The short poem “In a Station of the Metro” is an example of Pound’s artistic theory of Imagism, which he advocated for a brief while in his career and which had a lasting impact on his writing and modern poetry. During his time in London, just before World War I, Pound developed a theory of poetry, which he termed Imagism, that stripped away the rhetorical excesses and vagueness that he believed obscured so much of contemporary poetry. In their places he advocated precise, careful presentation of specific images accurately rendered. Although Pound would later move beyond this rather limited concept, he retained the essential parts of it, and many of the passages in the Cantos are basically Imagist in their style.
An Imagist poem, by the very definition of the term, was brief. Seldom has the concision been carried so far as Pound’s 1913 verse, “In a Station of the Metro,” which consists of only two lines. The poem appears to be a translation of some Japanese haiku, and while Pound was undoubtably influenced by that tradition, his poem was completely original.
He has left a description of how he composed it. One evening, while coming out of the London subway (the “metro” of the title), Pound was struck by the sight of a beautiful face, then another and yet another. Seeking to express this experience, he began writing a poem which ran to thirty-two lines. After much paring and revision, he finally achieved the image and effect he sought: “The apparition of these faces in the crowd;/ petals on a wet,...
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