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

Start Free Trial

Editor's Choice

What imagery in "The River Merchant's Wife: A Letter" reflects the speaker's feelings?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

As the previous answer states, this poem is full of imagery. Every sentiment or phrase seems to be tied directly to a picture the reader can imagine in their mind, which underscores the mood of that particular piece of the poem.

For example, the first stanza opens with images of childhood, such as when the narrator says, "You came by on bamboo stilts, playing horse / You walked about my seat, playing with blue plums." These images, along with the repetition of the verb "playing," conjure visions of the carefree children in some of their earliest interactions. The next lines read, "And we went on living in the village of Chokan." The phrase gives the impression that children live timeless lives with no indication that anything would ever change.

By contrast, the imagery in the last stanza of the poem works to create a nostalgic tone that is highly cognizant of the passage of time. In poetry, autumn frequently signals the maturing of life, just as spring signals birth and renewing. Consider the line, "The leaves fall early this autumn, in wind. / The paired butterflies are already yellow with August." These images suggest that the speaker is far removed from the ease of the childhood which opens the poem. She has matured since her marriage and the subsequent loss of her husband. Perhaps the poem is suggesting that this maturing is early for her life stage, just like the falling of the leaves in this particular autumn. She should not have to contend with this kind of loss at sixteen years old.

Approved by eNotes Editorial
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

This poem is too loaded with imagery to give just one example, so I'll hand you a few. Look first at the initial stanza: "...my hair was still cut straight across my forehead" allows the reader to mentally see the author's face with its military-straight bangs.

Other images that "stick" in the reader's mind include the swirling eddies of the river, the monkeys making noise overhead, the paired butterflies yellow with August, and the overgrown mosses. Each of these elements can be easily mentally pictured by the reader, and each has its own significance.

For instance, the paired butterflies symbolize mating or coupling, a ritual that the author laments missing. The howling monkeys seem to indicate pain, sorrow, or mourning, while the overgrown mosses indicate the excessive passage of time, which the author also laments. The mental pictures provided by this poem are vivid and stark, and perhaps its imagery is what makes it so effective.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Approved by eNotes Editorial