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A Note on Basil Bunting
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A Note on Basil Bunting

The publication of Basil Bunting's poems in England regains a possibility that has been equivocal for some time, if not literally absent. I am not the one to write of it simply that I am not English, nor of that particular root which Bunting has such use of. R. S. Woolf, reviewing Loquitur and Briggflatts in Stand (8, No. 2), puts emphasis on the almost flat pessimism, the insistence of death, throughout Bunting's work. It is there without question as it is equally in Samuel Beckett's, or in Dunbar's Lament for the Makers . Also relevant are the tone and manner of Michael Alexander's translations, The Earliest English Poems , from which comes the following:

A man who on these walls wisely looked
who sounded deeply this dark life
would think back to the blood spilt here,
weigh it in his wit . . .
Alas, proud prince! How that time has passed,
dark under night's helm, as though it never had been!
("The Wanderer")

Beckett, translating An Anthology of Mexican Poetry , comes to a very like tone (which is more than the transposition of a content evident in the Spanish):

This coloured counterfeit . . .
is a foolish sorry labour lost,

Agenda , Autumn 1966.


is conquest doomed to perish and, well taken,
is corpse and dust, shadow and nothingness.
(Juana de Asbaje, "This coloured
counterfeit that thou beholdest . . .")

In short, I am curious to know if an implicit quality of language occurs when words are used in a situation peculiar to their own history. History , however, may be an awkward term, since it might well imply only a respectful attention on the part of the writer rather than the implicit rapport between words and man when both are equivalent effects of time and place. In this sense there is a lovely dense sensuousness to Bunting's poetry, and it is as much the nature of the words as the nature of the man who makes use of them. Again it is a circumstance shared.

I am caught by the sense of himself Bunting defines:

I hear Aneurin number the dead and rejoice,
being adult male of a merciless species.
Today's posts are piles to drive into the quaggy past
on which impermanent palaces balance.
(Briggflatts )

It is the hierarchal situation of poet going deeper in time than one could borrow or assume, and hence the issue of some privileged kinship with the nature of poetry itself in one's own language. Pound's "heave," with the trochee, proved him sensitive to it and makes clear one aspect of the relation between Bunting and himself. Bunting, from the earliest poems in Loquitur to the greatness of Briggflatts itself, is closely within the peculiar nature of his given language, an English such as one rarely now hears. In the earlier poems he makes use of a Latin, call it, appropriately enough:

Narciss, my numerous cancellations prefer
slow limpness in the damp dustbins amongst the peel
tobacco-ash and ends spittoon lickings litter
of labels dry corks breakages and a great deal

of miscellaneous garbage picked over by
covetous dustmen and Salvation Army sneaks
to one review-rid month's printed ignominy,
the public detection of your decay, that reeks.
("To a Poet who advised me to
preserve my fragments and false starts")

But the insistent intimate nature of his work moves in the closeness of monosyllables, with a music made of their singleness:


Mist sets lace of frost
on rock for the tide to mangle.
Day is wreathed in what summer lost.
(Briggflatts )

Presumptuously or not, it seems to me a long time since English verse had such an English ear—as sturdy as its words, and from the same occasion.


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