The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

Ezra Pound’s adaptation of a poem by Li Bo, an eighth century Chinese poet, is a dramatic monologue spoken by a sixteen-year-old girl. It is written in open verse in the form of a letter from the wife of a river-merchant to her husband, who has been away from their home for five months.

The opening of the poem conveys both immediacy and continuance. The first line begins with the word “while” and presents an image of the wife as a young girl. The second line starts with the word “I” and contains an image of the girl playing at the moment when she met her future husband. The effect that is created is a feeling of recollection which draws time’s passage across the consciousness of the present. The focus is shifted from the “I” to a memory of “you.” The first stanza concludes with the couple merging into “we”—“small people” who lived in a village in a state of unreflective innocence.

The second stanza begins a triad of quatrains that recapitulate the three years of their marriage. In the first of these, the girl remembers herself at fourteen as severe, contained, and shy at the moment of the ceremony. She seemed to be acting out of obligation. Then, at fifteen, she began to relax and remembers that she “desired” to join her husband in both temporal and etherial realms, recognizing the immediate call of the physical as well as the transcendant appeal of the eternal. Her question that concludes the third stanza is a compression by Pound of a tale of a woman who waited on a tower for...

(The entire section is 628 words.)