Can someone provide an analysis of "The Plunge," one of Ezra Pound's most famous poems?

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Ezra Pound’s poem “The Plunge” has been the subject of commentary by a number of analysts. Michael Alexander, for instance, in his book The Poetic Achievement of Ezra Pound, argues that the poem reflects Pound’s own eager yearning for new experiences (p. 79).

K. K. Ruthven, in A Guide to Ezra Pound’s Personae, also thinks the poem reflects an important aspect of Pound’s own life. He identifies the “this” of line 6 as the “London literary world,” and he identifies the “you” of line 9 as perhaps Dorothy Shakespear, Pound’s future wife. He suggests that lines 11-13 refer to winter in London, and he notes, concerning the passage beginning at line 16, that Pound waited until 1921 before taking advantage of the better weather of Paris (p. 197).

The poem itself begins with its own plunge in medias res (into the midst of things):

I would bathe myself in strangeness:

These comforts heaped upon me, smother me!

The word “bathe” implies total immersion, cleansing, a kind of baptism into “strangeness.” Ironically, familiar “comforts” seem stifling, almost life-threatening in the sense that they may kill the speaker’s spirit. While most people seek “comforts,” especially of the material sort, this speaker finds them smothering, and the fact that the first sentence of the poem ends with an exclamation marks already suggests the depth of this speaker’s passions.

The next line continues to emphasize a sense of the paradoxical.  Just as the comforts were smothering, so now “the new” is associated with burning and scalding feelings in the speaker, but these feelings are associated not with pain but with intensity and deep desire. The water imagery of line 1 is counterpointed with the fire imagery of line 3.  The key word “new” is doubly emphasized in lines 3-4, while the word “Places” in line 5 is strongly emphasized by its isolation and by yet another exclamation mark.  This poem shows the Romantic side of Pound – the side that can create a speaker who seems full of passion and enthusiasm and who presents that speaker without irony or implied sarcasm.

In the second stanza, the speaker addresses another person – an unnamed “you” – but that person, presumably a woman, is imagined mainly in relation to the speaker. Her sudden presence in the poem is stressed by the brevity of the line (9) in which she first appears (and also by the way that “you” echoes “new”). Lines 11-13 suggest that the speaker has grown to hate the life of large cities in particular, with their combinations of unattractive solidity (“walls . . . stones”) and lack of cleanness and clarity (“mire, mist, . . . fog”). (Note how “mire” contrasts with the opening image of being cleansed.)

The speaker claims that he loves and desires the “you” more, even, than newness, but he suggests that he cannot properly enjoy or appreciate her in their current environment.  He wants her to flow over him like water (14), thus echoing the opening line, just as lines 17-18 remind us of the earlier references to intense fire. He wants a new life associated with the beauties of nature (16), and the poem ends with a characteristic paradox: he seeks appealingly “Alien people” (20) because he is now thoroughly alienated from his present life and present location. The freedom the speaker desires is symbolized by the free structure and rhythms and unregimented rhymes of the poem.


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