Reminiscent of other poems such as ‘In a Station of the Metro,’ ‘L’Art’ is a memorable short poem that expresses all the tenants of the imagist movement. In the piece Pound taps into themes of life, death, art, and beauty. The tone is direct and enthusiastic, which taken into consideration alongside the imagery, creates an uneasy mood as the reader is unsure what they should make of the images Pound is painting with his words.
Summary of L’Art
In the two lines of ‘L’Art’ the speaker describes a striking sight, that of green arsenic on a white cloth and crushed strawberries. Due to the length of the poem each word is of the utmost importance. A reader should consider the implications associated with arsenic, the colors green and red, together and separately, as well as the clear comparison being drawn between poison and fruit.
You can read the full poem here.
Structure of L’Art
‘L’Art’ by Ezra Pound is a two-line poem that is contained within one small stanza of text. Pound did not choose to use matching end rhymes in these two lines but he did structure the meter similarly. The lines each contain ten syllables, but the pattern of stresses changes between the two. The brevity of this poem, its focus on imagery, and an immediate reaction to that imagery is characteristic of Pound’s poetry and the imagist movement that he leads.
Imagism was a literary movement of the early 20th century. The proponents and participants were interested in the use of precise imagery and clear language. Imagists rejected the sentimental themes and traditional styles of Romantic and Georgian poets. The powerful and strikingly clear imagery in this piece is a great example of what this type of writing can accomplish.
Poetic Techniques in L’Art
Pound makes use of several poetic techniques in ‘L’Art’. These include but are not limited to imagery, juxtaposition, and alliteration. The first of these is, as stated above, the most important. Imagery refers to the elements of a poem that engage a reader’s senses. Traditionally, the word “image” is related to visual sights, things that a reader can imagine seeing, but imagery is much more than that. It is something one can sense with their five senses. In this case, the imagery is obvious and unavoidable. Without it, there would be no poem. It is truly, as the second line states a “feast” for one’s eyes.
Juxtaposition is used in this poem through the placing of two contrasting things near one another in order to emphasize that contrast. A poet usually does this in order to emphasize a larger theme of their text or make an important point about the differences between these two things. In this case, juxtaposition is used to emphasize the magmas themselves. By putting the bright green on the white cloth and the red strawberries in the second line following the “Green arsenic” the poet is painting an image of contrasts in the reader’s mind. One should also consider the contrast between the sweet, delicious strawberries, and the poisonous green arsenic.
Alliteration occurs when words are used in succession, or at least appear close together, and begin with the same sound. For example, “egg” and “eyes” and “cloth” and “crushed”.
Analysis of L’Art
Green arsenic smeared on an egg-white cloth,
In the first line of ‘L’Art’ the speaker begins by introducing arsenic. It is a highly poisonous naturally occurring element that is widely distributed throughout the world. It is commonly used as a poison and it can also be used as a green dye, something that was done during the Victorian period and inevitably led to death through periods of prolonged exposure. The color green is placed on the “egg-white cloth”. It stands out there, as it’s meant to. The image should capture the reader’s attention for its purity and obvious implications.
A reader can take their time and read deeply into each one of these lines. There are numerous questions one might ask, especially considering the title. Is the arsenic there for a purpose? Is it there simply for the artistic beauty of green on white, contrasted with red in the next line?
In the second line of ‘L’Art’ the speaker uses juxtaposition to place the color read, the opposite of green, next to it. There are “Crushed strawberries!” the speaker exclaims. The excitement in this line is clear with the use of an exclamation mark. The speaker does not say that “we” need to eat the strawberries or, thankfully, the arsenic. We should instead “feast our eyes” on them. We should enjoy the sight of the two colors and two very different items in conversation.
Pound is asking the reader to consider the value in the contrast and the juxtaposition. It should foster in the reader a reaction similar to that one has upon seeing a beautiful work of art. The colors are just as striking and memorable and the subject matter gets to the heart of one of the most important themes in writing and art, life, and death.