Dr. Daniel Martin
ENGL 103 AS 17
13 February 2015
Symbolic Images in Ezra Pound’s “The River-Merchant’s Wife: A Letter”
Ezra Pound’s “The River-Merchant’s Wife: A Letter” challenges the popular notion of love at first sight. The little girl “never laughed” (8) when she got married, only to want her “dust” (12) to be buried with her lover a year later. One might think that this poem is merely a letter describing the writer’s feelings about a loved one she lost. However, a closer look at the poem’s figures of speech, imagery, and setting, suggests that Pound’s poem is not necessarily revolving around her broken heart. The dramatic shift in the poet’s feelings towards her spouse reveals that the speaker is illustrating love as something that can be developed with the passing of time.
The poet uses imagery and figures of speech in order to retain the emotional power of the original Chinese poem. The poem was written in a time where women did not have the freedom of choice when it came to marriage, and here a contrast between men and woman is exposed. She is “pulling flowers” (2) while he is “playing horse” (3), a symbol of submissiveness and dominance of girls and boys respectively. Men are portrayed as lords who have the authority to choose whoever they wanted to marry: “I married My Lord you” (7). It is clear that marriage was simply the fate that she had to accept as she lowered her head and “looked at the wall” (9), representing marriage as a dead end to any dreams about life she might have had. Interestingly, when she turned fifteen, something changed. She no longer simply bared living with her lover but now longed to be with him “For ever and for ever and for ever” (13). Ironically, the space between the words for and ever seem to imply a certain emotional distance that was still keeping her from her husband, making the lifetime she would spend with him seem very elongated. We are also given a glimpse of her husband’s love for her in that he dragged his feet when he left meaning that he did not want leave her: it is likely that at the age of sixteen he was required to go to the army.
The setting of the poem plays a critical role is distinguishing between her feelings before and after marriage. The first stanza and the second to last stanzas both contain sceneries of the front gate, but with very contrasting perceptions. In the first stanza we see an image of the innocence of a carefree young girl “pulling flowers” (2). A serene picture of the untroubled life of a child. However, in the fifth stanza this place of playing turns into a place of despair, a place where her memories are “too deep to clear them away” (21). The phrases used to describe time also have a very deliberate effect. ‘The leaves fall early this autumn” (22) is a reflection of the state of this deserted wife. Autumn is a time where leaves fall as the weather grows