In ‘A Pact’ Pound speaks on themes of legacy, writing, and change. Pound explores the hatred he’s always felt for Whitman’s poetry through figurative language. The tone is direct throughout. He knows how he feels and he’s willing to admit that at least a bit of his hatred has been misplaced.
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Summary of A Pact
The poem is a direct rebuke of Whitman’s writing, one that the older poet never read. He died when Pound was only seven, but Pound’s dislike of his writing developed as he aged. Finally, he has come to the determination that the hatred he has for Whitman is misplaced. They should come to an understanding. But, this doesn’t stop Pound from suggesting that Whitman’s poetry is inferior to his own.
You can read the full poem here.
Structure of A Pact
‘A Pact’ by Ezra Pound is a nine-line poem that is contained within a single stanza of text. The lines, as was the poet’s custom, do not follow a specific rhyme scheme or metrical pattern. As the leader of the imagist movement, it was Pound’s belief that the best writing was that which got to the heart of what the poet wanted to say without extraneous information or flowery language. His poems are known for their clear images and striking emotions.
Poetic Techniques in A Pact
Although this poem is written in free verse that does not mean that the poem is without examples of literary devices or figurative language. Pound makes use of several poetic techniques in this poem. These include anaphora, allusion, metaphor, and alliteration. The first, anaphora, is the repetition of a word or phrase at the beginning of multiple lines, usually in succession. This technique is often used to create emphasis. A list of phrases, items, or actions may be created through its implementation. For example, the first person pronoun “I” which begins lines one through three and line five.
An allusion is an expression that’s meant to call something specific to mind without directly stating it. In the case of ‘A Pact’ the speaker, Pound, is alluding to his professional and personal option of Walt Whitman’s poetry. A reader who has an awareness of Whitman’s writings, especially into comparison to Pound’s and their different cultural context will have an easier time understanding what Pound is getting at.
Alliteration occurs when words are used in succession, or at least appear close together, and begin with the same sound. For example, “father” and “friend” in lines four and five and “now” and “new” in lines five and six.
A metaphor is a comparison between two unlike things that does not use “like” or “as” is also present in the text. When using this technique a poet is saying that one thing is another thing, they aren’t just similar. In this case, Pound uses the images of uncarved wood to represent Whitman’s writings. He then says that it is his job, as a real pioneer of the modernist movement to carve it.
Analysis of A Pact
In the first lines of ‘A Pact’ the speaker, Ezra Pound, begins by directly addressing Walt Whitman, the American free verse poet best-known for his volume Leaves of Grass. Whitman was a predecessor to Pound but not one that he younger poet respected. Whitman died when Pound was only seven years old but that didn’t stop Pound from detesting him, as he says in the second stanza.
He’s spent at least all of his adult life disliking, even hating, Whitman’s works but now as a grown man, he is trying to come to terms with it. He addresses Whitman as a rival, someone to make a “truce” with. Their poetic styles are very much of different sides of the spectrum.
Pound’s dislike of Whitman was well-known. In the early 1900s, he wrote an essay titled “What I Feel About Walt Whitman”. In it, he discussed the poet’s “crudity” and lack of restraint. The latter is one of the things that Pound valued most in writing and something that he always strived for personally. (As is seen through the tenants of the imagist movement and the poetry of all those who were a part of it alongside him.)
Pound addresses Whitman in the third and fourth lines as a father that he used to hate but has come to terms with. He has realized now that Whitman is a “pig-headed father” someone who shouldn’t be hated. He is more stubborn or unchangeable than anything else.
In the next lines of ‘A Pact’ Pound continues to speak to Whitman and alludes to the possibility that he might’ve been slightly intimidated by the way that Whitman “broke the new wood”. Whitman struck out against much that was valued in the pre-modern periods of poetic writing. During his lifetime he was a true original and gained a great deal of fame for that.
In the metaphor that Pound uses in these last lines of the poem, the “new wood” has been recently chopped. It’s care, sharp, un-crafted. It is Pound’s job, he believes, to carve it. It is “time” he says, “for carving”. It’s clear that Pound did not value Whitman’s work as much as he did is own but he is also learning from him. He is working off of Whitman’s foundation.
In the end, the “pact” is formed. They have similarities between them, no matter how different Pound might think they really are. He is asking for a “truce” and “commerce” between them. While he might be asking for peace Pound never tries to hide his distaste for Whitman in this poem.