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Literary Devices in The River Merchant's Wife: A Letter

Ezra Pound translated prolific Chinese poet Li Po’s poems into English, despite having no knowledge of Chinese Mandarin. As such, Pound’s poems are autonomous interpretations rather than literal translations. They incorporate much of Pound’s avant-garde style, a literary movement that used unusual or experimental forms to communicate their themes. Pound was one of the poets at the forefront of Imagism, a literary movement that prized clarity, rhythm, and vivid, sensuous imagery. Traditional Chinese or Eastern poetry shared a number of these poetic tendencies and would have undoubtedly appealed to Pound for this reason.

Literary Devices Examples in The River Merchant's Wife: A Letter:

Text of the Poem

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"Please let me know beforehand..."   (Text of the Poem)

Here's where the poem's structure first suggests that it's a letter. In the first five stanzas, the speaker provides a summary of her relationship with her husband, the "you" of the poem, even though he knows all of this already. It seems written for the reader's benefit, not his. Only the last stanzas begins to sound like a letter written to him. It could be that the final stanza alone functions as a letter, with the previous six examining her reasons for writing it.

"living in the village of Chokan..."   (Text of the Poem)

Here it's important to note that Pound didn't write "The River Merchant's Wife" but rather translated it from the original Chinese, written by Li Po. Li Po's natural images and Eastern sensibility would've appealed to Pound as one of the founding members of Imagism, a movement in poetry dedicated to clarity, rhythm, and precision in diction. Pound's translation is one of the most faithful and well-known, with the only major change being the title, originally written as "Chang'an Memories."

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