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Ezra Pound

In a Station of the Metro

Fiction | Poem | Adult | Published in 1913

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Summary and Study Guide


Published in April 1913 in the literary magazine Poetry, “In a Station of the Metro” is an Imagist poem. In it, Pound describes a single moment in an underground Paris metro in 1912. The poem is considered the first haiku in English despite it lacking a traditional haiku’s three-line, 17-syllable form. The poem consists of only 14 words. Pound uses an equation rather than a description to place the faces of the passersby into the poem. The poem is considered a quintessential Imagist text and is often celebrated and studied because of its brevity and compact structure. In 1917, the poem appeared in Pound’s collection Lustra. In 1926, it reappeared in an anthologized version of this work titled The Collected Poems of Ezra Pound. Some consider the poem a piece of Modernist work since it attempts to break from pentameter and use visual spacing. The poem also does not contain any verbs. Originally, a different spacing appeared between the groups of words, and this version can still be found in the April 1913 edition of Poetry.

Poet Biography

Born in 1885 in Hailey, Idaho Territory, Ezra Pound was the only son of Homer Pound, registrar of the General Land Office, and Isabel Weston. Pound’s grandfather, Thaddeus Coleman Pound, was a Republican Congressman and the 10th Lieutenant Governor of Wisconsin. Thaddeus Pound had secured Homer Pound’s position for him. In 1887, Ezra Pound and his mother moved to New York. Eventually Pound’s father followed and acquired a job as an assayer in the Philadelphia Mint. Pound’s education began in dame schools—small, privately run schools for children that were popular at the time.

In 1896, at age 11, Pound received his first publication; a limerick about William Jennings Bryan, who had just lost the 1896 election, appeared in the Jenkintown Times-Chronicle. The following year, Pound transferred to Cheltenham Military Academy, where he was taught to drill and to shoot, and he wore an American Civil War-style uniform. In 1898, with his mother and aunt, he made his first overseas trip, and he traveled through England, Belgium, Switzerland, Germany, Italy, Spain, and Morocco. In 1901, at age 15, Pound was admitted to the University of Pennsylvania’s College of Liberal Arts. Pound was a poor student. In 1903, after receiving poor marks in most of his subjects, Pound transferred to Hamilton College. He graduated from Hamilton in 1905 with a PhB. He returned to Penn and fell in love with Hilda Doolittle, the expatriate writer whom Pound and the literary world would eventually refer to as “HD.” Eventually Pound would begin a teaching career, and in 1907, Pound taught Spanish and French at Wabash College. In 1908, Wabash College asked Pound to leave after the cleaning ladies found a woman in his room.

In 1908, Pound moved to London after having spent the previous months working in Gibraltar. By the time he moved to London, he had self-published his first collection. In London, Pound first lived in a boarding house, but he soon moved to Islington. Eventually, he persuaded a bookseller to display his book, and Pound reviewed his own book for Evening Standard. He then self-published his second book, titled A Quinzaine for Yule. Pound eventually mixed with the best of London’s literary circle, which included the likes of Maurice Hewlett, Frederic Manning, Ernest Rhys, and George Bernard Shaw.

By 1913, Pound rose to respected fame in the literary world, and he became the editor of The Egoist. While working as the editor, and at the suggestion of W. B. Yeats, Pound encouraged James Joyce to submit his work to The Egoist. Joyce gave Pound permission to publish “I Hear an Army.” Joyce also enclosed Dubliners as well the first chapter of The Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. At this time, Pound’s articles in New Age began making him quite unpopular, and Pound’s opinions contradicted English sensibilities. In 1914, World War I unfolded, and poetry took an unexpected turn. Readers expected patriotic poems. In this same year, Pound read T. S. Eliot’s “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.” He described it as one of the best poems he had yet to read from an American. In April 1915, Pound published Cathay. Pound’s unpopularity continued to rise, this time because of his translations. In 1921, Pound met Ernest Hemingway. Despite a significant age difference between them, the two writers became friends. In 1922, T. S. Eliot sent Pound the manuscript for The Waste Land, and after Pound critically edited the manuscript, Eliot dedicated the manuscript to him.

Prior to World War II, Pound would meet Mussolini, and by the war’s outbreak, Pound’s antisemitism deepened. He embarked on a letter-writing campaign in which he continued making antisemitic remarks. In 1941, he began composing and recording hundreds of radio broadcasts for Italian radio. He denounced the United States’ efforts in the war and praised Hitler, antisemitism, and eugenics. In 1945, he was arrested for treason.

After the war, Pound continued to write and publish. Doctors diagnosed him with psychopathic personality disorder, though one psychiatrist suggested that Pound had narcissistic personality disorder. During his hospitalization at St. Elizabeths Hospital, Pound would often refuse to speak to psychiatrists who had Jewish names. His friends like Hemingway worked to have him released from the hospital, and eventually they succeeded. Though freed, Pound dealt with depression. At the age of 87, Pound passed away due to a severe blockage of the intestine.

Poem Text

The apparition of these faces in the crowd:

Petals on a wet, black bough.

Pound, Ezra. “In a Station of the Metro.” 1913. Poetry Foundation.


Using only 20 words (including the title), “In a Station of the Metro” evokes the image of a crowded subway and petals on a tree branch. The poem’s title can also be read as the poem’s first line, and it establishes the poem’s setting. The second line states, “The apparition of these faces in the crowd:” (Line 1). The word “apparition” (Line 1) prescribes a ghostly feel to the line and makes the “faces in the crowd” (Line 1) seem almost inhuman. The poem balances an urban setting with a natural setting: “Petals on a wet, black bough” (Line 2). The speaker develops a more descriptive, philosophical tone. The “faces” (Line 1) become “Petals” (Line 2). They are fragile, representative of life and existence’s fragility. The “Petals” (Line 2) lie “on a wet, black bough” (Line 2), and the natural world hangs in careful balance with the human-made one.