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What Is the Tone of the Poem "The Pool"?


"The Pool," first published March 1915 in "Poetry" magazine, is Harriet Doolittle's sense-infused poem of discovery, and perhaps self-discovery. As an Imagist poet, Doolittle confines herself to minimal impressions, like one keeping a secret -- as indeed she may be -- although her bare words maintain a dual tone: the poet is both curious and fearful, even through several possible interpretations.

Surface Tone

On the poem's surface, Doolittle speaks to a form of marine-life that is "banded" across the back and "quivers like a sea-fish" when touched and netted. Since it is "like" a sea-fish, it must be something else -- hence the curious tone.

Fear in Discovery

If, under the surface, the "who" is a new discovery -- a new lover, for example -- it is alive but appears dead at first. It awakens to love's touch and must be "banded" by the net -- hence the fearfulness.

Pool as Mirror

Doolittle's pool may be a mirror. The poet, who is bisexual, may be capturing her inner self, "banded" to a gay-repressive society's idea of her legitimate being. This interpretation increases the fearful tone; Doolittle is afraid to free herself.

Needing to Know

The "sea-fish" may be Doolittle's divided psyche, an idea derived from her Freudian treatments as "H.D." -- its "banded" coloring may be protective. The poem's divided tone, like id and superego, indicates a fear of knowing oneself, but an insuperable need to know.

About the Author

Michael Stratford is a National Board-certified and Single Subject Credentialed teacher with a Master of Science in educational rehabilitation (University of Montana, 1995). He has taught English at the 6-12 level for more than 20 years. He has written extensively in literary criticism, student writing syllabi and numerous classroom educational paradigms.

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