Ezra Pound: Poems Summary and Analysis
by Ezra Pound
"A Pact" (1916)
Pound begins this poem by acknowledging his animosity towards American poet Walt Whitman, writing that he's "detested [him] long enough," and offering to make a pact. Pound describes himself as "a grown child who has had a pig headed father," and offers his friendship to Whitman. Pound admits that he has come to recognize the ways in which Whitman has paved the way for his own work. He ends with "let there be commerce between us," accepting the inspiration that Whitman has given him.
To understand this short poem, it is first necessary to explore Pound's negative feelings towards Walt Whitman. In 1909, Pound wrote an essay titled "What I Feel About Walt Whitman," in which he denounced the older poet's "crudity" and "barbaric yawp." He believed that Walt Whitman was the epitome of American authenticity. After Pound settled in the UK, he did not hold a very high opinion of Whitman's classic American milieu. He also disliked Whitman's work because he felt that the poet did not show enough restraint and reticence, and believed it impossible to consider him an artist without those two virtues. Whitman and Pound ever likely never met in person, since the former died when Pound was only seven years old.
Throughout this poem, it becomes clear that Pound once viewed Whitman as his creative antithesis, but has since matured. He describes Whitman as a paternal figure, admitting that his previous behavior has been "pig-headed." Now, he is a "grown child," and his views have appropriately evolved.
By comparing Whitman to a father figure, Pound insinuates that he felt intimidated by Whitman's success. There is also a more obvious interpretation of this father/son metaphor; Whitman was alive and writing long before Pound, and it is natural that modern poets would learn from their predecessors' work, just as a son could learn from his father. Pound, however, was always reluctant to take inspiration from others.
At the end of the poem, even though Pound has accepted Whitman's influence, he still offers a backhanded compliment. He writes, "it was you who broke the new wood/now it is time for carving." Pound describes Whitman's purpose in the poetic world as lesser than his own. He insinuates that Whitman paved the way simply by finding this new wood and offering it to the world; now it is Pound's turn to craft the raw material into refined artistic masterpieces. Therefore, even though Pound is certainly presenting a more cordial view of the American poet than he has in the past, he offers subtle reminders that his true opinion will never change.
Pound uses natural metaphors in the final lines of the poem like wood, sap, and roots, which are all parts of trees. It may also be representative of Whitman's "crudity," according to Pound; nature is crude, raw, and unpolished in its purest state, which is how Pound saw Whitman's writing. Meanwhile, Pound sees his role as carving/refining the raw wood.
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