© 2016 Shmoop University, Inc. All rights reserved.
The River-Merchant's Wife: A Letter

The River-Merchant's Wife: A Letter


by Ezra Pound

Analysis: Speaker

Upon first glance, the speaker seems to merely be a dedicated wife. However, if we look a little closer, we find the details and nuances of her personality. We discover that she's a sensitive person who has emotional needs like everyone else on this planet. Her life now seems solitary, but then again, this isolation recalls her childhood, with long hours spent picking flowers (with no one to give them to) out by the gates of her family home. As she writes her letter (the poem), she faces even longer hours, waiting for her husband to return from his trip.

Of course, she never comes out and tells us any of this. We can only sense the mood of the speaker indirectly from her poetic, and detailed, descriptions. How do we guess that she might not have been happy about her marriage at first? Well, she "lower[ed] [her] head" and "looked at the wall" (9). And how do we know that she's unhappy now? One sign: "The monkeys make sorrowful noise overhead" (18). Finally, how much does our speaker miss her husband? She would "come out to meet [him] / As far as Cho-fu-Sa," (29-30) hundreds of miles away.

We don't think that this speaker is just being shy here. We think that she's actually modeling a poetic philosophy that was championed by one of Ezra Pound's contemporaries, another poet named William Carlos Williams. He said, famously, "No ideas but in things," which is a loftier way of putting another common maxim for all successful writing: show, don't tell. In both cases (though Williams had other, more complex notions in mind, too), these mottos emphasize the importance of specific detail in conveying ideas to a reader. In other words, don't just say that someone is beautiful. Give us the deets, man! Hair color, eye color, fashion sense—the devil of good writing is always, always in the details.

And the speaker seems to really get this. In a poem that was written by a poet who was very conscious of pushing the envelope in poetry writing, our speaker is a model writer in her own right!

People who Shmooped this also Shmooped...