Throughout the short lines of ‘The Sea of Glass,’ the poet uses symbols like the sea, rainbows, gold, and the sky, to create a narrative that’s likely about love, lost love, and the afterlife. Depending on how one reads it, that is. Like a lot of Pound’s poetry, he manages to say a lot with very few words. This is why it’s often hard to land on one solid interpretation of his work.
Explore The Sea of Glass
The poet’s speaker depicts the sea, with rainbows covering it like a roof in the first lines. With this magical backdrop, he goes on to describe lovers meeting and departing in the midst of each and the faces in the sky, backed with gold. It’s up to the reader to truly determine Pound’s purpose in bringing together these images.
Structure and Form
‘The Sea of Glass’ by Ezra Pound is a six-line poem that is contained within one stanza of text. The original poem contains an interesting use of indention with the even-numbered lines spaced in significantly farther than the odd-numbered lines. This is a technique that’s used to control the reader’s eye and the way in which it moves on the page. Sometimes, this kind of spacing is used for a visual reason, to mimic the feeling of water, make a shape, etc.
This piece is a traditional imagist poem, meaning that it does not make sure of a specific rhyme scheme or metrical pattern. The imagist sought out this means of writing in order to get away from the confining traditions of the movements before theirs.
Pound makes use of several literary devices in ‘The Sea of Glass,’ despite the fact that the poem is written in free verse and is only six lines long. These include but are not limited to alliteration, imagery, and enjambment. The first of these, alliteration, is a common type of repetition that occurs when the poet uses the same consonant sound at the beginning of words that are close to one another. For example, “roofed” and “rainbows” in line two and “saw” and “sea” in line one. “Full of faces” and “gold glories” are two more examples in the final two lines.
Imagery is always an important literary device in poetry, but in imagist poems, it takes center stage. These poems use clear and direct language to create the most poignant images possible. This is evident in the first two lines of the poem as the poet depicts a sea “roofed over with rainbows.”
I looked and saw a sea
roofed over with rainbows,
In the first lines of ‘The Sea of Glass,’ the speaker begins by describing what sounds like a dream-like or imagined scene. He looked in an unspecified direction and “saw a sea.” This isn’t unusual in and of itself, but the following lines, stating that it was “roofed over with rainbows.” This is naturally something that could happen, although the word choice makes it seem as though the rainbows are covering the sky, completely obscuring the sky itself, creating a new roof over the water. The alliteration in this line also helps create a feeling of rhythm, adding to the atmosphere Pound is creating.
In the midst of each
two lovers met and departed;
In the next lines, the speaker adds to the scene. He describes how in the “midst,” which could mean inside or directly underneath, of each rainbow, there were two lovers. They met and departed. This suggests the full range of emotions. Love at its height and the end of love, by choice or necessity, and sorrow at its height as the two separate. This thoughtful image could be read as a metaphor for all lovers throughout time, with the sea as a unifying force, connecting them all.
Then the sky was full of faces
with gold glories behind them.
The feeling of transcendence, though time, love, and space, continues into the next lines. The speaker talked about the sky and how, when he looked up to it, he saw it was “full of faces.” The depiction of them with “gold glories behind them” is impossible to ignore as religious imagery. A face in the sky instantly connects to God, usually the Christian God. The “gold” is suggestive of halos or divinity.
Readers are left with several questions, though. Whose faces are these? The lovers? The faces of deceased loves? Perhaps the pairs of lovers were parting because one passed away, with the rainbow as a symbol of one’s path to the next life. Since Pound does not provide any more detail, it’s up to the reader to determine what they think.
- ‘In a Station at the Metro’ – is one of Pound’s best-known poems. It is usually hailed as the perfect imagist composition.
- ‘The Return’ – was written in 1913 and describes the return of gods who are unsure of the strength they now possess and what influence they have on the people of earth.
- ‘The Cantos’ – a collection of 116 cantos that are a landmark success of the Modernist movement, of which imagism was a part.