The River-Merchant's Wife: A Letter
by Ezra Pound
Environment and Geography
Like monkeys? Like maps? You're in luck: "The River-Merchant's Wife" has both! The poem also name-drops. Because Pound was working off somebody else's notes, he uses the Japanese names of actual Chinese landmarks. The various references to real places represent China as a whole to Pound's contemporary readers. By representing China as a lush garden filled with exotic animals and obedient wives, the readers of the past might not have had the same impressions that readers today will. Hopefully you can better understand that China is a complex nation with a wide variety of people and landscapes.
- Lines 2-4: Flowers, plums, bamboo: these are elements of the children's play, and reflect their (initially) happy connection to their natural environment.
- Line 16: Pound turns a river, Ku-to-en, into the name of a region. This changes the geographical landscape from a background into a dwelling place.
- Line 18: Here, the speaker writes as though the monkeys understand, and share in, her sorrow. The speaker's mood is reflected in (or does it affect?) the natural environment in which she lives.
- Lines 20-21: Nature has almost overgrown the garden (a.k.a. controlled nature). The unruly mosses symbolize the sorrow that threatens to overtake the speaker.
- Line 22: The falling leaves are symbolic of decline, and represent the end of summer. The time of warmth has come to an end, both in terms of the weather and the speaker's relationship.
- Lines 29-30: This reference to a real place is tricky, because most Western readers won't realize just how far the wife is willing to travel out to meet her husband. Hint: it's hundreds of miles!