Bunting, Basil. The Poems of Basil Bunting. Ed. Don Share. London: Faber & Faber, 2016.
Despite periodic attempts to spread the word among the uninitiated, the English poet Basil Bunting (1900-1985) remains far less well-known than he deserves. This outstanding and illuminatingly-annotated edition, edited by the poet Don Share, seeks to rectify this scandalous state of affairs. For it is a scandal: Bunting, sometimes dismissed as an eccentric Northumbrian disciple of Ezra Pound, is to my mind one of most distinctive and effortlessly memorable of twentieth-century English poets. The more one reads him, the more he dazzles. Skeptical? Read “At Briggflatts Meetinghouse” aloud:
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 clouds dance
under the wind’s wing, and leaves
delight in transience.
Better yet, listen to Bunting himself reading the poem on the University of Pennsylvania’s indispensable PennSound website:
Bunting once ruefully described himself as a “[m]inor poet, not conspicuously dishonest.” I take no position regarding his moral integrity. However, it seems ever clearer to me that this self-mocking capsule “autobiography” severely understates the author’s immense poetic achievement.