In a Station of the Metro
The apparition of these faces in the crowd;
Petals on a wet, black bough.
Ezra Pound, 1885 - 1972
Fall semester of my freshman year, I decided to get my feet wet in the English department by taking and introductory course on the rise of Modernism. One day we spent the better part of fifty minutes discussing Ezra Pound's In A Station of the Metro, shown above.
After class, I met my mom for lunch. She saw my print-out of the poem, a page on which the tiny body of the piece itself was dwarfed by my notes and scribbles, and she was curious. I recited the poem for her and she became confused.
“That’s it?” She asked, disliking it immediately, “The whole thing?”
I said yes and she could hardly believe it. She had many questions. Did we really spend the whole class discussing the poem? Was there something wrong with the poet? Why would anyone care so much about something so small? We spent the entire lunch talking about those three lines and what they might mean. I could hash out all the arguments I had to offer about the weight the poem’s diminished length, about Modernism and Pound’s role in establishing the school of Imagism, but none of those things could bring my mom to peace with it.
It might be worth mentioning that my mother is a petroleum engineer who loves romance novels but has never developed a fondness for poetry. She didn’t care about the historical significance of the piece and I didn’t try to justify it. Our joint analysis of the poem isn’t something I would want to put in an essay for any of my English classes, and yet every time someone asks me why I care so much about what I study here, I want to point them towards Pound and In a Station of the Metro.
This life is full of moments that linger and echo in strange ways. The conceptual entanglement of perception and meaning suggested by twenty words written a century ago can resonate throughout the narrative of your life indefinitely without resolution, or pass through you in an instant. My mom and I spent that afternoon going back and forth about the poem, and she took great pleasure in going home and sharing it with the rest of the family, most of whom are fellow poetry skeptics. She brought it up for weeks after our lunch, and still mentions it often when I visit home. I credit Pound with igniting a contrary passion for poetry in her that I doubt any other piece could have sparked. And after all this time and discussion, I still don't know if I like the poem itself, and neither does she. But my mother called me a few days ago and asked if I remembered the name of ‘that crazy little poem’, and I knew I wanted to write about it, to express a little gratitude and appreciation for the bizarre and beautiful literary forms that make my life stranger, richer, and better by existing in it.
So if any of you have stubborn mothers or relatives who claim to dislike poetry, maybe have them read In a Station of the Metro. See what they have to say.
Written by Cara B.