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Basil Bunting

There must be a way to be human that neither crouches back of the door nor barges in with some overbearing pretension of significance. Anyone can have a world, so to speak, if he or she is willing to lop off little (or big) pieces of the existing one, so as to manage a convenience for the self. "It's himself!" cried the mother in those Irish families of my youth, as said person staggered up the steps, home again.

But this is no story, much as it might entertain, of anyone at all. You must know people in your own life, who don't so much stay put as be there, for all and any to witness. There is no overwhelming claim they make, nothing has to make room for them, nor do they come and go with some shy disclaimer of their significance. Not only can you trust them, but you can not trust them, equally, if it's funny business you have in mind. For lack of any other better word, or way of putting it clearly, they are literally alive and inexorably human, and they have all they seemingly require therefor. It has nothing to do with being hungry or well-fed, all of which is possible for any of us, but how it all then is lived with.

Bunting is an extraordinary teacher, although I doubt that he has much thought to be, except in very specific instances. He has not even been persistent, call it, in the usual manner of the artist who overcomes great odds indeed just that his art be permitted. There are sizable gaps of time, when evidently he had other things to do. One time, years ago, I wrote him a letter asking advice of ac-

Paideuma 9, no. 1 (Spring 1980).


tive writing in England, and got a generous reply, from the Middle East, in which he told me he knew nothing of current doings in that world, rarely if ever saw another writer, and that, when he did, conversation had usually to do with the migration of game, and the water table. When at last I did meet him, he was working as a financial reporter for the Newcastle paper, having come from like labors in London.

Now I'm not at all interested that poets can be otherwise than the kids who couldn't play baseball, as Rexroth once said. But there is an imagination of poetry that has to do with the actual particulars of its conduct as a mode of words engendering emotion as a formal pattern:

 . . . with never a crabbed turn or congested cadence,
never a boast or see-here; and stars and lakes
echo him and the copse drums out his measure,
snow peaks are lifted up in moonlight and twilight
and the sun rises on an acknowledged land.
(Briggflatts, IV )

In that interest so committed, there are no measures but those of the factual life one is given, the physical place in which one lives, and what others have done with like particulars. In his Collected Poems (Oxford, 1978)—his "Preface" to which says all, and far better, that one might think to here—the following would appear the most recent:

At Briggflatts meetinghouse

Boasts time mocks cumber Rome. Wren
set up his own monument.
Others watch fells dwindle, think
the sun's fires sink.

Stones indeed sift to sand, oak
blends with saints' bones.
Yet for a little longer here
stone and oak shelter

silence while we ask nothing
but silence. Look how the clouds dance
under the wind's wing, and leaves
delight in transience.
("Second Book of Odes," 11)

The world which knows this is old beyond time—that time mocks our human ambitions, that only our own acts can survive in mem-


ory even for a moment. Humanly, there are so many who feel a despair in what seems the very transformation of the world into a dying place. All true—yet here, in this human moment of time, asking only that silence which permits it, it is here, actual beyond all else in that it will not, cannot , be forever.

And for the art —such particular sounds of human voice so tuned, to the weaving rhythm, the dance -ing transcience . . . . What to say not said by it? And what else is there ever to say.


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