One of my favorite poems came about as a poet re-envisioned a scene he had originally tried to capture in 30 lines. Since those lines did not begin to show what he saw, he tore up the poem and, six months later, tried again. Instead of using more words, however, the poet wrote a poem of half the original length, but that version still did not show readers what he wanted them to see. Another six months went by as he looked, not for more words, but for the essence of the scene – the color, the beauty, the movement, the energy, and so, one year after he had first noticed a bouquet of lovely faces at the train station in 1911 Paris, Ezra Pound completed this poem in two exquisite lines:
In a Station of the Metro
The apparition of these faces in the crowd;
Petals, on a wet, black bough.
Pound talks about his initial vision and his re-vision process in an essay posted on the Internet by Modern American Poetry. That webpage, which is well worth reading, also includes essays, literary criticism, and commentaries by various poets and poetry critics on the poem and the poet’s brilliant choice of words.
If you go on to read the biography of Pound located on the website, too, you might wonder why this free-spirited, free-willed, visually-oriented man became such good friends with the anxious, cerebral, musically-oriented poet T.S. Eliot. Perhaps being unlike each other drew them into an unlikely friendship as they became the ideal poet-peers for offering each other feedback on their poems.
For example, Eliot counted on Pound to say what he really thought about The Waste Land even though he pounded home the importance of being fresh and not competing with couplets that, a couple of centuries earlier, Alexander Pope had handled with greater skill!
Again, the Modern American Poetry site posts an essay discussing the revision of Eliot’s famous book-length poem The Waste Land, and larger bookstores often stock an edition of the poem that includes annotations by Ezra Pound. Studying the comments and suggestions that one brilliant poet made to another provides an excellent mini-course in revision.
© 2011, Mary Harwell Sayler
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