A Critical View of Four Lovely Poems

The four 20th Century poems are each written in different styles, each conveying a different meaning or theme to the reader. All the poems were written between 1913 and 1916, so the style of the time is very much similar. The syntax of most lines is short and therefore punchy. The poets have avoided a long dreary style of syntax, in order to give the poems a quicker tempo and more upbeat feel.

A Pact by Ezra Pound is the longest of the four poems. The poet gives the 1st line of the poem a sense of definite meaning and decisiveness.

“I make a pact with you, Walt Whitman – ”

The poet has made up their mind and this is what they are going to do. Pound gets this impression across by adding a pause at the end of the line, to make it stand out on its own, be noticed, and be thought about. As for who Walt Whitman is? This man is who is the poet’s literary forefather. While he suggests that Whitman is a father figure he never agreed with there is an act of reconciliation after childhood in the poem; accepting what was, is no more.

“I come to you as a gown child

Who has had a pig-headed father”

Pound shows us that a grudge that has plagued him for many years is now no longer relevant as he realises that their goal is common. He is quoted as saying

“The vital part of my message, taken from the sap and fibre of America, is the same as his. Mentally, I am a Walt Whitman who has learned to wear a collar and a dress shirt”

The poet chooses to show this using the symbolism of nature, a young sapling and the fresh start of a piece of wood of which he feels he must further advance in his own poetic form.

“It was you that broke the new wood,

Now is a time for carving.

We have one sap and one root -”

Whitman broke the “new wood” of free verse, and Pound seeks to carve a finer product. In the end, Pound lays down his quarrel with Whitman’s poetic means, to the mutual agreement of their common message.

Ezra Pound’s second poem, In a Station of the Metro is significantly different to her first style of writing. It is in the form of a Japanese hokku. The poem consists of solely two lines, with which is simply described what is seen, and how it is done so. The poems inspiration has come from a single moment’s thought, at the scene of the poem, a metro station. Pound has simply observed his surroundings and interpreted it in his own way. It is a poem that Hugh Kenner says evokes “a crowd seen underground, as Odysseus and Orpheus and Kore saw crowds in Hades.” Suggesting that life can be made bearable only by the metaphor of an apparition.

However this is not the only way in which this poem can be read. The sight of many beautiful faces on the metro inspired the poem in the first place and the word apparition appearing in the first line lends magicality to the poem and gives the reader a sense of an unexpected experience. Ralph Bevilaqua has suggested that the precise use of the word apparition is meant in French and not English. This would mean that it had a more defined meaning; the exact moment of seeing something for the first time. Given the location the poem is based on (the French Metro) I find this idea highly plausible.

The second line does however bring a slightly hazier possibility of its meaning. The words wet black bough give the feel of a bad situation normally associated with the lack of light and damp conditions. There is also the lack of more positive use of vocabulary; using petals instead of blossom or bloom. This is more than likely to be attributed to the hard cutting sound that “petals” gives the sentence. This puts a large difference between the two lines, leaving a rather jerky reading. The style, input by Pound, is part of his fight and rebellion against the classic forms of poetry.

The poem derives its power from its resistance to language, the influence of Japanese hokku on Imagism, for example, can be understood as an exotic means of formalising and dignifying a poetic suicide. The remains of Victorian poetry styles were being demolished from the inside by new forms of poetry. This is what Pound has done by deconstructing his poem over the years, leaving it with only two lines. However it is perhaps ironic that Pound started with a traditional form of poetry before he edited it to create something new; he had to make a pact with the old method and use its original blocks from which to carve something new.

Hilda Doolittle, the second of the poets, is seen as a literary sister of Ezra Pound, another writer of the time, developing new forms of poetry, while clinging to the basics of traditional style. Her poem, Oread, leaves the reader somewhat unsure as to what it is exactly that she is describing. The final outcome of the reading must almost inevitably be a mixture between the sea and a forest of pine; but which is being the metaphor, and which is reality? The poem certainly hits a hard and violent nerve, with the sound of caused agitation and powerful size.

“Whirl up, sea –

whirl your pointed pines,

splash your great pines….”

The repeated use of the word whirl in commands tends to suggest a required ferocity by the poet, and together with the description of great pines and hurling them about, lends the poem its power. Doolittle also fails to place any halting punctuation in the poem, letting the poem run without cause to stop. The only pause taken at all is after the first line, where a pause is placed in to give the statement a sense of definicy. This is a ploy we have also used by Ezra Pound. The imagery, like Pound’s work, is a crucial part to the poem as a whole, with the descriptiveness of what is seen being the foremost point of the poem. Once again like Pound, and many of their fellow poets of the time, the imagery in 20th Century America is connected with the nature they see all around them.

Some might say that Oread describes either a sea or pine forest in comparison with the other,as the description of “pools of fir” lead us to try to connect it with one or the other. However one might also say that Doolittle uses this aptly in creating an image of a midway state, between dream and reality. It is neither a pine forest nor a sea, but also not a dream. This style of imagery involving nature, much like Pound, tore away from the classic Victorian trend. The use of imagery, using particularly nature, began to grow.

In 1916 Carl Sandburg wrote Fog, again a poem very short and descriptive of a part of nature. He describes a fog coming in over the harbour in a city.

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