The apparition of these faces in a crowd;
Petals on a wet, black bough.
In this quick poem, Pound describes watching faces appear in a metro station. It is unclear whether he is writing from the vantage point of a passenger on the train itself or on the platform. The setting is Paris, France, and as he describes these faces as a "crowd," meaning the station is quite busy. He compares these faces to "petals on a wet, black bough," suggesting that on the dark subway platform, the people look like flower petals stuck on a tree branch after a rainy night.
The brevity of this poem can be intimidating to analyze; after all, how much can a poet possibly convey in merely two lines? However, the shortness of this poem fits with its topic; when reading, the words flash by quickly, just as a subway speeds away from the platform in an instant. The doors open quickly, revealing a sea of faces, and then close again - the faces are gone after a fleeting glance. This poem's length and quick pace matches the constant motion of a train as it speeds by.
Though short, this poem is very sensory in nature; it allows the reader to imagine a scene while reading the lines. Through Pound's economical description of these faces as "petals on a wet, black bough," he is able to invoke a transient tone.
This poem is also a clear example of the Imagist style. Victorian poets would frequently use an abundance of flowery adjectives and lengthy descriptions in their poems. Yet Pound employs a Modernist approach to "In a Station of the Metro," using only a few descriptive words (and no verbs among them) to successfully get his point across.
Pound uses the word "apparition," which is a ghostly, otherworldly figure, something ephemeral that fades in and out of view. By using this word, Pound reveals surprise at seeing this sea of faces as the subway doors open, which, for a brief moment, fills him with a sense of awe and astonishment. Also, the impermanence of the image gives the poem a melancholy tone, as if Pound is contemplating the fragility of life.
Pound connects images of petals and boughs to a mass of humanity - linking a man-made metropolitan scene with the cycles of nature. Pound's use of living metaphors adds to the fleeting tone of this poem. Flowers and trees, like human beings on a metro, are constantly moving, growing, and changing. This short glimpse through the metro doors is the only time that group of people will be as they are in that instant. Similarly, no two petals will ever look exactly the same, as rains come and go, winters freeze, and new buds bloom.