In a Station of the Metro by Ezra Pound: Poem Analysis & Overview

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  • 0:00 Who Was Ezra Pound?
  • 0:54 Imagism
  • 1:50 'In a Station of the Metro'
  • 6:28 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Richard Davis

Richard teaches college writing and has a master's degree in creative writing.

Did you know that one of the most famous poems in the English language is only fourteen words long? In this lesson, explore the poetic complexity of Ezra Pound's 'In a Station of the Metro.'

Who Was Ezra Pound?

One of the most dynamic periods in English literature was the modernist movement. Beginning at the turn of the 20th century, modernism broke away from traditional styles, structures, and themes in literature. In terms of poetry, modernism broke free from the formal restrictions of rhyme and meter, resulting in what is known today as free verse. The famous motto of modernism, coined by poet Ezra Pound, was 'Make it new.'

Ezra Pound clearly took this motto to heart in his own work, refusing to repeat himself throughout his career. Because Pound's style oscillated between minimalist (using as few words as possible) and epic (working on a massive scale), it is difficult to connect him to one particular style. However, one of Pound's most enduring poems was created in the early stages of his career.


This phase of Pound's career is known as his imagist period. As part of the early modernist movement, imagism was launched in 1912 by Ezra Pound and Hilda Doolittle, although a style similar to imagism already existed among European poets. In an essay published in the 1913 issue of Poetry magazine, Pound defined the three principles of imagism:

  1. Direct treatment of the thing whether subjective or objective.
  2. To use absolutely no word that does not contribute to the presentation.
  3. As regarding rhythm: to compose in the sequence of the musical phrase, not in sequence of a metronome.

Instead of trying to elaborate upon these principles with more poetic jargon, let's look at a poem that exemplifies all three aspects of imagism: Ezra Pound's In a Station of the Metro.

In a Station of the Metro

Here is the text of the poem:

The apparition of these faces in the crowd:
Petals on a wet, black bough.

At first, you might ask, 'Wait…is that it?'

Yes, that's the whole text of In a Station of a Metro, which first appeared in the 1913 issue of Poetry. You may also be wondering how such a short poem (just two lines and 14 words) could be so important to the history of poetry. To get a better understanding of why In a Station of the Metro is significant, let's analyze it using the three principles of imagism.

First of all, we have to ask ourselves whether this poem is a direct treatment of its subject. To answer that question, let's consider another way Pound could have approached the subject of this poem. Here's an alternate, made-up version of the poem:

The apparitions of these faces in the crowd
are petals on a wet, black bough.

As you can see, these lines are about the same subject, and (except for 'apparitions' and 'are') the words are basically the same. Yet, somehow the effect is very different. Unlike Pound's lines, these lines use a traditional sentence structure: subject ('apparitions'), verb ('are'), and object ('petals'). This makes us see the poem as a sentence that runs over two lines, which makes us read it in a linear way (as a straight line running from start to finish).

Fortunately, Pound's original lines use a non-linear structure, which doesn't make us rush through the poem in a straight line. To use Pound's words, the poem isn't a description but an equation. Because there's no traditional grammar to push us in one direction or the other, the parts that make up this equation (the 'apparition' and the 'petals') are given equal value. In this sense, this is the most direct treatment possible.

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