The other day I once again came across Ezra Pound’s oft-anthologized “In a Station of the Metro,” a two-liner that survives, perhaps, because it illustrates the movement toward Imagism in the early 20th century:
In a Station of the Metro
The apparition of these faces in the crowd;
Petals on a wet, black bough.
|Petals? Or Cincinnati Reds Fans?|
In terms of Pound’s place in intellectual history, I guess I can go only so far with the argument that “we had to get there to get here.” That's probably true in terms of the big, big, and purely academic context. But if “here” means poems that succeed in evoking thought and emotion as well as painting pictures, there might be a problem. “No ideas but in things,” said William Carlos Williams. I like that orientation, which may have been necessary at one time, but it’s a bit extreme.
Let's not forget that a few folks have given us images every bit as precise and palpable as Pound’s, but with the added benefit of emotional or intellectual power. I think immediately of Keats' and Coleridge's shorter poems, plus Hopkins, Dickinson, and, even in prose, Fitzgerald's imagery in The Great Gatsby. In the best work of those writers, there is plenty to see, simply in the gifts of word pictures, but there's also plenty in the way of ideas, verbal music, and emotional impact.
Once again, maybe some smart, talented people have backed themselves into a black-and-white, either-or corner.