The poem "The River-Merchant's Wife: A Letter" is a dramatic monologue written in the form of a letter from the wife's point of view. It is a poignant plea from a wife to her husband, a merchant whose journey has lasted far too long for the wife's ease of mind. The poem honors faithfulness as the wife reflects on the development of their life together and expresses her growing sorrow as she anxiously awaits his return. .
The first stanza is based on the two partners in their youth: "While my hair was still cut straight across my forehead," suggests a picture of a little girl as the haircut is rather typical of younger ages. As the stanza progresses the image of children is reinforced when the poet repeats the word "playing" to describe what the girl is doing at the gate, as well as what the boy is doing. This repetition emphasizes the contented endless activity of children, almost as natural as nature referred to by "flowers" and "blue plums." This stanza establishes the two characters as "I" and "You" in the world of the poem. The wife's use of "I played" foreshadows the lack of input she will have in her marriage.
In the second stanza Ezra Pound suggests that the two characters are older than in the previous stanza by using the young woman's age as a marker. "At fourteen," and also the gap of white space between the stanzas suggests that time has passed. In this stanza she explains that "At fourteen" she married her "Lord" which implies that she married young and that the marriage was forced because she addresses her husband with a respectful title. "You" being placed after it softens the formality of his title. The relationship between them is established in this stanza as she expresses how shy she is towards him by offering us a picture of her bent head and averted eyes: "Lowering my head, I looked at the wall." The line "Called to, a thousand times, I never looked back" almost suggests that she was so shy that she couldn't respond to her husband, no matter how many times he summoned her.