‘Tis Better to be Brief

One thing that I’ve learned in the last year is the power of brevity.

Now, I’ve known this, to some extent, ever since I read The Elements of Style back when I first got interested in writing in middle school, but it wasn’t until relatively recently that I realized just how condensed a written work can be. I refer you to Ezra Pound’s famous “In a Station of the Metro.”

Here’s a poem that consists only of two lines and a title. Not only that, but the two lines aren’t even a proper sentence – there’s no predicate. One can say, literally, that nothing happens in this poem. Personally, I was somewhat puzzled by this poem when I first encountered it, and remained so until last year when I had to write an essay on a work of my choice, and chose this poem.

That nothing happens is almost certainly intentional. This is an example of imagist poetry, which, as one might guess, emphasizes the importance of imagery in a poem over high-sounding, elaborate language and flowery description. “Metro” is an extreme example, but that Pound is able to convey any idea at all in a single image is remarkable.

So, what is that idea? My guess is that the poem is an ironic statement on the hectic environment of a metro station. Go to a big-city subway, and see how many people come and go. Quite frenetic, right? Yet, not only does this poem not really describe the action, but as stated above literally nothing happens. There is also a contrast between the people in the crowd and the man-made setting against the natural images used to describe them. The irony is great, and the poem ends up much more powerful and memorable than if Pound had taken the more traditional route and described the metro in longer, more elaborate verse.

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