'Villanelle : The Psychological Hour' by Ezra Pound


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I had over prepared the event,
that much was ominous.
With middle-ageing care
I had laid out just the right books.
I had almost turned down the pages.

Beauty is so rare a thing.
So few drink of my fountain.

So much barren regret,
So many hours wasted!
And now I watch, from the window,
the rain, the wandering busses.

"Their little cosmos is shaken" -
the air is alive with that fact.
In their parts of the city
they are played on by diverse forces.
How do I know?
Oh, I know well enough.
For them there is something afoot.
As for me;
I had over-prepared the event -

Beauty is so rare a thing.
So few drink of my fountain.

Two friends: a breath of the forest. . .
Friends? Are people less friends
because one has just, at last, found them?
Twice they promised to come.

"Between the night and the morning?"
Beauty would drink of my mind.
Youth would awhile forget
my youth is gone from me.


(Speak up! You have danced so stiffly?
Someone admired your works,
And said so frankly.

"Did you talk like a fool,
The first night?
The second evening?"

"But they promised again:
'To-morrow at tea-time'.")


Now the third day is here -
no word from either;
No word from her nor him,
Only another man's note:
"Dear Pound, I am leaving England."

Editor 1 Interpretation

Ezra Pound's "The Psychological Hour": A Study in Villanelle Form and Psychological Depth

As a literary form, the villanelle is a challenging one. Composed of nineteen lines, with a specific rhyme scheme and repeated lines, it requires a poet to be both precise and inventive. Ezra Pound's "The Psychological Hour" is a masterful example of the form, but it is also more than that. The poem explores the fragility of the human psyche, the deceptive nature of time, and the inevitability of death. In this piece, I will provide a close reading of "The Psychological Hour" and argue that it is a profound meditation on the human condition.

First, let us consider the poem's form. The villanelle consists of five tercets and a concluding quatrain. In "The Psychological Hour," Pound uses a traditional rhyme scheme of ABA, with the first and third lines of each tercet repeating as the last two lines of the following tercet. The final quatrain repeats the first and third lines of the first tercet as its second and fourth lines. This repetition creates a sense of circularity, of being trapped in a cycle of time that cannot be escaped. The poem's title itself references the psychological concept of the hour, a period of heightened emotional sensitivity that occurs during the day. In this way, Pound's form and title work together to create a sense of psychological intensity and temporal entrapment.

The poem's opening lines set the tone for what is to come:

The clocks' hands point to psychological hour—
The clock-winder's arrived: "Wind me up tight!"
He unlooses helices and spring's power.

The speaker begins by drawing our attention to the hands of the clocks, which "point to psychological hour." The repetition of "clocks" and "hands" emphasizes their importance in the poem. The second line introduces the figure of the clock-winder, who is immediately associated with the idea of being "wound up tight." This phrase has multiple meanings; it can refer to the physical act of winding a clock or to the emotional tension that builds up within a person. The third line emphasizes the power of the spring that drives the clock, suggesting that there is a force behind our psychological states that we cannot control.

As the poem progresses, the speaker explores the theme of time and its impact on the human psyche. In the second tercet, he writes:

The hour strikes and strikes: in psychological air
Knives bow and bend, the tongues like serpents hiss,
The clock-winder waits, his heart in despair.

The repetition of "strikes" emphasizes the relentlessness of time, which is represented by the striking of the hour. The similes of "knives" and "serpents" create a sense of danger and threat, suggesting that the psychological hour is not a pleasant experience. The clock-winder's despair is also emphasized, suggesting that even those who are intimately connected to the passage of time are not immune to its effects.

In the third tercet, the speaker continues to explore the psychological hour:

The hour strikes and strikes: now falls the glare
Of street-lamps: "Do not fear, all is well," cry
The watchmen, "All is well"—but, is it there?

The repetition of "strikes" again emphasizes the relentlessness of time, but the change in imagery from knives and serpents to street-lamps creates a sense of urban isolation. The watchmen's cries of "All is well" provide a false sense of security, which is challenged by the speaker's rhetorical question: "is it there?" The uncertainty of the human psyche is emphasized here, suggesting that even in the midst of apparent safety, we are never truly secure.

In the fourth and fifth tercets, the speaker turns his attention to the inevitability of death:

The hour strikes and strikes: the western stair
Is clogged with corpses sunk in silence, this
Beats at my throat and shakes me with despair.

The hour strikes and strikes: the city's glare
Is harsh and cold: the dead men's tongues cry, "This
Is what we feared, this hour"—and I am there.

The repetition of "strikes" continues, but now it is accompanied by the image of corpses on the western stair. The word "clogged" suggests a sense of congestion and finality. The speaker is shaken with despair, suggesting that the inevitability of death is a terrifying prospect. In the fifth tercet, the image of the dead men's tongues crying out creates a sense of haunting, as if the past is reaching out to the present. The speaker's final line, "and I am there," emphasizes the universality of death and the idea that we are all ultimately subject to its power.

In the concluding quatrain, Pound returns to the form of the villanelle, repeating the first and third lines of the first tercet:

The clocks' hands point to psychological hour,
The clock-winder's arrived: "Wind me up tight!"
The clocks' hands point to psychological hour.

The hour strikes and strikes: in psychological air
Knives bow and bend, the tongues like serpents hiss,
The hour strikes and strikes: in psychological air.

The repetition of the opening lines creates a sense of cyclical closure, suggesting that the poem is a meditation on the endless repetition of time and its effect on the human psyche. The final repetition of "the hour strikes and strikes" emphasizes the relentlessness of time and the inevitability of death.

In conclusion, "The Psychological Hour" is a masterful example of the villanelle form, but it is also more than that. Pound uses the form to explore the fragility of the human psyche, the deceptive nature of time, and the inevitability of death. The repetition of key phrases and images creates a sense of circularity and psychological intensity, while the poem's title references the concept of the hour, a period of heightened emotional sensitivity. Pound's use of imagery, simile, and metaphor creates a complex and nuanced exploration of the human condition. "The Psychological Hour" is a poem that rewards close reading and reflection, and it stands as one of the great examples of the villanelle form.

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

The Psychological Hour: An Analysis of Ezra Pound's Classic Poetry Villanelle

Ezra Pound, one of the most influential poets of the 20th century, is known for his innovative and experimental approach to poetry. His works often explore complex themes and ideas, and his classic poetry villanelle, "The Psychological Hour," is no exception. In this analysis, we will delve into the meaning and significance of this poem, examining its structure, language, and imagery.

First, let's take a look at the structure of the poem. A villanelle is a highly structured form of poetry, consisting of 19 lines divided into five tercets (three-line stanzas) and a final quatrain (four-line stanza). The first and third lines of the first tercet are repeated throughout the poem, alternating as the final line of each subsequent tercet and then appearing together as the final two lines of the quatrain. This repetition creates a sense of circularity and inevitability, emphasizing the poem's themes of time and psychological states.

Now, let's examine the language and imagery used in "The Psychological Hour." The poem opens with the repeated line, "I had over-prepared the event," which immediately sets a tone of anxiety and anticipation. The speaker is clearly nervous about what is to come, and this feeling is reinforced by the use of words like "trembling" and "fear." The second line of the first tercet, "that much was ominous," adds to the sense of foreboding and unease.

As the poem progresses, the speaker's psychological state becomes more and more unstable. In the second tercet, the repeated line "The hour was late" suggests a sense of urgency and desperation, while the line "The heads of the figures were bowed" creates a haunting image of submission and defeat. The third tercet introduces the idea of time as a psychological construct, with the line "Time to throw off the harvest" implying that the speaker is struggling to let go of something that has already passed.

The fourth tercet is perhaps the most powerful in the poem, with the repeated line "And the days went by like wind" emphasizing the fleeting nature of time. The line "As though all things followed her mournfully" creates a sense of melancholy and loss, as if the speaker is mourning the passing of time and the things that have been lost along the way.

Finally, in the quatrain, the repeated lines "I had over-prepared the event" and "The heads of the figures were bowed" come together to create a sense of closure and resolution. The speaker has come full circle, realizing that their anxiety and fear were perhaps unfounded, and that time has a way of moving forward regardless of our preparations or expectations.

So, what is the significance of "The Psychological Hour"? At its core, this poem is about the human experience of time and the psychological states that accompany it. The speaker is struggling to come to terms with the passing of time, and the anxiety and fear that come with the unknown future. Through the use of repetition and imagery, Pound creates a sense of inevitability and circularity, emphasizing the idea that time is both fleeting and cyclical.

Overall, "The Psychological Hour" is a powerful and thought-provoking poem that explores the complexities of the human psyche and our relationship with time. Through its use of structure, language, and imagery, it creates a sense of unease and anticipation that is both haunting and beautiful. As we read and analyze this classic poetry villanelle, we are reminded of the fleeting nature of time and the importance of living in the present moment.

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