Interpreting Ezra Pound’s poem ‘In a Station of the Metro’

Let’s look at a very short poem by Ezra Pound.

In a Station of the Metro

The apparition of these faces in the crowd;
Petals on a wet, black bough.

     ~ by Ezra Pound


The most obvious characteristic or this poem is its length. It is similar in length to Japanese haiku. It has nineteen syllables written in two lines, while traditional haiku have seventeen syllables written in three lines.

The entire poem could be written in prose as: “When I was in a subway station, I looked at the people around me and thought that their faces looked like some petals on a tree.”

The poem’s first noun—apparition—literally means the supernatural appearance of a person or thing (especially a ghost) or something strange or startling. This word gives a ghostly feeling to the ‘faces in the crowd’—the faces of strangers whom the narrator will sees for a short time before they disappear from his life forever.

None of the faces are described. They are simply compared (in a metaphor) to petals on a branch. Petals look beautiful; they all seem alike, but each one is unique. They appear, stay for a while and then drop off or are swept away by the wind; this is the course of nature. This imagery of the petals emphasizes the temporary nature of daily life—strangers enter your life and then disappear just as quickly as they arrived—as well as the beauty and transient nature of life itself.

Thus, to me the poem is about appreciating the momentary beauty (and the unknowable lives and fates) of the strangers around us.

The rhythm is quite interesting. If we look at the rhythm (with ‘u’ representing weak syllables and ‘/’ representing strong syllables), the rhythm is:

u / u / u u u / u u u /
u / u u / / /

With those three strong beats at the end of the second line, the poem really slows down. This gives the ending of the poem a sense of finality, and it can also represent the narrator himself slowing down to take a moment to dwell on the beauty of the image in front of him.

Ezra Pound’s Inspiration

The poet himself commented on the inspiration for his poem in an article entitled Vorticism.

“Three years ago in Paris I got out of a “metro” train at La Concorde, and saw suddenly a beautiful face, and then another and another, and then a beautiful child’s face, and then another beautiful woman, and I tried all that day to find words for what this had meant to me, and I could not find any words that seemed to me worthy, or as lovely as that sudden emotion. And that evening, as I went home along the Rue Raynouard, I was still trying, and I found, suddenly, the expression. I do not mean that I found words, but there came an equation. . . not in speech, but in little spotches of colour. It was just that—a “pattern,” or hardly a pattern, if by “pattern” you mean something with a “repeat” in it. But it was a word, the beginning, for me, of a language in colour. . . .”

“. . . I dare say it is meaningless unless one has drifted into a certain vein of thought. In a poem of this sort one is trying to record the precise instant when a thing outward and objective transforms itself, or darts into a thing inward and subjective.”

Ezra Pound: Vorticism in The Fortnightly Review (Sept. 1, 1914)

Your Interpretation

How do you feel about the poem? How would you interpret its meaning?

~ by longzijun

Interpretations of Poems

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