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 visual images does Pound use in "The River-Merchant's Wife: A Letter"?

Expert Answers

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

Pound based this poem upon Li Po's "Two Letters from Chang-Kan," but he presents the story of a young bride in his own vivid and robust style. The reader understands the story through a series of images, beginning with the visual of a young girl with her hair "cut straight" across her forehead, "pulling flowers." While the setting of the story is exotic, the image of the front gate and the little girl is something the reader can easily relate to, as it crosses cultural boundaries, as does the image of the boy "playing horse." These illustrations of the "two small people" use visuals universally associated with childhood to create a vivid picture.

The image of the gate recurs again in the final stanza of the poem, with Pound deliberately creating a picture which contrasts with that in the first stanza, of the active "small people" playing by the gate. Now, we see a gate where "the moss is grown...too deep to clear them away." The gate, we can understand from this description, is still, having been left unopened for some time; "the leaves fall early" and "the grass in the West garden" contributes to the image of a land overgrown and untended to. The visual image of the gate helps us to understand how the woman feels as she "grow[s] older," waiting for her husband to return just as the gate waits to be used, growing mossy and overgrown with disuse.

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

As one of the founders of Imagism, Pound of course relies heavily on clear, precise images in his poems.  Instead of obtuse metaphors or complex, hidden meanings, he uses simple, concise mental pictures to advance his themes. In "The River Merchant's Wife," Pound illustrates a young bride's maturation process and her longing for her absent husband whom she grew to love.  Some of the most effective images are categorized below.

1. To demonstrate the speaker's maturation, the poet uses phrases such as "my hair was cut straight across my forehead" and the future husband coming by "on bamboo stilts" to portray the girl's and boy's childhoods.  Later, he refers to her stopping "scowling" and her desire to mingle her dust with her husband's. These portraits illustrate her growing love and acceptance of her husband.

2. Images which relate to the speaker's longing and waiting for her husband appear in the poem's last stanza.  Pound writes that "the moss is grown, the different mosses,/ Too deep to clear them away" showing that the speaker notices even the small elements of nature which have changed since her lover left (lines 20-21). The young wife also talks about the "paired butterflies . . . already yellow in August" to show the seasons changing and passing in her husband's absence.

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