The River Merchant's Wife: A Letter by Ezra pound

While my hair was still cut straight across my forehead
I played about the front gate, pulling flowers.
You came by on bamboo stilts, playing horse,
You walked about my seat, playing with blue plums.
And we went on living in the village of Chokan:
Two small people, without dislike or suspicion.

At fourteen I married My Lord you.
I never laughed, being bashful.
Lowering my head, I looked at the wall.
Called to, a thousand times, I never looked back.

At fifteen I stopped scowling,
I desired my dust to be mingled with yours
Forever and forever and forever.
Why should I climb the look out?

At sixteen you departed,
You went into far Ku-to-yen, by the river of swirling eddies,
And you have been gone five months.
The monkeys make sorrowful noise overhead.

You dragged your feet when you went out.
By the gate now, the moss is grown, the different mosses,
Too deep to clear them away!
The leaves fall early this autumn, in wind.
The paired butterflies are already yellow with August
Over the grass in the West garden;
They hurt me.  I grow older.
If you are coming down through the narrows of the river Kiang,
Please let me know beforehand,
And I will come out to meet you
   As far as Cho-fu-Sa.

This letter was published in 1915 in Pound's third edition of poetry. According to Pound, any great poet should be a philosopher, there is no great poet ever without being a thinkable provider while writing poetry. The poetry should leave philosophy out of this process. However, according to T.S. Eliot: "Any poet should know at least his national heritage add to it world heritage from Homer down to his own age, without having an attitude towards life how could a poet rewrite that life."

This poem seems to have a superficial structure. This is one advantage that can be given to Ezra Pound. When we read the poem, we sense the conversational rhythm found in that poem. The poem superficially in structure is an address from a wife to her husband. By nature, the grounds on which the language should be built should be conformed by a conversational language based on common speech rhythm. The poem has a very complex complicated structure.

The major ingredients of this structure would be:
1) The 'I' is of the speaker of the poem whom is the wife writing the letter, and the 'you' is of the husband of the wife.

2) It is made up of 5 parts: they aren't divided according to symmetrical pattern.
    Part 1 is made up of 6 lines    
    Parts 2-3-4 is made up of 4 lines
    Part 5 is made up of 11 lines
The sum would be 29 lines.

3) This is functional and not a random pattern in the poem; it enhances the complexity of the poem.    Each line starts with a capital letter, grammatically speaking syntactically. The capital letter after line 3 'You' complies with the grammar after the full stop. Grammar doesn't justify this but poetry does. Therefore, the line is not a sentence structure, but it has a poetical structure.

Chokan-Ku To Yen-Kiang

Those are terms made in the 8th century by philolosa; the presence of those Japanese (Haiku) is relevant in the poem. The function is poetical and historical at the same time. I believe that the presence of them shows that Pound is writing through what I call in poetry the historical masks. He is writing in history. If he didn't use those Japanese words, he would lose the traditional conception and the fact that there is a chronological break through the notion in the poem. He is placing the entire tradition of 20th century taking him back. The tradition is alive. The response to the world is one and this is what links the human race.

There is inside the stanzas different length of lines, the poem has to be written in the free verse because of the complication. The complexity can't sustain in a couplet form medium the Iambic pentameter, then the poem is a complex complicated structure. Though the title of the poem is written between 2 poles 'I' and 'You', the 'I' coincides with the 'I' of the poem. However, the 'You' is the you of the husband, and it can be the you of a reader, the circle is completed, the readers are included in the poem. There is a centered image i.e the 6 lines rotate around one period in the life of the 'I' of the poem. The image of the little girl who is addressing the 'You' in the poem and the reader. The entire period between the original poem written by philolosa, is a point of radiation in the poem. Chokan use in the 8th century and Pound use in the 20th century indicates that the human response of whatever feeling is one. There is love, emotion and separation centered in one image. The girl is sending a message to the 'You' and this is definite emotion which is expressed in the lines. This is the direct treatment and direct presentation used by Pound in the poem. Chokan is the chronological break through the very bridging of the gap between time of philolosa and Pound. The human race is one, this should be expressed in poetry which is the emotion of all race, language is no more a tool but a medium because through them the poet, reader and 'you' work. What the poet thinks? What the reader gets from the poem has to be different from the poet? What the reader thinks is more valid than what the poet thinks?

Part 1: The language is very close from conversational language and the rhythm is of a common speech. An image is generating another without linking devices. This is why he used the capital letter because if he uses linking devices there is no capital, and it would be related to the object; thus, there is a succession of imagery and this is through association. When he wrote part 1, he used addition in the 5th line "
And we went on living in the village of Chokan, so marriage is done. He is using clarity in his language without using much words at the expense of the central image in part 1.

Part 2: A simple image resulting in a complex complicated emotion. Each line is functioning on the same square image because there is a definite emotion created. He created a very definite rage, he has to release all energy through one simple image. The total effect of this part as being a part of the entire emotion of the poem is a very close link tightening created between the 'I' of the wife and the 'You' of the husband. This kind of relation couldn't afford any separation. He is focusing and releasing through a simple image that is the link is very solid. In part 2 the separation would be very difficult to them because of the link between them. In addition, there is a distribution in spaces of time. She is a narrow sighted person in the positive sense. She didn't know anything else. The tight was very close and solid in the letter addressed by the 'You' in the poem. The "Wall" could indicate punishment and limitation to whatever she would know. I never looked back without any repentance, one direction without a return, he is releasing the maximum energy through this part.

Part 3: It starts with the age of 15. In part 1 he invoked Chokan that the gap of time is bridged. "I desired my dust to be mingled with yours," he is invoking oriental civilization; they used to burn dead people in India. What is complex is that he is invoking oriental civilization (India) then the sentiments are one, emotion of love-separation. Technically speaking, he didn't want orient or Indian, the complex of this incarnation is being achieved. It invokes civil relying on device by which he relies on common speech. He didn't resort to diction; he is still dealing with common language. It is complex because it is built on the music of common speech. Once more he is bridging the gap not through exotic name but by the language of common men in common life. He relied on the rhythm of common life. He relied on the rhythm of common speech not resort to the language of dictionary, grammar and thematic diction. The 2 lines have nothing to do with each other. An emotion is released through the centering of succession; imagery relies on the rhythm of common speech.
In part 2-3-4 there is same linking devices. "At" those are key lines of consequence of part 1.

Part 4: The effort is exerted on the emotion of love that existed between 'I' and 'You' of the poem, so departure would result in great suffer: at 14-15 solid love and the departure. The function of center image part is revealed by Ezra Pound. Far to Chokan, a chronological break to the past. There is a wavering movement from the present to the past. History is crystalized, dead, while tradition is not; it is always alive. As in "Ku To Yen" when there is a past what is important in the past is its presentness. Then the past and the present should have in poetry a simultaneous existence and order, and they must have the same level of existence. Pound wanted to say that Europe civilization is not the only valid civilization, there are other civilizations which are as valid as Europe.
Present and past:
1) There is the present conscience of the past.
2) They exist in poetry on same levels.
3) They have the same order.

Part 5: The first three lines of this final 11-line stanza are centered on the image of the river-merchant's absence. Line 19 indicates that he was as averse to this separation as she was. In line 20 the phrase "by the gate" (perhaps the same gate they played about as children), indicates that she has returned to this gate and in her memory sees him reluctantly leaving again. For her it is the scene of the beginning of his absence. And evidently she knows this scene well: not only is there moss growing there, but she is aware that there are different kinds of mosses, which she has not cleared away since his departure. They are now too deep to clear away. In line 22 the sadness of the river-merchant's wife is again reflected back to her by the natural world, by the falling leaves and wind of autumn. This image becomes more defined with her observation of the butterflies in the garden, for they are "paired" as she is not, and they are becoming "yellow" changing with the season, growing older together. The butterflies "hurt" her because they emphasize the pain of her realization that she is growing older, but alone, not with her husband. Lines 26-29, in these closing lines of the poem and the "letter" the river-merchant's wife reaches out from her lonely world of sorrow to her husband in a direct request: Please let me know when and by what route you are returning, so that I may come to meet you. This, however, conveys more than it would at first appear. Her village is a suburb of Nanking and she is willing to walk to a beach several hundred miles upstream from there to meet her husband, so deeply does she yearn to close the distance between them.

"One major theory in poetry says that poetry cannot be translated because if words in poetry have no referential meaning how could those words be transposed from one medium to the other without blasting their basic ingredients. For example, if words in poetry were referential, their reference could be translated from one language to the other, but if a word initiate another meaning, not in it, how could its combination convey into another meaning."

This is not the attitude of Pound, he believes that for him a symbol can be translated into another language because in translation the symbol can gain the heritage found in difference of time. When the symbol is written, and it is translated, words are not referential. In translation, this symbol could gain from the difference in time and culture (8th till 20th century chronological break down-Japanese to English). From this transposition and in culture the symbol does gain its importance. He believes in the present awareness of the past. The past does surpass the English heritage. A validity is not found in the European language he is using, but it is found outside this heritage.

There is an introspection into the presentness of the past because he thinks that the human race is one emotion and not personal. He doesn't believe in the personality of the poet but poets have medium for their persons. Each part has image centered, 5 parts, 5 stages. The rhythmic movement of sounds are very important in the poem.

Part I: represents one emotional state between wife and husband.

Part II: the structure represents another stage.

Part III: Spencer in 'Prothalamian' said in the 16th century "The nymphs have departed." Pound brings in the poem the entire Renaissance period because 'Prothalamian' was written in the Renaissance. The nymphs are usually innocent creatures, so he implies that the days of innocence have departed. Collision of parties departed, recall nymphs and innocence. Therefore, he translated same language, same civilization evoking same atmosphere found in Spencer "Prothalamian" through implications and annunciation as if the golden age has departed (Nymphs departed) in order to create the ambiguous tension of the poem. He is using the same structure of Spencer not only words, so by this departure many things have departed. He is transforming an atmosphere in his poem.

Part IV: I believe poetry is a source of inspired mathematics. The difference between both are scientific and objective. The only difference is that mathematics results in abstract equation where as poetry results in objective correlation standing in the human equation.

Part V: Moss ...... place is deserted, rust: he used all annunciation in one image. Good poetry should be able to say much more than prose. Instead of causing pleasure, the butterflies hurt him. A sequence of imagery, once more it is image centered moss, decay, rotten. The "I grow older" (climax) is an emotional statement. Five months-too deep-older, with a rhythm that is built on common speech this justifies the difference-length of the lives, each life calls the rhythm of the speaking voice. No systematic rhythmic but a wavering rhythm following the speaking lives who represent the human emotion, feelings of love and separation. This sequence of imagery leads to this intensified emotion. The gap of time-distance-geography is narrowed down immediately after the intensified emotional statement. 

Ronald Bush Says:

About the poem that Pound called "The River-Merchant's Wife: A Letter," Fenollosa's Professor Mori remarked that it beautifully presents the wife's unspoken feeling "not logical or straight but trailing here and there." Few of us, I think, would disagree. Which only makes more interesting the fact that Pound, maintaining the beautiful indirection of the poem, transformed its subject. As a Sinologist has recently pointed out, the river merchant of the poem would have been understood by Li Po's contemporary readers as the poet himself, and the poem read as "a love-poem to his wife but written as if from her to him, which was a common Chinese practice at the time." The implied emotional drama of the poem, therefore, is one of love maturing before our eyes. The wife remembers herself as a little girl, recalls a time when she entered into an arranged marriage without much feeling, and then, spurred by the pain her husband's departure has provoked, slowly realizes how much she cares for him. Li Po's poem swells to maximum feeing twice. At its center, moved by the river merchant's prolonged absence, the wife recalls her fifteenth year, when she realized what love was and first desired her "dust to be mingled with" his, "forever and forever and forever." Then at the end of the poem she dreams of his returning and achieves a poignant reunion by traveling a considerable distance in her imagination to meet him halfway.

In Pound's hands, this poem becomes a dark reflection of its Chinese self and a recognizable cousin to the poems of blocked expression in the suite around it. Recalling Mori's remark that the wife belatedly discovers her own 'ignorance' after her husband leaves home, Pound tuned his ear to a line near the beginning of the poem in which the wife recognizes that she and her lord were once "Two small people, without dislike or suspicion"—a line that unmistakably announces those feelings have arrived. The emotional curve Pound conveys is accordingly more complicated and more problematic than Li Po's. In Pound's poem, to affirm her love for her husband (that is, to deliver her letter), the wife must overcome not only the miles between them but also her own fugitive feelings of betrayal. Consequently, near the beginning of her monologue we detect nostalgia not only for the time when she first met her husband, but for an innocence before and beyond that, for a time when she was a child and her hair was "still cut straight across [her] forehead." The word "still" here is Pound's invention and not Li Po's. In Fenollosa's notes, as in his Chinese original, the line reads: when her hair was "first" cut across her forehead, and speaks of a cheerful memory of the beginning of youth. In Pound's version it implies a world of disappointment in what has followed.

In "The River-Merchant's Wife," moreover, this is only the first hint of suppressed ambivalence. Another involves the wife's worries about the route her husband must take on this journey home. In Fenollosa, the wife thinks of him passing through a notoriously dangerous group of river narrows. In "The River-Merchant's Wife," the same narrows become more figure than fact. Beyond worrying about her husband's return, Pound's wife reveals reservations about whether her domestic happiness will ever be restored, and she telescopes the river narrows with the dark passages of her heart. In her unfolding vision, the merchant passes through a "river of swirling eddies" of her own conflicted feelings to a region where monkeys echo her own sorrow, only to then negotiate his return through the "narrows" of her suspicion. At that point, though, the completed fellow feeling figured by his return seems as unlikely as the possibility in "South-Folk in Cold Country" that China might acknowledge a fallen hero. Li Po's poem had ended with the wife crying out that she does not care about the great distance, she will travel to meet him to far Cho-fu-sa. But Pound deliberately alters what he found in Fenollosa and allows his syntax to overpower a geography none of his readers would be likely to guess. Fenollosa had translated the poem's last lines "For I will go out to meet [you], not caring that the way be far. / And will directly come to Chofusa." Pound, shifting the feeling, has his wife aver that if her husband lets her know beforehand, she will come out to meet him "as far as Cho-Fu-Sa," with the implication (it is the culmination of her ambivalence) that she will come so far and no farther.