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A Personal Note

I have never understood very clearly why a man of Basil Bunting's accomplishment should have so little use in his own country. We have had like situations here—in the case of Louis Zukofsky, only recently 'discovered' after many years indeed of exceptional writing, and I can remember as well how resistant the elders of my own generation were to the work of Williams and Pound. H. D. remains for the most part an obscure figure, despite the fact that she is so uniquely a major one.

But if no one shouts, or keeps the insistence active, then these things do happen. Some years ago, when Origin was first being published, I wrote to Bunting to ask his help with finding active people in England and especially to see if he might have poems himself to send. He answered most kindly that his life had never been 'literary,' and since much of it had been spent in Persia, he was not aware of what might be of use then (roughly 1952) in England. He said he saw few English writers, and that when Alec Waugh, for example, had visited him, they talked of the water table and of the migration of game.

I had known of his work for some time, associating it with that of Pound, in whose Active Anthology I had first had chance to read Bunting's poems. Kulchur is also dedicated to Bunting and Zukofsky, "strugglers in the desert" of all too real a fact. Then in 1950 the Cleaners' Press published his Poems , and we had our first chance

Granta , 6 November 1965.


to see the range and subtlety of what he had done. Shortly after, Poetry published his long poem The Spoils (1951).

But then the silence settled in again. When I visited last October in England, of the many literary men I saw, only two had occasion to speak of Bunting. One, George Fraser, loaned me his copy of Poems to take back with me to London, in hopes someone there might be interested. The other, Charles Tomlinson, was curious to know what Bunting's present circumstances might be.

So I knew as little as ever. Then, coming down from Scotland, I stopped to read in Newcastle, at the invitation of Tom Pickard, and there to my great pleasure and surprise was Bunting himself.

I value that occasion very much, simply that there are men who are measures of all possibility, in what they do literally and in how they do it. I can't report all of the conversation we had, but, again, it continues to serve me as measure both of my own circumstances and of what poetry itself can be as an active art. With respect to Eliot, he questioned the rhythms, finding them "gross" I think his word was, yet pointed out that the diction—the literal vocabulary of his work—was very clear indeed. He made a useful distinction between organizations of sound as one meets them in a lyric—where the briefness of the poem's length gives them a necessarily emphatic situation—and in a long poem, where their texture may accumulate relationships without the reader being aware of their singular condition. He talked of Pound, more parallel he felt to Spenser than to Chaucer, in that each man gives an encyclopaedia of possibilities to those who then come after.

Of his own condition he said little. We walked above the Tyne, back of the village of Wylam where he lives. When he was a boy, there were several fisheries along that river, but now industrial wastes and like circumstances made it unlikely that even a casual fisherman would find much to catch. He told me the Northumberland clans were the last to give in to the organizations of county, more implacable even than the Scots. He spoke of the reforestation program in Northumberland, and in all he said there was evidence of a deep sense of place and of his own commitment to it.

There is such a clarity to him, and in what he has written. I wonder it is not seen more simply, but happily that situation now changes. There is no one else who can help as much, both in the fact of his work—it offers, I feel, the most real occasion for the work of younger men now—and himself, of all men unique in the quiet determination of what he has valued.


Have you seen a falcon stoop
accurate, unforeseen
and absolute, between
wind-ripples over harvest? Dread
of what's to be, is and has been—
were we not better dead?
His wings churn air
to flight.
Feathers alight
with sun, he rises where
dazzle rebuts our stare,
wonder our fright.
(from The Spoils )


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