“The River-Merchant’s Wife: A Letter” by Ezra Pound

Vocabulary

1.River Merchant: a trader from ancient Asian culture

2. Look Out (Chinese culture): A widow would “look” to find a new husband after the death of her spouse

3. Eddies: whirlpools

4. Cho-fu-Sa: a town some 100 miles walking distance from where the speaker lives

1. The first strophe of this poem ends with “Two small people, without dislike or suspicion.” The second begins with “At fourteen I married My Lord you.” Comment on the transition. What has changed about their relationship in addition to their getting married?

The transition is dramatic. The relationship between the people in the poem has changed as the boy is suddenly “My Lord.”

2. How do the butterflies “hurt” the river-merchant’s wife?

The butterflies hurt the river-merchant’s wife by being “paired,” as she misses being paired with her husband.

Summary of The River Merchants Wife – a letter by Ezra Pound

The River Merchants Wife by Ezra Pound is in the form of a letter. In the voice of a merchant’s wife, the poem tells a story of the woman and her husband
from their early childhood to the present time, when her husband is on a faraway journey.

A lonely wife has written this letter to her husband whom she has not seen for five months. The poem begins with her reminiscences of her childhood when she had met her husband. She recalls pulling flowers at the front gate. He came there on stilts playing horse

In the following two lines of the poem, the speaker implies that they did not grow close right away. After their first meeting they grew up separately.

In second stanza of the poem, she describes that she had married her husband when she was 14 after their marriage. She remained continuously shy. She says that her shyness was either due to respect for subordinates or just because she was an introvert.

In the following stanza she describes that she had become more comfortable with her marriage by the age of 15 and she stopped scowling. She says that one year later her merchant husband went to another village. She says that he has been there for the past five months. She described that the monkey’s sorrowful noise mirrors her loneliness. The sounds that monkeys

make are generally interpreted as chirping, happy sounds, but the weight of the wife’s sorrow is so great that
she can only hear the monkeys’ noise as “sorrowful.”

She writes in her letter that her husband dragged his feet when he left. She means that he did not want to go to another village.
At the end of her letter she writes that if he comes back along the river he should inform her before and she will go there to meet him.

Critical Analysis of The River Merchants Wife – a letter by Ezra Pound

‘The River-Merchant’s Wife: A Letter’ is one of Pound’s most memorable and outstanding translations in Cathay. The source text is a long poem entitled song of Chang-gan composed by Li Bai, the most well-known ancient poet in China. He is regarded as ‘the greatest of Chinese lyric poets and has been given a title literally, Celestial incarnate which means an immortal exiled from heaven: it is used to refer to the most talented literati in China.

It is said that Ezra Pound did not compose this poem. He merely translated it from the original Chinese version written by Li Po also known as Li Bai Since Pound did not know much about the Chinese poetic meter and poetry. He did not try to do much in this poem. He wrote this poem in free verse as a translation. It reads like a short story. The events are presented in a chronological way. Because of the free verse the letter seems to be more authentic. It seems as if it is a real letter from a wife to her husband.

The poem presents the raw emotions of the merchant’s wife. Since it is not an overly structured, the reader is able to get directly into the loneliness of the wife. Lines 25 and 26 are noticeable in the poem because they stand out. They appear in the midst of longer lines. The readers’ attention is immediately caught by these lines as the poem reaches its climax.

In this poem the poet has used time- based imagery because the poem follows the sequence of the characters’ lives. The use of figurative language is also very impressive as the poem proceeds. The setting shifts from spring to autumn. Spring is the symbol of new growth and abundance which indicates blossoming love between the couple. In autumn the growth and greenery slowly begins to wither away. Leaves begin to fall in. The air becomes colder now.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.

The husband is away. The wife longs for his return. She looks sadly at the moss that has grown thicker. The moss is another metaphor that the poet has used to show the passage of time when she is 15. The season is changed and emotional development has taken place.

The other significant symbol in the poem is rivers they keep on flowing and changing. They are just like the relationship between the husband and wife that has evolved. The river is a kind of physical barrier between them. She imagines that he will be travelling along the river. As the poem comes to its end she wonders whether he will be taking the same route back home. She hopes to meet him by the river. During Ezra Pound time the people from the Western world had very little contact with China. His translation of the Chinese poem resulted in a lot of discussion. The landscape that Ezra Pound has described in the poem got the attention of many people in the Western world.

“The River-Merchant’s Wife: A Letter” by Ezra Pound: Questions and Summary

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