In a Station of the Metro | Study Guide

Ezra Pound

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In a Station of the Metro | Themes


In writing "In a Station of the Metro," Pound's explicit goal was to present an experience without interpreting or developing it. Therefore, it would be difficult to argue his poem has themes in the traditional sense. Still, he left openings for readers to do the work of interpretation. Several are discussed below.

The Commonplace versus the Transcendent

Walking through a subway station is a commonplace experience, but the poem makes it seem anything but. The poem focuses its attention on the ghostly appearance—"the apparition"—of faces that suddenly make themselves seen in the blur of a crowd. This image is incongruously juxtaposed with an image from nature. Presumably this juxtaposition is a metaphor showing readers that this ordinary experience, grounded in ordinary language, can suddenly make an emotional leap into a space of transcendence.

If a moment like this can happen in a subway station, when a person is trudging through a dark place among a nameless and faceless crowd, then it can happen anywhere. Thus, people can look for spiritual experiences in the most commonplace moments.

Beauty versus Ugliness

Subway stations are functional and may seem ugly in their bareness. Constant traffic tends to make them dirty. They often are fairly dark and would likely have been darker in the early 1900s, with more primitive lighting. To some people at certain times, the act of descending underground to take a train may feel oppressive.

Pound places his poem in such a setting and then presents a startling, beautiful experience of noticing faces like "petals on a wet, black bough." The contrast may be considered hopeful because a person's mind can turn to beauty anywhere, and at the same time, sad because the flower petals seem far away.

Nature versus Technology

Pound, like other poets of his generation, was well aware that technology was causing rapid changes to his surroundings. His generation seemed far less connected to nature than the previous generation was. Subway systems, a relatively new technology at the time "In a Station of the Metro" was written, were a powerful sign of dynamic social changes. The Paris Metro, which did not exist at all until 1900, had 10 subway lines by the time Pound's poem was published in 1913. Urban dwellers suddenly had greater freedom of movement, but they had to descend underground into a new, manufactured landscape to access it. By bringing a startling natural image—"Petals on a wet, black bough"—into this landscape, Pound highlights an extreme contrast, placing nature in the midst of technology.

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