In ‘The Encounter’ Pound taps into themes of modernism, relationships, and perceptions. The poem is short, reminiscent of works like ‘Fragment’ and ‘In a Station of the Metro’. The speaker is direct, as Pound’s speaker often are. But, the mood and the events described are hard to pin down, creating an unstable and uncertain mood.
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Summary of The Encounter
The poem brings the reader immediately into a scene in which modern life is the subject of discussion. There is a group, talking over the changes of their modern world while a woman keeps her eyes trained on the speaker. He recalls this, and also how he left the room and felt her fingers on his skin. They were like Japanese tissue.
You can read the full poem The Encounter here.
Structure of The Encounter
‘The Encounter’ by Ezra Pound is a five-line poem that is contained within a single stanza of text. The lines in this poem are short, as is the poem itself. They use between four and nine words each and aside from the first line (which is the longest), are visually similar in length. Pound did not use a rhyme scheme or metrical pattern in the piece, meaning that this poem is written in free verse. This is a common feature in his work.
Although it is often thought that free verse writing is devoid of figurative language and poetic techniques, that is most definitely 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 that was interested in the use of precise imagery and clear language. Pound, and other writers such as Hilda Doolittle, rejected the sentimental themes and traditional styles of Romantic and Georgian poets and looked towards a new style of writing that embodied their contemporary life.
Poetic Techniques in The Encounter
Pound makes use of several poetic techniques in ‘The Encounter’. These include but are not limited to alliteration, allusion, imagery, and enjambment. As one might imagine considering the name of Pound’s movement, “Imagism,” imagery is the most important technique at work in ‘The Encounter’.
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 most poignant and clear image is that of the woman’s figures in the final lines. Pound uses a simile (a comparison that uses “like” or “as”) to say her fingers are like “the tissue / Of a Japanese paper napkin”.
Another important technique commonly used in poetry is enjambment. It occurs when a line is cut off before its natural stopping point. Enjambment forces a reader down to the next line, and the next, quickly. One has to move forward in order to comfortably resolve a phrase or sentence. It can be seen in the transition between lines one and two as well as that between lines three, four, and five.
Alliteration occurs when words are used in succession, or at least appear close together, and begin with the same sound. For example, “eyes” and “explored” in line two. An allusion is an expression that’s meant to call something specific to mind without directly stating it. In this case, the phrase “new morality” in the first line is likely an allusion to the larger modernist discussion that Pound, those within the Imagist movement, and those within the larger movement of Modernism were engaging in on a regular basis.
Analysis of The Encounter
All the while they were talking the new morality
Her eyes explored me
In the first lines of ‘The Encounter,’ the speaker begins by describing the scene. He is in a room with an unknown group. He doesn’t say how many people there were but they included a woman who shows a clear interest in him. The first line references their discussion, one of “the new morality”. This is a vague phrase and without obvious contextual details, it’s possible to know for sure what Pound meant. But, it is easy to guess.
Pound was at the forefront of the imagist movement. It was one of the founding branches of the larger modernist movement that singled a shift from old ways of thinking, pre-WWII, to the new ways of thinking about writing, literature, art, and social and political belief systems.
What is interesting about this line is the fact that he says that “they were talking”. He does not include himself in this discussion. There is something, likely the woman, keeping him out of it. Pound uses alliteration in the second line to describe the way her eyes remained on the speaker. They sought him out and are exploring him as the people engaged in the conversation are exploring the new world they are a part of.
Of a Japanese paper napkin.
In the last lines, it is unclear exactly what happened between the two. One interpretation might hold that Pound’s speaker left the room without the woman. He briefly felt her fingers and then they were gone. Another might suggest that she left with him and her touch was on his arm as they walked together.
Either way, the image is an interesting one. It presents this woman, and perhaps all women, as fragile and delicate. She is very light, thin, and easy to tear Japanese paper. This is a lovely image, but one that is also promoting a specific way of understanding women that has not shifted with their “new morality”.