"The River-Merchant's Wife: A Letter" (1917)
This poem takes the form of a letter from a lonely wife who has not seen her husband in five months. She begins by reminiscing about meeting him during childhood. She was pulling flowers at the front gate and he came by on stilts, playing horse. The next two lines, "And we went on living in the village of Chokan/Two small people, without dislike or suspicion," imply that the pair did not grow close right away following that encounter; they continued to grow up separately.
In the next stanza, the wife describes marrying her husband at age fourteen. After that, she was continuously shy, either out of respect, sub-ordinance, or just ...view middle of the document...
The lack of prescribed meter allows Pound to bring out the rawness of the wife's emotions, drawing readers directly into her loneliness without having to overcome the barrier of an overly structured presentation.
Lines 25 and 26 are two short lines that stand out because they appear in the midst of longer lines. Therefore, these two lines capture the reader's attention just as the poem reaches its climax, and the speaker, the wife, acknowledges the deep sorrow she feels because of her husband's absence. Poets often adjust form or meter in order to bring attention to a specific line. Even though this poem is free verse, those two lines are markedly different from the rest, which allows Pound to emphasize their content.
Because this poem follows the sequence of the characters' lives, it is thematically appropriate that Pound uses time-based imagery and figurative language as well. The setting of the poem shifts from spring to autumn. Spring usually represents abundance and new growth, and this is when the couple's love is in bloom. Meanwhile, in the autumn, growth and greenery slowly wither away, leaves fall, and the air grows colder. The husband is away and his wife longs for his return. The wife notes that the moss has grown thicker as well, which is another metaphor for the passage of time. As she grows older, the changing seasons represent her emotional development over time.
Rivers are also an important symbol in this poem. Rivers constantly flow and change, just as the relationship between the wife and her husband has evolved. A river forms the physical barrier between them, as the husband traveled along it to another village. At the end of the poem, the wife wonders whether or not another river will bring them back together.
In addition, the setting of this poem is a rare glimpse into a portion of China's landscape. in Pound's time, westerners had very little contact with this eastern land. Pound's translation of Chinese poetry probably caused a lot of discussion; it is doubtful that many of his contemporaries believed China to be the lush paradise he describes in this poem.
Symbols, Imagery, Wordplay
TIME, AGE, AND THE SEASONS
"The River-Merchant's Wife" traces the course of the speaker's growth from childhood to adulthood in a matter of years. To drive home the emotional development of our speaker in that time, the poem makes use of time-related imagery along the way. Much of this is connected with the transition from spring to autumn as a metaphorfor the shift from abundance (abundance of love, in the case of this poem) to a lack thereof. It's telling that the speaker doesn't need to report much of anything about her emotional state. (Maybe she's just really shy.) We don't need her to, though! Instead, we get a very clear picture of her situation from the technique of the poem itself.
• Line 1: The word "still" should tip you off that her hair isn't cut straight across anymore. The...