The frailty of “pale wet leaves,” and the disconnect that loiter about Pound’s poem, Alba, echoes the response to one of Pound’s most popular Imagist works: In a Station of the Metro.
Continued from Part IV.
Like Alba, In a Station of the Metro uses the delicate details of nature to evoke an instant of time while at a “station of the metro.” The poem takes place in a trice of thought reflected by the speaker. The poem functions as a photograph. Superficially, it depicts the visual aspects of a moment in time. Subjectively, it reflects a mental impression, a mental impression which offers more than just a representation. Through the use of analogy, the poem emanates sensation and epiphany.
The title, “In a Station of the Metro,” functions comparably to the titles of The Garden, and The Tea Shop. The title of In a Station of the Metro depicts the location of the poem. Nonetheless, like Alba’s title, In a Station of the Metro’s title functions also as an intricate ingredient of the poem, divulging orientation to the poem’s meaning. Without the particular title, “In a Station of the Metro,” the poem would not mirror the instant of reflective thought as specifically. The title adjusts the mind of the reader quickly, so that it may envision a setting, a setting which is not repeated ever in the poem.
Smaller and shorter than Alba, In a Station of the Metro invisibly inflicts yet an even more universal premise onto the reader. The poem rises above the stage of civility, relationship and loneliness. It calmly confronts the concept of humankind within the design of two precious lines that equal one analogy: “The apparition of these foreign faces in the crowd;/ Petals on a wet, black bough” (Pound 109). Once the reader is situated by the title, he/she must envision the first line, “The apparition of these foreign faces in the crowd.” The word chosen to depict the multitude of strangers at the station evokes a surreal phantom-like frame of mind. Immediately, the reader, as a mortal human, senses the separation that accompanies the image of “apparition.” Though an illustration such as “faces of the crowd” would typically embody a feeling of inclusion or camaraderie, because of the diction choice, “apparition,” a juxtaposing sentiment emerges in the reader. The pack of people at the station becomes ghost-like and incoherent. This reflects the remoteness experienced within the midst of strangers, especially in the mechanically adorned setting of “a station of the metro.”
The image evolves from that of a ghostly situation to an image of natural beauty. Following the semi-colon, the second line reads, “Petals on a wet, black bough” (Pound 109). The “apparition of these faces in the crowd” becomes “petals on a wet, black bough.” The connotations that bloom from the image of “petals” are varied: delicacy, beauty, fragility, preciousness. These “petals” become even more exceptional when the precision of the image continues. They are “on a wet, black bough.” Like in Alba, the term “wet” is used, “wet” being associated with the freshness of dew or rain. The “black bough” is not only decorated with “petals,” but also it is “wet.” The image is analogous to the “apparition of these faces in the crowd.” The “petals” are analogous to “faces” and the “wet, black bough” is analogous to “crowd.” In the midst of a surreal “apparition,” an instant of civilization becomes as lovely and unsullied as an instant of nature. An incalculable sensation arises within the reader as he/she strives to connect the few images in the poem, a recognition of sorts, an awareness of humanity. The exclusion inspired by the word, “apparition,” in the first line, allows the reader to see an ordinary instant in an unusual way. The reader, separated from the everyday manner of viewing an everyday situation, may perceive this instant as an outsider; a role-reversal. The reader must envision a moment of the ordinary as mystical and singular. Therefore, the reader, in a sense, with the help of the poem, is liberated from the constraints of correctness and expectation. The poem functions as the contemporary device: the pause button. In the fast, efficient, unfamiliar setting of “a station of the metro,” the reader while reading the poem may reflect on the exceptionality and rarity of humanity.
As Pound imposes his readers to view “a station of the metro” with a mystical perspective in his poem, In a Station of the Metro, Pound imposes his readers to view “women before a shop” with a scientific perspective with his poem, Women Before a Shop. With this imposition, an ordinary picture of females crowding around a shop window becomes a moment of insight. Once again, as in In the Station of the Metro, analogy allows for distinctive perspective. This perspective unveils the predictability of human nature, evoking an ideal that is unspoken but prevalent within the short poem. Unlike all the previously examined poems, the title of Women Before a Shop, does not paint a setting (as it does for The Garden, The Tea Shop, The Bath Tub, or In a Station of the Metro) nor does it convey a category of poem (as it does for Alba); it illustrates the subject of the poem. In both Alba and In a Station of the Metro, the title is necessary for the achievement of the Imagist poem; this is also the case for Women Before a Shop. Without the title’s initial situating of the reader, the full context of the poem would not be possible because the subject is not directly identified in the poem. The economy and precision of the poem’s image is indicated by its dependence on the title.
The poem, Women Before a Shop, like In a Station of the Metro, begins with an image of humanity which then evolves through the use of comparison into an image of nature at the cellular level. Pound, employing his policy of Imagism, deconstructs the presentation of women into a pattern of human nature at the microscopic level. The poem begins innocently enough: “The gew-gaws of false amber and false/ turquoise attract them” (Pound 114). After the subject of the poem is disclosed by the title, the reader imagines a most candid depiction of the subject’s position. The subject, “women before a shop,” take on a passive role in the action that occurs within the poem. The action is not instigated by the women; it is instigated by the “gew-gaws of false amber and false turquoise,” for it is these “false” colors that attract the women. This image is similar to that of a magnet attracting bits of metal. The female subjects become victim to the “gew-gaws.” The “women” subject is revealed as a tool in the hand of a shop. The image, though ruthless to envision, is not expressed as ruthless. The tone is frank and forthright. The severity of the image comes from the terse idiom and specific words depicted and repeated. The choice of objects conveyed to “attract” the women account for the severity. It is not expensive jewels or intellectual articles that “attract,” it is cheap baubles, “gew-gaws,” made of artificial material, “false amber and false turquoise.”
While the reader attempts to accept or dispute this controversial image of the consumer, Pound already proves his point in the following line. A most declarative and nonjudgmental quote boxes the reader into a complacent frame of mind: “Like to like nature” (Pound 114). It is with the use of this seemingly truthful declaration that Pound’s analogy can explain. The quote functions as a diplomatic introduction to the comparison. The colon following the quote explains as silently and as bluntly as a systematic symbol of truth. The tone is so tactful, that a reader with all his/her knowledge of debate must carry on, regardless of subjective impositions. The analogy, launched by the composed colon, terminates the poem as summation. The complete third and fourth lines clarify: “ ‘Like to like nature’: these agglutinous/ yellows!” (Pound 114). The “women before a shop” behave unconsciously, as a clustering of cells. The threads of color in the poem connect the analogy even further. The “false amber” (amber can be described as yellowy brown) aligns with the “yellows!” The women in the initial image are drawn to “false” yellowy baubles, just as “agglutinous yellows” would be toward each other. The complexity of this image is hidden behind the laconic idiom. This correlation of color has multiple consequences. The women themselves behave like “agglutinous yellows” attracted to more yellow. This enables an understanding of conduct. Also, as a visual image, further understanding and deeper examination emerges. While the reader attempts to imagine “agglutinous yellows,” a nearly disturbing vision dismantles all humanity from the female subject. The women behave as “agglutinous yellows,” but also they austerely equal to the mysterious “agglutinous yellows.”
The image is evoked dispassionately, accurate sounding as the study of soulless cells. This technique of tongue paints an image as directly and modestly as a chart categorizes species. The controlled tone of the analogy in the poem releases the reader from ethical considerations and impositions. The images and their arrangement in the poem are cleansed of any principled rhetoric or any diluting diction. Clean and clear-cut as a scientific theory, the poem, Women Before a Shop, extraordinarily prompts an examination of commonplace behavior. A quiet reflection of ideology sparks within its reader. A question is asked. A sentiment of breakthrough materializes.
Amidst this petite inspection of a few of Pound’s Imagist poems, Women Before a Shop, In a Station of the Metro, Alba, The Bath Tub, The Tea Shop, and The Garden, a sentiment of accuracy and intention materializes; a case against the cliché view of Imagism is made. Imagism reveals itself to be not only a form of poetic practice, but also a method of experience and thought transference. Women Before a Shop, In a Station of the Metro, Alba, The Bath Tub, The Tea Shop, and The Garden each depict singular minute instances of time, yet amidst these tiny glimmers of time, a collection of specific historical, cultural and human experiences are documented and induced. The Garden dissembles society’s preconceived schema of an upper class woman in Kensington Garden, lifting the curtain on constructed, plotted beauty. The Garden emits sentiments affiliated with death, loss, apocalypse and isolation. The Tea Shop, with all its picturesque pleasantries, divulges the absurdity of obsession with youth and beauty. The poem inflicts the truth of mortality onto the reader. The Bath Tub paints an image of the loss of passion. It instigates an examination of ideologies such as chivalry and romance. The reader after reading The Bath Tub feels as empty and cold as a porcelain bath tub. Alba, laconic as Troubadour poem, portrays the departure of a lover. The poem motivates sadness and loneliness within the reader. In a Station of the Metro a rare, nearly spiritual account of humanity scatters a variety of avenues which lead to a meditation on human kind. Women Before a Shop, as scientific and objective as it reads, forces the reader to mull over consumerism and human behavior. Tacit sentiments flow out of Pound’s poems, drifting on undercurrents of social criticism and social examination. These flashes of sentiment and revelation surpass the confines of Pound’s efficient form and limited rhetoric, rhetoric clear of politics, morality or charm. Herbert N. Schneidau asserts it best: “The sense of the isolated ‘moment,’ of instantaneity, that inheres in a short Imagist poem has been useful to render shapes of insight or sudden illumination or realization” (189). The poems discussed in this essay, alongside Pound’s massive collection of poetic work, demonstrate the intense potential contained within an Imagist poem.
A silent heart beats inside one of Pound’s terser works, Alba
Continued from Part III
The title of the poem, Alba, steps away from the function of the previously discussed titles. Instead of sketching an unlikely setting, the title articulates a style, and the reader can rightfully expect what is to come. The poem is named after a type of traditional love poem conceived by one of Pound’s cultural intrigues, the Troubadours of the twelfth century. An Alba is a type of Troubadour poem about lovers parting at daybreak. Pound discusses Troubadour work in his essay, Troubadours–Their Sorts and Conditions from his collection of essays, Make It New. Pound wrote of their style: “The speech is, however, laconic” (29). Pound’s poem, Alba, like a Troubadour’s Alba, consists of “laconic” idiom. Also, Pound’s fixation on the exact and the real correlates with his vision of the Troubadours: “No student of the period [twelfth century] can doubt that the involved forms and the veiled meanings in the ‘trobar clus’, grew out of living conditions, and that these songs played a very real part in love intrigue” (Pound 24). Pound’s inclination to the exact expression of real experience through the art of poetry intertwines with his comments on the Troubadour. The phrases, “grew out of living conditions” and “very real part in love intrigue” elucidate Pound’s preferred combination: reality and emotion (more rightly stated: the emotion born in moments of reality). Pound’s perceptions about the Troubadour merge and amass into a statuette of words with an affinity for both Pound and the Troubadour. The poem is ever so small: three lines.
Regardless of its smallness, the poem, Alba, mirrors the complex of emotions that originates during the disjointing of a romantic union. Again, like The Garden, The Tea Shop and like The Bath Tub, Alba begins with a pleasant image: “As cool as the pale wet leaves/ of the lily-of-the-valley” (Pound 109). The word, “As” compels the mind to think in the mode of comparison, but before the reader can compare, he/she must visualize the image. Again, temperature (“As cool as”) like in The Bath Tub initiates an unavoidable visceral response. Coolness is not discomfort, nor is it warmth though, warmth being the preferred, typical temperature of romance. A lack of warmth, like in The Bath Tub, equals a loss of heat. Heat links to passion in The Bath Tub. A similar implication corresponds in Alba. “As cool as the pale wet leaves” triggers associations of color and touch. Paleness can be associated with newness, but also illness and more usually: death.
“Wet leaves” generates connection with the dew of morning. Also “wet leaves” are flimsy, frail like one wrapped in the arms of death or sorrow. The initial image is multifaceted, camouflaging loss and death of passion in the environment of the morning, all corresponding to the title, Alba, exactly. The image is drawn with more detail: “leaves/ of lily-of-the-valley” (Pound 109). Unlike the hyphens in The Bath Tub, the use of the hyphen in Alba emanates a melodious, lyrical attribute. The repetition of sounds amidst this joining of words pulls sadness out of the reader, once the reader recognizes the beauty of this instant is over and done-with. The final line radiates this sentiment: “She lay beside me in the dawn” (Pound 109). A feeling of closeness and intimacy arouses in the reader. This sentiment is swiftly severed in the context of the rest of the poem. This three line poem, under the leadership of its title, flickers with the sadness of departure. Though the last line completes the poem with image of unity, “She lay beside me in the dawn,” the title, “Alba,” enlightens the reader. A reader recognizes that the stillness and harmony of the instant will immediately dissolve at this moment (“in the dawn”). This poem sophisticatedly shows the power of poetic density. The picturesque instant, as life in a quick death, will disappear leaving only the solitude of the speaker. Sadness, loss, and solitude are not mentioned, yet they fly from the poem like fruit flies out of an old can. Imagism yields sentiment.
To be continued…