POETRY FRIDAY: The Jewel Stairs’ Grievance [Ezra Pound] (a.k.a Jazz Age poetry and The Great Gatsby)


Hello dear darling readers! Happy POETRY FRIDAY! I hope you all have lovely weekends stretching out in front of you (those of you who work weekends, I have been there and I feel your pain).

So, the internet has been absolutely saturated with Gatsby fever-sweat. And I soon realised that while I love F. Scott Fitzgerald, anything I was to write about him or Gatsby would already have been covered. Besides, it’s Poetry Friday, right? I thus thought I would consider something relevant but not actually the beast itself. And yes, I know that Ezra Pound translated the few lines in ‘The Jewel Stairs’ Grievance’ from Chinese, rather than write them himself. But the poem captures the mood so perfectly, and Pound was one of the most well-known Jazz Age poets, so I say un-bunch your knickers and enjoy the poetry.

The Jewel Stairs’ Grievance

The jewelled steps are already quite white with dew,
It is so late that the dew soaks my gauze stockings,
And I let down the crystal curtain
And watch the moon through the clear autumn.

What I love about this poem, and what I feel really snares the heart of ‘The Great Gatsby’, are the adjectives emphasizing the materialism referenced in the first three lines – the first three-quarters – of the poem: ‘the jewelled steps’; the ‘gauze stockings’; the ‘crystal curtain’. It’s Gatsby’s world. It’s the world of Daisy and Tom and all of the socialites populating all of the lavish mansion parties. Particularly with the imagery of the dew, Gatsby’s garden parties are conjured in the mind. It’s the American Dream – expensive symbols of the success that Jay Gatsby worked for as a method of reaching fulfillment (as always, no spoilers in case you’re half-way through, or you’re off to the cinema to see it this weekend). But the mention of a curtain, specifically a ‘crystal curtain’ suggests that this is all theatre – a spectacle, behind which something or someone enigmatic retreats after the show. And the last line – what you are left with – is stripped back, it is entirely natural and nothing is gilded. It is simply ‘the moon and the clear autumn’. This Dream and this constructed world are hollow and only raw emotion – loneliness, longing and emptiness remain.

Now, this is only a quick rambling and is purely my first interpretation – I haven’t sat and thought long and hard about this. But poetry in my mind is an augmentative tool – I use it to make me feel happier when I feel sunny and light and I use it to make me feel more sad when I’m in a funk. It’s much like lots of people use music, or any kind of art for that matter. The point is, when I have no living experience of anything like the Jazz Age, or like Gatsby’s opulent garden parties (not sure that drinking Tesco’s own version of Malibu straight from the bottle stood in the car park of my student flat quite counts), poetry helps me flesh out what I can build in my head from the writing. And don’t get me wrong, Fitzgerald is among the best when it comes to giving the reader the blocks with which to build his characters’ worlds. But, as I might mumble while browsing the supermarket shelves for my cut-price tipple, every little helps.

More Ezra Pound: http://www.poemhunter.com/ezra-pound/

Artwork credit: My jaw dropped when I discovered that this stunning image is actually a photograph of a 2011 window display at Bergdorf Goodman.


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