Pound’s Description of a Long Marriage

Mary Wallace, "The River Merchant's Wife"

Mary Wallace, “The River Merchant’s Wife”

I am returning from Peru today on my wedding anniversary so here’s a poem for Julia. We have been married for 42 years.

Ezra Pound’s “River-Merchant’s Wife,” which I first encountered in high school, has become ever more meaningful as my own marriage has evolved and matured. In the early years, as in the poem, we were as children. I identify with those tiny moments that make up a marriage, such as when the wife imagines her dust being mingled with her husband’s (which is to say, accepting that they are in the relationship for the long haul) and when she notes him dragging his feet when he leaves her. My own feet dragged as I left on this Peru trip and metaphorical monkeys made sorrowful noise overhead.

Julia and I are growing older—the paired butterflies are yellow with August—and in our case the grass, not the moss, is growing. But Julia promises that she will come out to meet me. As far as Dulles Airport. 

The River-Merchant’s Wife: A Letter

After Li Po

By Ezra Pound

While my hair was still cut straight across my forehead
I played about the front gate, pulling flowers.
You came by on bamboo stilts, playing horse,
You walked about my seat, playing with blue plums.   
And we went on living in the village of Chōkan:
Two small people, without dislike or suspicion.   
At fourteen I married My Lord you.
I never laughed, being bashful.
Lowering my head, I looked at the wall.
Called to, a thousand times, I never looked back.

At fifteen I stopped scowling,
I desired my dust to be mingled with yours
Forever and forever, and forever.
Why should I climb the look out?

At sixteen you departed
You went into far Ku-tō-en, by the river of swirling eddies,
And you have been gone five months.
The monkeys make sorrowful noise overhead.

You dragged your feet when you went out.
By the gate now, the moss is grown, the different mosses,
Too deep to clear them away!
The leaves fall early this autumn, in wind.
The paired butterflies are already yellow with August
Over the grass in the West garden;
They hurt me.
I grow older.
If you are coming down through the narrows of the river Kiang,
Please let me know beforehand,
And I will come out to meet you
                       As far as Chō-fū-Sa.

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