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Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Poetry Revision: Less can bring more to a poem

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
All rights reserved.



  1. I am so new at writing poetry, I did not realize that two senteces could be considered poetry.
    It is interesting to me that he deleted words to discover what he wanted. I am guilty of wanting to add words.
    This is a good lesson for me, as I am learning more every day!
    Thank you!

  2. Poetry offers surprises in all shapes and sizes! An old but ever-popular form of English verse is the couplet, which usually has a strong beat and end-line rhyme. In ancient Asia, poets counted out syllables for three lines of verse in haiku. English translations of those poems give brilliant examples of brilliance found in brevity.

  3. I know nothing about poetry, but I do love T.S. Elliot. Beautiful blog!

  4. Oh, thanks! Eliot is a favorite of mine too.

    I'd be interested to hear if you would like to find out more about a particular aspect of poetry in upcoming blog discussions. If so, please let me know. Thanks and happy poetry adventures!

  5. Very nice story! I liked your input on this. When you focus on what you want to capture, that is what you will get! If you focus on lines too much you will get lines.

  6. Thanks. Just recently I began writing prose poetry more often than traditional forms and/or free verse, and what I most enjoy is how the paragraph block of the prose poem keeps me from stressing over line breaks!

  7. Hi Mary! I like your blog. I love poetry so much. I am always inspired by its rhythm and rhyme. Writing poems has always been a good writing exercise for me. Please share some poetry prompts =)Thanks!

  8. Good to hear you like the blog. I welcome suggestions for topics to discuss, but the main focus will probably continue to be poetry forms, techniques, or options for successfully editing and revising our work. However, I will gladly keep your suggestion for poetry prompts in mind for another poetry-related project I hope to get going this fall. Thanks.