In a Station of the Metro The apparition of these faces in the crowd : Petals on a wet, black bough .
Ezra Pound (born on 30 October 1885)
In una stazione del metrò L’apparire di questi volti tra la folla: petali su un umido ramo nero.
This is probably the most famous Imagist poem ever written in just two lines, Pound seeks to capture the fleeting impression the crowd of people seen at the Paris Metro, and puts into practice the key principle behind the Imagist movement: he wants to offer “an image in an intellectual and emotional complex in an instant of time”, able to convey the same impression he felt.
The poet who observes the crowd in an underground station took inspiration from an experience he had in Paris one day when he got out of a train and, as he wrote “I saw a beautiful face, and then, turning suddenly, another and another, and then a beautiful child’s face, and then another beautiful woman. All that day I tried to find words for what this had meant to me, and I could not find any words that seemed to me worthy, or as lovely as that sudden emotion. And that evening, as I went home along the Rue Raynouard, I was still trying, and I found, suddenly, the expression. I do not mean that I found words, but there came an equation … not in speech, but in little spots of colour….”
And he succeeded in recording that external, objective vision as an inner subjective, impression.
The title of the poem anchors and places it. The first line is a simple, clear and straightforward statement and second is a brilliant analogy. It draws together the urban world of the Paris Metro with the natural world: the faces of the crowds of people are like the petals hanging on the ‘wet, black bough’ of a tree.
This image suggests an idea of frailty: the petals on a bough are not there forever, just as the faces in the Metro. Therefore, like much Imagist verse, the poem may also be considered as a reminder of the brevity of life.
According to poet Richard Aldington, Ezra Pound may have been inspired by this Japanese print he saw in the British Library
“Woman Admiring Plum Blossoms at Night” – Suzuki Harunobu (18th century)