In a Station of the Metro | Study Guide

Ezra Pound

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In a Station of the Metro | Symbols


"In a Station of the Metro" contains no symbols—at least not in the traditional literary sense. As an imagist poet, Pound made an explicit attempt to present his subjects directly, without abstractions. Language itself is an abstraction, however, and Pound's words have connotations and associations, including those discussed below. (Readers should not call them symbols.)

The Underworld

Descending the stairs into a dark subway station may feel like stepping into the underworld, especially for a person in the early 1900s for whom the new experience of going underground to travel could seem unsettling. "In a Station of the Metro" takes place in an underground setting that might feel a bit like Hades, the underworld of Greek mythology, which classical poets described as being crowded with souls. Hades was the part-time home to the goddess Persephone, who returned to Earth for half of every year, bringing spring with her. Readers familiar with myths about Hades and Persephone might feel a certain emotional resonance when the poem calls up the idea of stepping into a crowded underground place—especially because that place is full of eerie "apparitions" of faces that evoke thoughts of flower petals.

Stations of the Cross

The title "In a Station of the Metro" is not phrased in the simplest way possible, which is unusual for Pound. He could have called the poem "In a Metro Station," but he chose the longer and more melodious phrase. For readers familiar with Roman Catholicism, the sound of the title may evoke the Stations of the Cross: a series of images of Jesus Christ passing through the events of his last day on Earth. When worshippers perform the Stations of the Cross, they say prayers in front of each of these images. The poem has no other direct association with Christianity, but readers steeped in Catholic tradition may be primed by the title to look for a spiritual or otherworldly experience in the poem.


The most common meaning of the word apparition is "ghostly figure." When Pound describes being struck by the sight of faces in a crowd at a subway station, he makes the faces sound otherworldly and strange. He mentions them only as faces, not bodies or people, and stresses that they pass by fleetingly. Some sort of beauty or humanity exists in them, but the poem makes no room for a genuine human connection with the people behind those faces. Seeing the faces, then, may be a transcendent, exciting, or sad experience depending entirely on the person who is seeing them.

Some readers may associate the title, "In a Station of the Metro," with religious imagery or mythological stories of the underworld. These associations may resonate with the otherworldliness of the word apparitions.


Flower petals, particularly cherry blossoms, are images that appear frequently in Japanese art and poetry. In Japan, cherry blossoms are often tied to metaphors of fleeting human existence. Cherry trees, which bloom suddenly at the end of winter, are completely covered by blossoms for a few days. Then the flowers fall off and wither. A blooming cherry tree is a glorious sight, but it does not last. To many Japanese, cherry petals are a reminder that life is equally glorious and far too short. Blossoms also feature heavily in European literature, in which they are often associated with fleeting life, with the changing of generations, or with the soul.

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