be spread about us no longer,/ She will also turn middle-aged” (Pound 116).  There is nothing explicitly disturbing in these final lines, yet, they are unsettling.

The arousal of the physical senses cannot go unnoticed either.  In both the delightful image, “the glow of youth that she spread about us,” and in the final disruptive image, “Will be spread about us no longer,” the use of the word “spread” induces connotations with luxurious food condiments and intimate sexual moments.  Sexuality as a form of Imagism was approved of by Pound.  Schneidau explains, “This belief, Pound’s own version of ‘Unity of Being,’ connects the light of enlightenment as well as the ‘hard light and clear edges’ of Imagism with sexual function– another reason, perhaps, why so many of Pound’s poems involve sexual encounters ” (121).  In this poem (along with others mentioned in the examination of Imagism as a means for emotional imposition), sexual imagery functions as a direct stimulation, an express route into the reader’s frame of mind, sometimes even more accurately and more primitively than the images meant to impose emotions (emotions can be so complex depending on personal associations from personal experience).  These luxuries and pleasures that the reader will think of are harshly severed by Pound’s final image: “She will also turn middle-aged.”   Again, in a declarative tone, Pound, instigates an alarming sensation in the reader, an inauguration of tea shop truth.

In line with the porcelain of tea cups and the sensuousness of a tea shop girl, Pound’s poem, The Bath Tub, disrobes the design of a romantic relationship.  The image of title itself is titillating, an asset that attracts the reader. Through the use of a bath tub “lined with porcelain” (Pound 100) analogy, Pound indiscreetly displays the truth of his romance with a lady.  Again, the reader is not demanded to feel a certain way, nor is he/she mentally entangled in a list of emotional utterances.  The reader simply encounters an exhibition by way of an uncanny likeness.  The Bath Tub cunningly and artfully rubs disheartenment and deflation onto the reader.  Similar to The Garden and The Tea Shop, The Bath Tub begins with a seemingly lovely, delicate image: “As a bathtub lined with white porcelain” (Pound 100).  Like The Garden, The Bath Tub’s initial image conceals intricate layers.  A bath tub, typically a place of cleanliness and sensuousness is revealed to be merely “lined with white porcelain.”  The implications of this detail arouse curiosity.  The reader does not know what the bathtub is actually composed of, merely what it is lined with.  The image conceals the actual material that sustains the shape and structure of the bathtub, like make-up, perfume, clothing, style, etc. beautify or conceal the chemistry of reality.

The Bath Tub slips into another image, one of temperature, and this is where the analogy awakens.  Following the painting of the bathtub, its enterprise is presented: “When the hot water gives out or goes tepid” (Pound 100).  It is at this precise moment in the life of a bathtub that Pound finds his analogous image.  The comparison is not only to a “bathtub lined with white porcelain,” but also to a bathtub that’s “hot water gives out or goes tepid.”  Indeed, this is an instant that a reader can envision from personal experience.  The emotions at this slight instant can be recovered with thought (instant loss of hot water will cause disappointment, discomfort, coldness, repulsion).  It is at this specific moment in poetic time that Pound drags the reader out of his thoughts of tepid bath water and into the correlating image of romance in the third line: “So is the cooling of our chivalrous passion” (Pound 100).  The particular feelings wrapped around the flash of a lost hot water are immediately imposed on the image of a romance, a “chivalrous passion” that cools.  As with most of Pound’s poems, word choice is not irrational or unintended.  The “cooling” of “hot water” occurs to not just any passion; it inflicts a “chivalrous passion.”  The term “chivalrous” evokes status and comportment.  Indeed, this “passion” is well-behaved, refined and traditional.  This is a juxtaposing pair of words, for chivalry involves courtesy and “passion” involves impulse.  In this odd mix-up of romantic terms, a kind of awareness evolves in the reader.  The irrationality of upper class romantic convention is exposed; the reader responds emotionally to this odd coupling: revelation, consciousness, sympathy, empathy.

It is only in the final two lines that the speaker reveals to whom he is sharing this analogy to: his lady, his partner in “chivalrous passion.”  The very short poem ends with this surprise: “O my much praised but-not-altogether-satisfactory/ lady” (Pound 100).  The direct address to the “lady” depicts her guise, the guise which is comparable to the lining of “white porcelain.”  The lady is “much praised.”  This suggests a kind of popularity or status, a superficial examination.  Deeper examination calls for dissection, a dissection of the bathtub, the lady.  Pound, like a scientist-poet, dismembers the nature of the lady: “but-not-altogether-satisfactory.”  The words are combined to evoke a kind of vomit-like presentation, an explosion of truth.  These words are colloquial, simple and squished.  This is stream-of-conscious-like.  Another juxtaposing pair: “much praised” and “but-not-altogether-satisfactory.” This pair of descriptors disentangles truth.  Under the costume of societal praise and acceptance hides dissatisfaction.  The isolation of the word “lady,” causes consideration.  The term “lady” is excluded for emphasis.  Associations of perfection, grace, and femininity orbit the word.  The epitome of feminine perfection is mutated into a word-chain of dissatisfaction.  Also, the segregation of the word “lady” stirs up an emotion: loneliness. The simple image of the bathtub comes to tell the unnatural story of “chivalrous passion.”  The reader without reading it, without seeing it, feels disheartenment because the poem’s images operate solely in the links of the mind.

Part 4 coming soon…

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One thought on “Pound, Imagism & Sentiment: A Poetic Snare, Part III

  1. Pingback: Pound, Imagism & Sentiment: A Poetic Snare, Part IV | productiveprofessor

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