Today’s a special day.
For no fathomable reason, I decided to share one of my academic essays.
I enjoy school and writing my course-papers.
Nah… It’s not exactly how you think it is. I don’t go about skimping and jumping in the library, flipping through the archives with a Disney-like background music. No, it’s definitely not like that. Just like other students — be it in graduate or postgraduate study — there’s gonna be a lot of procrastinating before the actual paper gets done.
For those of you who like to look at some old academic stuff, here’s my essay on Ezra Pound’s poem, In a Station of the Metro…
This article endeavors to present a united literary exposition of Ezra Pound’s poem using these critical theories: Expressivism, Formalism, and the Mimesis. A complete excerpt of the said poem is provided below:
In a Station of the Metro
The apparition of these faces in the crowd;
Petals on a wet, black bough.
The first assertion maintains that Pound’s poem is his translation of a momentary event into verses. This assertion is supported by the definition of the Expressive theory: “… as the products of poet’s feelings” (Caturza 1).
Indeed, the predominant experience of such feeling has been reiterated by the author himself. He referred to this feeling as “sudden emotion” (Nelson). In specific, the experience was built up by a series of encounters – first, the “beautiful face,” two more, followed by “a beautiful child’s face,” and finally, “another beautiful woman” (Nelson).
Now, theses five ‘beautiful’ encounters had a mission-like effect on Pound. It had caused him to struggle finding these two:
His struggles eventually brought him to venture the Japanese’s hokku (Nelson). His analysis of the hokku, as “one idea set on top of another,” became the basis for finally translating that prior experience in the ‘Metro’ (Nelson). Linking this basis to the poem reveals the relationship between the two lines of the poem.
In the context of this relationship, it becomes evident how line 2 serves to “top” line 1. In other words, the sequential placement of the lines had a purpose reminiscent of Pound’s mission (of finding words for the emotion). Line 1 serves to bring about the scene in the Metro:
The apparition of these faces in the crowd;
Line 2, on the other hand, is Pound’s exhibition of the words that he “meant” to find for the experienced emotion.
Petals on a wet, black bough.
Pound’s own experience and study of the Japanese’s hokku has provided sufficient evidence that In a Station of the Metro is, indeed, his translational expression of an event/emotion into words (or to be exact, verses).
The second assertion rests on Pound’s poem’s employment of formalistic elements, particularly, symbolic transaction and figurative language, to distinguish the poetic vision, persona and addressee in the poem, and to create a unique verbal structure. This assertion is supported by the Formalistic theory, which as the notes (Caturza 1) explicates:
“What gives a literary work status as art … is how all of its elements work together to create the reader’s experience.”
The elements of focus in context of Pound’s In a Station of the Metro include the symbolic transaction and figurative language.
The symbolic transaction espouses the poem’s poetic vision: the providing of details to a witnessed scene. It, therefore, implies that the speaker or persona behind the poem is the ‘witness’ of the scene.
The scene is symbolically depicted through both lines 1 and 2. In fact, the symbolic transaction commences twice. The first transaction occurs in line 1 wherein “The apparition of these faces” is used to represent an actual (or even an imaginary) event or scene. The second transaction commences in line 2 wherein two of line 1’s elements are being represented: “Petals” symbolizes the “faces,” while “bough” for representing the “crowd.” Furthermore, the “wet, black” descriptions of line 2 may also be reflecting to the aftermath of rain and the ‘dark’ disposition of the skies – elements of weather, which must have manifested during the happening of the witnessed event, the “apparition.”
The persona addresses this descriptive vision to a person like the persona himself – someone witnessing the same unfolding event. For instance, the persona (of the poem) could have been standing next to the addressee, and silently declaring to this imaginary listener the events that are unfolding (through a poem).
The figurative language employed in the poem includes two figures of sound and two figures of sense. The figures of sound consisted of diminution and rhyme; while figures of sense are comprised of metaphor and synecdoche.
Diminution as a satirical device is defined by Hodgart as: “the degradation or devaluation of the victim by reducing his stature and dignity” (qtd. in Kharpertian 37). In the poem’s context, such diminution is made apparent by the identified patterns involving two comparative elements in each line:
Line 1 “faces” < “crowd”
Line 2 “petals” < “bough”
In complete words, “faces” happens to be the diminutive form of “crowd;” while “petals” is the diminutive form for “bough.” Interestingly, the diminutive effect is reinforced by the consistent position by which the diminutive form is presented against its augmented (bigger) version:
Line 1 “faces …crowd”
Line 2 “Petals … bough”
Both diminutive forms, faces and petals appear first before the augmented forms, crowd and bough.
The rhyme, on the other hand, consisted of the ending words of each line: crowd and bough. The relationship of the two lines is further strengthened through the metaphor: the second line is likened to that of the first line. Specifically, line 1’s “Petals” refer to line 2’s “apparition of these faces;” while line 2’s “bough” is employed to refer to line 1’s “crowd” – all without the use of the terms, ‘like’ or ‘as.’
In Richard Lanham’s book, A Handlist of Rhetorical Terms, synecdoche is defined as “the substitution of part for whole” (qtd. in Chandler 132). This definition is highly operational in Pound’s poem through the use of “faces” (part) to represent a (whole) human being, as well as, “petals” and “bough” of which are parts of a whole or fully mature plant.
With the formalistic elements, symbolic transaction and figurative language present in the poem, it is, therefore, possible to identify the poetic vision, persona and addressee in Pound’s In a Station of the Metro, as well as claim that a unique verbal structure was, indeed, successfully fashioned (by the poet).
The third literary assumption posits that Pound’s poem is actually a mirror-like reflection of a real event. This assumption is supported by the mimetic theory of which as Chandler proffers, in light of its second prominent idea, “need not reproduce what actually is, only give a persuasive, or ‘lifelike’ simulation of it” (4). This ‘simulation’ has been given justice by (a) literally and metaphorically transcribing the event in both Lines 1 and 2; and (b) through the selection of words that will bear copy of its copied reality.
Furthermore, three mimetic perspectives are observed to manifest in Pound’s In a Station of the Metro: symbolisms to real ideas, literary elements to ideological reality and literary themes to behavioral reality.
In the first perspective, it is worth noting that certain words acted as symbols. In particular, words from Line 2 serve as symbols for specific words of Line 1. “Petals” became a symbol for “faces,” while “bough” for “crowd.” Interestingly, Line 1’s “faces” and “crowd” represent reality’s faces and crowd, or rather, the idea of women and visual noise.
The second mimetic perspective maintains that the poem’s literary element, particularly, symbolisms, serve to signify an ideological reality. This ideological reality posits the following: that there is always beauty even in the ugliest (or seemingly ugly) of places. “Petals” symbolized “faces”, which in this context, symbolized beauty. The “bough,” which signified the “crowd,” conveniently represented the ugly place or scene. Therefore, the existence of something as beautiful as ‘petals in a bough’ or ‘faces in a sea of unappealing crowd’ reinforced the ideological reality that ‘beauty may reside in unlikely or ugly places.’
The last perspective ascertains the prevailing literary theme’s role in mirroring a particular behavioral reality. The poem’s theme, which supports such, can be stated as follows: minute-encounters, though maybe mundane for others, can still stay with humans as remarkable memories. This literary theme translates into this behavioral reality: that when humans experience or encounter other humans whom they deem as out of the ordinary or may have left an impact in those brief moments, humans’ proclivity will render those encounters as worth keeping, or reflecting upon. It is in this reflection or retrospection that the poet, Ezra Pound, was indubitably inspired to recreate the real-experience in the Metro. Furthermore, the length of his poem, which is conservatively short, may reflect the shortness of the very same real-life experience.
With the active participation of the perspectives of symbolism, elements to ideological reality, and theme to behavioral reality in Pound’s poem, it is therefore surmised that his poem, In a Station of the Metro, signifies a chance encounter that occurred swift and brief.
Wrapping all the expositions via those three literary theories, the following unified points were made:
- Firstly, the characterized subject in Pound’s poem is indubitably an event – momentary, witnessed, and real.
- Secondly, there is a strong and consistent relationship between the poem’s Lines 1 and 2 as supported by hokku’s definition (‘one … tops another’), symbolic transaction, figurative language, symbolisms and translations to realities.
The rest of the variables presented in the light of the three theories happen to be unique, yet, in no way present a considerable conflict against one another.
Caturza, Reynaldo. Lecture notes. 29 June 2013. Print.
Chandler, Daniel. Semiotics: The Basics. 2nd ed. New York: Routledge, 2007. Print.
Kharpertian, Theodore D. A Hand to Turn the Time: The Menippean Satires of Thomas Pynchon. New Jersey: Associated University Press, 1990.
Nelson, Cary. “On ‘In a Station of the Metro.’” Modern American Poetry. University of Illinois, Web. 11 July 2013.