In ‘Salutation’ Pound addresses themes of happiness/unhappiness, wealth/poverty, and the purpose of life. Through the ten lines of this short poem the speaker’s direct and unforgiving tone analyses the lives of the rich and poor and compares them. This analysis creates a mood that propels a reader towards self-reflection.
Summary of Salutation
The poem contrasts these two sides of society by discussing their different natures, desires, and interactions. The latter clearly and the former obliquely. The fishermen sit with their families and laugh while caring nothing for the “tidy” lives of the rich. They take more pleasure from one another and from their small rewards than the rich do with all their many objects and comforts.
You can read the full poem Salutation here.
Structure of Salutation
‘Salutation’ by Ezra Pound is a ten-line poem that is contained within one stanza of text. The lines do not follow a specific rhyme scheme or metrical pattern, a form of writing known as free verse. It is often thought that free verse writing is devoid of figurative language and poetic techniques, all the things that make poetry poetry, but that is certainly not the case. This particular poem has both, as well as the stylistic markers of the imagist movement that Pound lead.
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. Pound, and other writers such as H.D., also rejected the sentimental themes and traditional styles of Romantic and Georgian poets.
Poetic Techniques in Salutation
Pound makes use of several poetic techniques in ‘Salutation’. These include but are not limited to anaphora, imagery, and metaphor. The first, anaphora, is the repetition of a word or phrase at the beginning of multiple lines, usually in succession. This technique is often used to create emphasis. A list of phrases, items, or actions may be created through its implementation. For example, the use of “I have seen” at the beginnings of lines three, four, and five, as well as “And” at the beginning of line seven, eight, nine, and ten.
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 the imagery is much more than that. It is something one can sense with their five senses. In the case of ‘Salutation’ the most poignant images are those of the fishermen picnicking in the sun and the “ungainly laughter” they engaged in.
There is a great metaphor at the end of the poem where the speaker references a fish without clothes. Rather than the glorious possessions of the rich, the happy fish has only its scales. This concludes the poem, reminding the “thoroughly smug” that possessions or “clothes” are not what makes you happy.
Analysis of Salutation
O generation of the thoroughly smug
I have seen them with untidy families,
In the first lines of ‘Salutation’, the speaker begins by addressing the “generation of the thoroughly smug”. This is a metaphor for the rich, entitled, and powerful. He is speaking to anyone who feels safe and secure in their lifestyle and income. He contrasts their safety, and what should be happiness, with the phrase “thoroughly uncomfortable” in the second line. They are in reality unhappy and incapable of being comforted. They live lives that separate them from the simple pleasures that should bring human beings happiness, as the next lines explain.
Pound juxtaposes the uncomfortable lives of the rich with those of the poor. He speaks about fishermen and their families who sit outside in the sun having picnics. They are far happier and more content than the rich ever will be. They have “untidy families”. This refers to their general upkeep and how they handle their day to day lives. Their interactions, possessions, words, and actions are less structured and refined than the rich. This is one of the many elements that in the end adds to their happiness rather than taking away from it.
I have seen their smiles full of teeth
And they were happier than I am;
In the fifth line of ‘Salutation’, the speaker continues to describe what it is about these families that make them superior to the rich. Pound also uses the phrase ‘I have seen” for the third time in a row, providing the reader with an example of anaphora. Their “smiles are full of teeth,” his speaker adds. They also have “ungainly” laughs. This is part of their “untidy” nature. They do not control their emotions for the sake of others but instead express them as they please.
In the next line, the speaker places himself firmly into the narrative. He is not just an observer but part of the poem’s hierarchy. He is happier than the rich but the poor are happier than he is. The speaker is somewhere in the middle between these two poles. From his potion, he’s able to analyze both sides and see where people end up and how they behave.
And the fish swim in the lake
and do not even own clothing.
The last two lines of ‘Salutation’ are a perfect metaphor that summarizes everything the speaker has been talking about. He refers to the “fish” in the lake that “do not even own clothing”. They are happier and more contented in their scales than the human beings who own everything that they could ever want, and more. He is seemingly advocating in these lines for a life of fewer possessions and hard work.