woman sitting and writing on a piece of paper with her hand on her cheeck with a river and butterflies in the background

The River-Merchant's Wife

by Ezra Pound

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What images does Pound use to illustrate the characters' age at meeting in "The River-Merchant's Wife: A Letter"?

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In "The River-Merchant's Wife: A Letter," Ezra Pound uses the images of the speaker's simple haircut, her playing and pulling flowers, and her future husband walking on stilts and pretending to ride a horse, to show that the two of them met when they were young children.

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Ezra Pound's poem "The River-Merchant's Wife: A Letter" is an adaptation of a poem by Li Bai, also called Li Po. In the first stanza, the wife describes how she met and married her husband. She was married at the age of fourteen, but she does not mention the age at which the two of them first met.

There are, however, various images which suggest that the river-merchant and his wife met in early childhood. In the first line, the speaker says that her hair was "still cut straight across [her] forehead." This shows that she was still considered a child rather than a girl, that she had a generic haircut, the simplest possible, rather than any type of elaborate arrangement.

There are three references to play or playing in the first four lines, emphasizing that these children are young, perhaps too young to do much but play. The speaker was beside her front gate, "pulling flowers," when her future husband "came by on bamboo stilts," pretending to be riding a horse. The two of them "went on living" near each other:

Two small people, without dislike or suspicion.

The images of play and the idea that they "went on living" in a similar fashion for some time before they were married suggests that these children were perhaps around the age of six or seven when they first met. As it is traditional for men to marry later than women, the husband is likely to have been a year or two older than the wife.

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