‘The Garden’ by Ezra Pound is set within the gardens of Kensington, a traditionally wealthy, and upper class neighborhood that is home to Kensington Palace. The poem was published in 1917, only months before the end of of World War I. The War would leave in indelible mark on English society and Pound depicts the beginnings of social change in only twelve lines of poetry.
Summary of The Garden
“The Garden” by Ezra Pound describes the emotional conflict caused by changes in the upper and lower classes of England during the ending months of WWI.
It begins with the introduction of a wealthy woman who is walking through Kensington Gardens. She is extremely graceful, like “loose silk,” but within her is a conflict. She is dying in the world she lives in, the rules of society, and her life of manners, is breaking her “piece-meal” and draining her of human emotion.
She is moving through the garden and passes a “rabble” of poor children. These “infants” are dirty and described as being “unkillable.” They are stronger than the upper classes, certainly stronger than this woman, and will one day “inherit the earth.”
Pound saw a change coming in society and his speaker, is well aware of the conflict that it is creating within this unnamed woman. The speaker can see that she, in one way, wants to be spoken to, but in another, is fearfully of that event occurring. She knows it would be an “indiscretion” opposed of by her family. She wants to reach out to the poor on the streets, but is not quite brave enough yet.
Analysis of The Garden
Like a skein of loose silk blown against a wall
She walks by the railing of a path in Kensington Gardens,
And she is dying piece-meal
of a sort of emotional anemia.
This deeply interesting poem begins with the speaker painting a picture of a woman. This woman is from the upper echelons of society and she is walking through the gardens of Kensington. The speaker is watching the way she moves through the landscape. He speaks of her body through a simile, it is moving like, “a skien,” or collection of loose strings, that are being “blown against a wall.” She moves gently, and gracefully though the landscape and clearly belongs there, but there is something hindering her complete freedom of movement, the wall.
This wall is more than just a part of the scenery it is a representation of the division between the upper levels of society and the lower. She is lightly battering it, and as will be expanded on later, making a halfhearted, unconsidered, attempt to see what life is like on the other side.
The woman is walking along a particular path in the garden that is enclosed by a railing. This railing allows the woman to see the other side of life, but also keeps her separate from it. She is kept out, and the poor are kept in.
She actively tries, just like the others of her class do, to forget entirely about the lower classes. The way she was taught to behave and the sense of being her family gave her, is her compass. But this way of living is dying. She is being broken apart into different pieces of herself, mentally, socially and emotionally. She has looked at the other side of the wall and it has changed her.
It is as if something was opened inside her mind that finally allowed her to see the world more clearly. She is not finished changing and will still have to fight against her own upbringing if she is to improve her moral character.
And round about there is a rabble
Of filthy, sturdy, unkillable infants of the very poor.
They shall inherit the earth.
In her is the end of breeding.
Her boredom is exquisite and excessive.
The reader is now given a glimpse of what is on the other side of “the wall.” All around this area, in Kensington, where the woman is walking, are poor children. They are described as moving in a group, a “rabble” or disorderly crowd. These simple words that Pound provides show the modern reader, who is very far away from England of 1917, what it was like to see the poor from the perspective of someone who lived there.
The speaker goes on to speak of the hardiness of these children. They may be “dirty,” but they are also so “sturdy” they seem to be “unkillable.” Pound also chose to use the word “infant” rather than children. This will increase the sympathy the reader feels for these kids while also emphasizing the fact that they are, in fact, children, they did not ask for this life.
The use of the word “unkillable” in this stanza can be taken in two different ways. It is an apt way to describe the kid’s ability to survive, but it also speaks to the way that many will have seen these children. It is as if they are unable to die, they are always there, and always appear to be sickly, hungry, and “filthy.” Nothing can destroy them.
These children, who are so opposite from the Lords of the ruling class, are said by the speaker to be in line to “inherit the earth.” Pound is quoting from the Bible, from Matthew 5:5 in which Jesus is giving the Sermon on the Mount. He says, according to the King James Version of the Bible, “Blessed are the meek: / for they shall inherit the earth.”
The world is changing and the ruling class will no longer have the endless, and unquestioned power, over the state of England that they do. The poor, hopeless, and “unkillable” will become the next leaders of Britain. This change is coming for them, but another is coming for the “woman” and all others like her.
She is a representation of all the other women of her class that are bored with the lives they are living. This boredom is not used to a help others but grows and grows until it is excessive and overwhelming. “Breeding” is used here to refer to the way she was raised, and to the way that she will “breed,” or give birth and raise her own children. The world is changing and “breeding” will not always be considered a sanctified act.
Lines 10- 12
She would like some one to speak to her,
And is almost afraid that I
will commit that indiscretion.
In the final three lines, or tercet, of the poem the poet expands on the emotions inside the woman’s head and introduces the speaker, in first person, into the narrative.
The narrator speaks for himself for the first time now and as he considers the woman he sees that it is as if she wants someone to speak to her, but not, at the same time. This is part of her internal conflict in which she wants to change, but her ideas of what is socially right or wrong, is not allowing her to.
The speaker knows that he could be the one to approach her, but he also knows, as she looks at him, that she is scared he will do just that. It would be an “indiscretion.” It would breach the societal rules that the woman holds so dear. While a change may be coming to the world, it is approaching slowly, and with extreme caution.
About Ezra Pound
Ezra Pound was born in Hailey, Idaho in October of 1885. He was an only child and when he was young his father moved the family to Philadelphia. There, Pound was raised in a traditional middle class home.
He was educated at Hamilton College and the University of Pennsylvania from which he received his M.A. in 1906. He was well educated in Romance languages and became a professor teaching that same subject in 1907. He only stayed for a year, after which he traveled to Europe. In Venice he published his first book of poems, A lime spento, or With Tapers Quenched. After this he found success England where he published his second and third books of poetry. In 1911, he became the London correspondent for Poetry magazine and was among the first to read and review the work of Robert Frost and D.H. Lawrence. Pound published some of his most important works while living in England.
During WWI Pound spent time in Paris ad well as Italy. He lived there for 25 years and had a daughter with an American, Olga Rudge, and his wife, Dorothy, gave birth to a son.
He continued to published throughout the 1930s but also spent a greater amount of time focusing on history and politics. He made a number of broadcasts during the early 40’s in an attempt to find peace between the US and Italy. He was arrested at one point and spent six months in an American prison camp in Pisa. Pound was sent back to America for trail but was deemed “insane and..unfit for trial” and instead spent 12 years in a hospital for the criminally insane. He returned to Venice where he continued to write for the rest of his life, he died in 1972.