In a Station of the Metro
by Ezra Pound
The apparition of these faces in the crowd;
Petals on a wet, black bough.
About this Poem
Though a very short poem, only fourteen words, this is the only Ezra Pound poem that many people will read in their lives. Why? Because it’s two lines long. “In the Station of the Metro” is an exercise in brevity. It is an Imagist poem, from a movement in early 20th-century Anglo-American poetry that favored precision of imagery and clear, sharp language. Pound wrote it after having a spiritual experience in a Paris metro (subway) station in 1912.
In 1916, Pound wrote about the process of writing the poem (Pound, Gaudier-Brzeska, 1916). Apparently, he originally thought he could best capture his vision in a painting. Unfortunately, he wasn’t a painter, which was a problem. So he wrote a 30-line poem, which he didn’t like. He pitched the long version in the waste bin. Six months later, he wrote a shorter poem, but didn’t like that one either and threw it away. Finally, a full year after the experience, he had been reading short Japanese poems called haikus, and he figured he would try to adapt this form to his vision in the metro. The result, which was published in 1913, is one the most famous, influential, and haunting works in modern poetry.
Pound packs a lot of meaning into these two lines and fourteen words. By linking human faces, an allusion for people themselves, with petals on a damp bough, the poet calls attention to both the elegance and beauty of human life, as well as its transience. A dark, wet bough implies that it has just rained, and the petals stuck to the bough were shortly before attached to flowers from the tree. They may still be living, but they will not be for long. In this way, Pound calls attention to human mortality as a whole – we are all dying. This is the essence of the poem.