Ezra Pound

Two versions of one of Pound’s best-known pieces:

In a Station of the Metro

The apparition       of these faces     in the crowd  :
Petals      on a wet, black    bough  .

— Ezra Pound

Yes, the earlier version of the poem is really supposed to be formatted like this. (Here’s how it was originally published in Poetry in April 1913.)

Here’s how it was published in Pound’s Personae:

In a Station of the Metro

The apparition of these faces in the crowd;
Petals on a wet, black bough.

— Ezra Pound

Pound on the process of writing this poem: “I wrote a thirty-line poem, and destroyed it because it was what we call work ‘of second intensity.’ Six months later I made a poem half that length; a year later I made [this] hokku-like sentence.”

Here’s more commentary on this poem.

Which version do you think is better?

More background, and other poems:


H. D. Imagiste

“In Greek mythology, an Oread…was a type of nymph that lived in mountains, valleys, or ravines.”


Whirl up, sea—
whirl your pointed pines,
splash your great pines
on our rocks,
hurl your green over us,
cover us with your pools of fir.

— H. D.

Published in 1915. Only two words in the poem have more than one syllable!

More background, and other poems:

Translation: Matsuo Basho

To start, here is the original text of one of the most famous haiku ever written:


furuike ya
kawazu tobikomu
mizu no oto

— Matsuo Basho

(More background on and other poems by Matsuo Basho.)

Next, five of many ‘straightforward’ translations:

A lonely pond in age-old stillness sleeps…
Apart, unstirred by sound or motion…till
Suddenly into it a lithe frog leaps.

Pond, there, still and old!
A frog has jumped from the shore.
The splash can be heard.

Ah! The ancient pond
As a frog takes the plunge
Sound of the water

The old pond, yes, and
A frog-jumping-in-the-
Water’s noise!

old pond……
a frog leaps in
water’s sound

old pond
frog leaping

This poem also drew the more experimental efforts of bpNichol:


The Queerness of It All



Basho Update
as read in a newspaper

Frog Pond turns into
a gold mine


(“His last variation, apparently never published…the circle is the pond, and the tail is the frog’s diving board.”)


Following in bpNichol’s footsteps, here are some other experimental translations of this haiku.


So what do you like best? The traditional or the experimental? The textual or the visual? What’s the most faithful translation? How much should ‘faithfulness’ matter when translating poetry?

Juxtaposed: Merwin and Atwood

I like juxtaposing these two short poems because they both take familiar (and similar) images and turn them on their heads, and yet do so to opposite effects and purposes:


Your absence has gone through me
Like thread through a needle.
Everything I do is stitched with its color.

— W. S. Merwin

From The Moving Target (1963).

you fit into me
like a hook into an eye

a fish hook
an open eye

— Margaret Atwood

From Power Politics (1971).

More background, and other poems:

Translation: Osip Mandelstam

Should translations of rhyming poetry also rhyme? Below are two translations of the same poem—the second of which makes much use of full and slant rhymes. Is one a better poem? Is one more accurate? Does one demonstrate greater skill in translation? (I don’t know!)

The Age
Translated by Clarence Brown and W. S. Merwin

My animal, my age, who will ever be able
to look into your eyes?
Who will ever glue back together the vertebrae
of two centuries with his blood?
Blood the maker gushes
from the throats of the things of earth.
Already the hanger-on is trembling
on the sills of days to come.

Blood the maker gushes
from the throats of the things of earth
and flings onto a beach like a burning fish
a hot sand of sea-bones,
and down from the high bird-net,
out of the wet blocks of sky
it pours, pours, heedlessly
over your death-wound.

Only a metal the flute has melted
will link up the strings of days
until a time is torn out of jail
and the world starts new.
The age is rocking the wave
with human grief
to a golden beat, and an adder
is breathing in time with it in the grass.

The buds will go on swelling,
the rush of green will explode,
but your spine has been shattered,
my splendid derelict, my age.
Cruel and feeble, you’ll look back
with the smile of a half-wit:
an animal that could run once,
staring at his own tracks.

— Osip Mandelstam

Written in 1923. Translation from The Selected Poems of Osip Mandelstam.
The Age
Translator unknown

My beast, my age, who will try
to look you in the eye,
and weld the vertebrae
of century to century,
with blood? Creating blood
pours out of mortal things:
only the parasitic shudder,
when the new world sings.

As long as it still has life,
the creature lifts its bone,
and, along the secret line
of the spine, waves foam.
Once more life’s crown,
like a lamb, is sacrificed,
cartilage under the knife –
the age of the new-born.

To free life from jail,
and begin a new absolute,
the mass of knotted days
must be linked by means of a flute.
With human anguish
the age rocks the wave’s mass,
and the golden measure’s hissed
by a viper in the grass.

And new buds will swell, intact,
the green shoots engage,
but your spine is cracked
my beautiful, pitiful, age.
And grimacing dumbly, you writhe,
look back, feebly, with cruel jaws,
a creature, once supple and lithe,
at the tracks left by your paws.

— Osip Mandelstam

Giorgio Agamben discusses this poem in his essay “What is the Contemporary?,” using yet another translation (of which excerpts can be read).

Here’s a translation of an earlier version of this poem.

More background, and other poems:

Billy Collins


Today I pass the time reading
a favorite haiku,
saying the few words over and over.

It feels like eating
the same small, perfect grape
again and again.

I walk through the house reciting it
and leave its letters falling
through the air of every room.

I stand by the big silence of the piano and say it.
I say it in front of a painting of the sea.
I tap out its rhythm on an empty shelf.

I listen to myself saying it,
then I say it without listening,
then I hear it without saying it.

And when the dog looks up at me,
I kneel down on the floor
and whisper it into each of his long white ears.

It’s the one about the one-ton temple bell
with the moth sleeping on its surface,

and every time I say it, I feel the excruciating
pressure of the moth
on the surface of the iron bell.

When I say it at the window,
the bell is the world
and I am the moth resting there.

When I say it at the mirror,
I am the heavy bell
and the moth is life with its papery wings.

And later, when I say it to you in the dark,
you are the bell,
and I am the tongue of the bell, ringing you,

and the moth has flown
from its line
and moves like a hinge in the air above our bed.

— Billy Collins

From Picnic, Lightning (1998).

More background, and other poems:

Sonnet by bpNichol

dear Captain Poetry,
your poetry is trite.
you cannot write a sonnet
tho you’ve tried to every night
since i’ve known you.
we’re thru!!
Madame X

dear Madame X

Look how the sun leaps now upon our faces
Stomps & boots our eyes into our skulls
Drives all thot to weird & foreign places
Till the world reels & the kicked mind dulls,
Drags our hands up across our eyes
Sends all white hurling into black
Makes the inner cranium our skies
And turns all looks sent forward burning back.
And you, my lady, who should be gentler, kind,
Have yet the fiery aspect of the sun
Sending words to burn into my mind
Destroying all my feelings one by one;
You who should have tiptoed thru my halls
Have slammed my doors & smashed me into walls

Cap Poetry

— bpNichol

More background, and other poems: