Garret Kaoru Hongo: On "The River-Merchant's Wife: A Letter"

"The River-Merchant's Wife: A Letter" contains, for me, the keys to a method and a style in free verse, coupling with the Whitmanic principle of the syntactic and rhythmic integrity of the line with Pound's insistence on an imagistic "hardness" he found in the Provençal and Anglo-Saxon poetry he was also translating at this time. Notice the method of imagistic indirection by way of descriptive statement here, Locke's "simples" as opposed to his "compounds" -- what Pound called, in that famous essay he developed from Fenollosa's notes, the "ideogrammic method." Here also is the Chinese principle of poetic and metaphysical parallelism at work, with the added attraction of the enumerative, complex sentence -- a contribution from English rather than the Chinese. These are techniques which have all become the familiar stock-in-trade of free verse practitioners through the Modern and contemporary periods. The style also imports a tender, melancholic tone into English that is at once intimate and nostalgic without being overtly sentimental or formally elegiac as was so much of the late Victorian work against which Pound was trying to rebel. It is a new sound and somehow, for me, it remains as much so as does the saxophone and trumpet of John Coltrane and Miles Davis in the sextet that recorded Kind of Blue in the late 1950s.

From The Line in Postmodern Poetry. Ed. Robert Frank and Henry Sayre. Copyright © 1988 by the Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois.


Title Garret Kaoru Hongo: On "The River-Merchant's Wife: A Letter" Type of Content Criticism
Criticism Author Garret Kaoru Hongo Criticism Target Ezra Pound
Criticism Type Poet Originally Posted 06 Oct 2015
Publication Status Excerpted Criticism Publication The Line in Postmodern Poetry
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