The poem, as most all know —
IN A STATION OF THE METRO
The apparition of these faces in the crowd;
Petals on a wet, black bough.
I had two aims in our discussion of this too too famous poem. One, get a feel for how sound underwrites sense. Two, sharpen our feeling for the logos of the image. Logos, did I really say that. Bloody pretentious. But logic seemed too wee a word. Logos as in way, coherence, holdingtogether. PIE root, *leg-, “to gather.”
Sound underwriting sense. We’d done our rock and stone thang. The stop at the end of rock is a jagged sharpness. The nasal at the end of stone is a dying rounded fall. And those sounds underwrite the senses of their words.
How now with Pound. Asked them first what they saw with the first line. Eventual consensus — ghostly faces in a trainish station underground — misty, blur-edged, as in something Impressionist.
The second line? How did those petals get to hang on that bough? The bough (limb of tree not fore of ship) (why we had to clarify that goes to something important about teaching language and its poetry) is wet.
Most likely with rain.
And being wet means?
If wet, sticky, and petals that fall there, stick there.
Next comes, logos of the image, what kind of petals? Daisy? Rose?
One pictured the former. K so how did those petals come to be there? Someone brought a bouquet of daisies into the woods and when her or his beloved didn’t show threw the bouquet in a pique and it hit a pine tree and broke up and some petals stuck there?
Um yeah maybe?
It’s possible, sure, but other possibles?
Occam’s Razor comes to play here. The simplest account is often best. And so we came to — cherry blossoms, blown a bit about in a rainstorm, come loose, float around, land on the limb of the tree that bore them, to spend a little while adhered there.
“Too too.” Not that it not warrant its fame. But such fame keeps us from seeing it afresh. And freshness is its all — that much it shares with haiku, though it’s not one, no really, not really.
Penultimate Q, what’s the second line, cherry blossoms struck to presumably a cherry tree, got to do with the first, ghostly faces in an underground transit crowd?
Silence, a bit.
Anything cherry blossoms have in common with faces?
I picture an oval.
And right there’s what one called the metaphoric bridge. The likeness that draws two differences into relation. I’m not a big fan of metaphor, it’s a lie and makes things other than they is, but gotta admire this one, by this reading, its assertion of non-non-difference.
Coupla quals here. One, the faces, the shapes of them, help us to come to cherry petals, as much as the petals help us to see faces afresh. Two, the colours of the petals, pinkish-white, are part of the metaphoric bridge as well, and suggest a racially pretty homogenous Metro crowd. Maybe not inaccurate for Paris in 1912. But it does place and date the poem.
Final Q, how do the sounds of the lines support their senses? My whole purpose though the getting-there may have been more lovely than the gotten-to.
Apparition — except for the plosive p, softest among the stops, it’s all liquids and nasals. The blurred and softened sounds make the faces that much softer, blurrier, more deeply ghostly.
Wet, black bough — the first word ends in a stop, the second begins and ends with ones, the third begins with one. At the centre of the phrase is a sharply delineated core. Giving the cherry petals on the bough more clarity and definition than the faces they’re metaphors for.
In so far as the poem, its image and sounds, is about transience, the fleetingness of all this, it’s striking that the cherry petals are granted more clarity definition and permanence than the faces they’re figure for. If the poem may be called out for chinoiserie the ground of the cry is here.
LASTLY. Pound’s advice, that we compose in the sequence of the musical phrase, lives even in a thing so small as the comma after “wet.”
The stop, t, already punctuates it. Neither syntax nor articulation asks for more. But the comma makes one last refinement of the phasing — slowing just a little more the movement of breath and mind hand-in-hand through the line.
With that, wet comes a bit closer to the vegetal slowness of far longer syllables, black, bough—slows enough to join their company. The very words, wet, black, bough, become cherry petals, adhering to the poem a small while, then blown off.
NEXT UP. More on Pound on the musical phrase. A thing I wrote for Donald Revell, one of the fathers to my mind.