Get out the microscope, because we’re going through this poem line-by-line.
The apparition of these faces in the crowd;
- The poet is watching faces appear in a crowded metro (subway) station.
- You wouldn’t know it only from reading the poem, but we’re in Paris, which means that everyone looks really nice.
- The poet is trying to get us to see things from his perspective, and the word "apparition" suggests that the faces are becoming visible to him very suddenly and probably disappearing just as fast. They almost look like ghosts. If you’ve ever been in a crowded subway, then you’re probably familiar with this phenomenon.
- By calling them "these faces," he puts us right there in the metro station, as if he were pointing his finger and saying, "Look!"
- The station must be pretty full, because there is a "crowd."
Petals on a wet, black bough.
- Although he doesn’t say so, the words "looks like" are implicit at the start of this line. The faces in the crowd "look like" flower petals on a "wet, black bough."
- A "bough" is a big tree branch, and the word, in case you’re wondering, is pronounced "bow," as in "take a bow."
- When is a tree branch wet and black? Probably at night, after the rain. A Paris subway, on the other hand, is always wet and black.
- Now, we’re going out on a limb here (pun!), but he may be seeing the faces reflected in a puddle over black asphalt. Or it could just be a more general sense of wetness. At any rate, the faces in the subway are being compared to flowers on a tree branch.
- Another fact to keep in mind is that Japan is famous for its beautiful flowering trees, and considering that this poem is written in Japanese haiku style . . . well, heck, he might just be thinking of a Japanese tree.