Purity and Growth: On Pound’s "Fan Piece, for Her Imperial Lord"

Fan-Piece, for Her Imperial Lord
Ezra Pound

O Fan of white silk,
clear as frost on the grass-blade,
You also are laid aside.

Commentary:

The fan is a thing of beauty and richness for a woman of power. It is white, and its beauty certainly comes from its being spotless, its being pure.

Yet the fan, when compared to another object, “frost,” is cited as “clear” more than white. Something about the fan is readily accessible, something about it is transparent or obvious. It seems like all the other attributes of the fan – its beauty, its being a product of wealth, its purity in physical perfection – define it in such a way that it is all there is.

Personifying the fan, imagining it as a woman (hint: maybe imagining it as her Imperial Lord), is useful here. One is attracted to women because there is a sense of mystery about them; when they lose that mystery, they cease to be attractive. Some attributes aid mystery: I’m typically attracted to women who have problems, because they’re far more interesting and sexier than women who are perfect. Purity is not that appealing, sorry – unless you’re her.

If I use that logic, then the idea of “frost on the grass blade” becomes a comment on external perfections attempting to strangle what is vibrant and wonderful about youth, like the frost weighs down the grass. It is obvious the frost is not in the grass’ best interest. But the sun will shine, of course, and that frost will melt, and the water will nurture the grass, which is most emphatically not white – not pure – but resilient. Hence the fan will be laid aside, because what may make this woman truly beautiful is not her attributes like “beauty” and “having power” and “having “wealth” but her youthfulness, her capacity for growth. Such a capacity will result in the shedding of these purely external attributes for something greater. In growing we are mysterious, and we have hopes and are hoped for. In perfection we are static, and that’s all there ever was.

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