Complete Poems

Complete Poems

by Basil Bunting

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Basil Bunting (1900-1985) is one of the most important British poets of the twentieth century. Acknowledged since the 1930s as a major figure in Modernist poetry, first by Pound and Zukofsky, it was not until thirty years later -- in 1996 -- that the Northumbrian master poet published Briggflatts, which Cyril Connolly called "the finest long poem to have been


Basil Bunting (1900-1985) is one of the most important British poets of the twentieth century. Acknowledged since the 1930s as a major figure in Modernist poetry, first by Pound and Zukofsky, it was not until thirty years later -- in 1996 -- that the Northumbrian master poet published Briggflatts, which Cyril Connolly called "the finest long poem to have been published in England since T.S. Eliot's Four Quartets." In addition to Briggflatts (otherwise unavailable in the U.S.), this new Complete Poems includes Bunting's other great Sonatas, most notably Villon (1925) and The Spoils (1951), along with his two books of Odes, his vividly realized "Overdrafts" (as he called his free translations of Horace, Rudaki, and others), and also his brilliantly condensed Japanese adaptation, Chomei at Toyama (1932). This edition presents the original Collected Poems published earlier by Oxford University Press, with the addition of Bunting's posthumous Uncollected Poems, and has an introduction by Richard Caddel, Director of the Basil Bunting Poetry Center at Durham University.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
For readers who have had considered ordering the U.K. edition, The Collected Poems of Basil Bunting's appearance on these shores will be most welcome. Bunting (1900-1985) is the author of the long poem "Briggflatts" (included here), considered by many to be the greatest poem of the mid-20th century written by a person born a British subject. Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.

Product Details

Oxford University Press, USA
Publication date:
Oxford Poets Series
Product dimensions:
5.38(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.74(d)

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Read an Excerpt

Complete Poems

By Basil Bunting


Copyright © 2000

Estate of Basil Bunting
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0-8112-1563-6

Chapter One



He whom we anatomized' whose words we gathered as pleasant flowers
and thought on his wit and how neatly he described things'
to us, hatching marrow,
broody all night over the bones of a deadman.

My tongue is a curve in the ear. Vision is lies.
We saw it so and it was not so,
the Emperor with the Golden Hands, the Virgin in blue.
(- A blazing parchment,
Matthew Paris his kings in blue and gold.)

It was not so,
scratched on black by God knows who,
by God, by God knows who.

In the dark in fetters
on bended elbows I supported my weak back
hulloing to muffled walls blank again
unresonant. It was gone, is silent, is always silent.
My soundbox lacks sonority. All but inaudible
I stammer to my ear:
Naked speech! Naked beggar both blind and cold!
Wrap it for my sake in Paisley shawls and bright soft fabric,
wrap it in curves and cover it with sleek lank hair.

What trumpets? What bright hands? Fetters, it was the Emperor
with magic in darkness, I unforewarned.
The golden hands are not in Averrhoes,
eyes lie and this swine's fare bread and water
makes my head wuzz. Have pity, have pity on me!

To the right was darkness and to the left hardness
below hardness darkness above
at the feet darkness at the head partial hardness

with equal intervals without
to the left moaning and beyond a scurry.
In those days rode the good Lorraine
whom English burned at Rouen,
the day's bones whitening in centuries' dust.

Then he saw his ghosts glitter with golden hands,
the Emperor sliding up and up from his tomb
alongside Charles. These things are not obliterate.
White gobs spitten for mockery;
and I too shall have CY GIST written over me.

Remember, imbeciles and wits,
sots and ascetics, fair and foul,
young girls with little tender tits,
that DEATH is written over all.

Worn hides that scarcely clothe the soul
they are so rotten, old and thin,
or firm and soft and warm and full - fellmonger
Death gets every skin.

All that is piteous, all that's fair,
all that is fat and scant of breath,
Elisha's baldness, Helen's hair,
is Death's collateral:

Three score and ten years after sight
of this pay me your pulse and breath
value received. And who dare cite,
as we forgive our debtors, Death?

Abelard and Eloise,
Henry the Fowler, Charlemagne,
Genée, Lopokova, all these
die, die in pain.

And General Grant and General Lee,
Patti and Florence Nightingale,
like Tyro and Antiope
drift among ghosts in Hell,

know nothing, are nothing, save a fume
driving across a mind
preoccupied with this: our doom
is, to be sifted by the wind,

heaped up, smoothed down like silly sands.
We are less permanent than thought.
The Emperor with the Golden Hands

is still a word, a tint, a tone,
when we ourselves are dead and gone
and the green grass growing over us.


Let his days be few and let
his bishoprick pass to another,
for he fed me on carrion and on a dry crust,
mouldy bread that his dogs had vomited,
I lying on my back in the dark place, in the grave,
fettered to a post in the damp cellarage.

Whereinall we differ not. But they have swept the floor,
there are no dancers, no somersaulters now,
only bricks and bleak black cement and bricks,
only the military tread and the snap of the locks.

Mine was a threeplank bed whereon
I lay and cursed the weary sun.
They took away the prison clothes
and on the frosty nights I froze.
I had a Bible where I read
that Jesus came to raise the dead - I
kept myself from going mad
by singing an old bawdy ballad
and birds sang on my windowsill
and tortured me till I was ill,
but Archipiada came to me
and comforted my cold body
and Circe excellent utterer of her mind
lay with me in that dungeon for a year
making a silk purse from an old sow's ear
till Ronsard put a thimble on her tongue.

Whereinall we differ not. But they have named all the stars,
trodden down the scrub of the desert, run the white moon to a schedule,
Joshua's serf whose beauty drove men mad.
They have melted the snows from Erebus, weighed the clouds,
hunted down the white bear, hunted the whale the seal the kangaroo,
they have set private enquiry agents onto Archipiada:
What is your name? Your maiden name?
Go in there to be searched. I suspect it is not your true name.
Distinguishing marks if any? (O anthropometrics!)
Now the thumbprints for filing.
Colour of hair? of eyes? of hands? O Bertillon!
How many golden prints on the smudgy page?
Homer? Adest. Dante? Adest.
Adsunt omnes, omnes et
Blacked by the sun, washed by the rain,
hither and thither scurrying as the wind varies.


Under the olive trees
walking alone
on the green terraces
very seldom
over the sea seldom
where it ravelled and spun
blue tapestries white and green
gravecloths of men
Romans and modern men
and the men of the sea
who have neither nation nor time
on the mountains seldom
the white mountains beyond
or the brown mountains between
and their drifting echoes
in the clouds and over the sea
in shrines on their ridges

the goddess of the country
silverplated in silk and embroidery
with offerings of pictures
little ships and arms
below me the ports
with naked breasts
shipless spoiled sacked
because of the beauty of Helen

precision clarifying vagueness;
boundary to a wilderness
of detail; chisel voice
smoothing the flanks of noise;
catalytic making whisper and whisper
run together like two drops of quicksilver;
factor that resolves

unnoted harmonies;
name of the nameless;

stuff that clings
to frigid limbs

more marble hard
than girls imagined by Mantegna ...

The sea has no renewal, no forgetting,
no variety of death,
is silent with the silence of a single note.

How can I sing with my love in my bosom?
Unclean, immature and unseasonable salmon.


Attis: Or, Something Missing


Dea magna, dea Cybele, dea domina Dindymi,

procul a mea tuus sit furor omnis, era, domo:

alios age incitatos, alios age rabidos.


Out of puff
noonhot in tweeds and gray felt,
tired of appearance and
warm obese frame limp with satiety;
slavishly circumspect at sixty;
he spreads over the ottoman
scanning the pictures and table trinkets.

(That hand's dismissed shadow
moves through fastidiously selective consciousness,
rearranges pain.)

There are no colours, words only,
and measured shaking of strings,
and flutes and oboes
enough for dancers.

.... .... .... reluctant ebb:

salt from all beaches:
disrupt Atlantis, days forgotten,
extinct peoples, silted harbours.
He regrets that brackish

train of the huntress
driven into slackening fresh,
expelled when the

estuary resumes
colourless potability;

wreckage that drifted
in drifts out.

'Longranked larches succeed larches, spokes of a
stroll; hounds trooping around hooves; and the stolid horn's
sweet breath. Voice: Have you seen the
fox? Which way did he go, he go?

There was soft rain.
I recollect deep mud and leafmould somewhere: and
in the distance Cheviot's
heatherbrown flanks and white cap.

Landscape salvaged from
evinced notice of
superabundance, of
since parsimonious

Mother of Gods.'

Mother of eunuchs.

Praise the green earth. Chance has appointed her

home, workshop, larder, middenpit.

Her lousy skin scabbed here and there by

cities provides us with name and nation.

From her brooks sweat. Hers corn and fruit.

Earthquakes are hers too. Ravenous animals

are sent by her. Praise her and call her

Mother and Mother of Gods and Eunuchs.


(Variations on a theme by Milton)

I thought I saw my late wife (a very respectable woman)
coming from Bywell churchyard with a handful of raisins.
I was not pleased, it is shocking to meet a ghost, so I cut her
and went and sat amongst the rank watergrasses by the Tyne.

Centrifugal tutus! Sarabands!
music clear enough to
pluck stately dances from
madness before the frenzy.
Andante .... .... Prestissimo!
turbulent my Orfeo!

A tumult softly hissed
as by muted violins,
Tesiphone's, Alecto's
capillary orchestra.
Long phrases falling like
intermittent private voices
suddenly in the midst of talk,
falling aslant like last light:
Send for Medusa: we'll enamel him!

Long loved and
too long loved, stale habit, such decay of ardour,
love never dead, love never hoping, never gay.
Ageslow venom selfsecreted. Such shame!

The gorgon's method:

In the morning
clean streets welcomed light's renewal,
patient, passive to the weight of buses
thundering like cabinet ministers
over a lethargic populace.
Streets buffeted thin soles at midday,
streets full of beggars.
Battered, filthily unfortunate streets
perish, their ghosts are wretched
in the mockery of lamps.

And O Purveyor
of geraniums and pianos to the Kaiserin!
the hot smell of the street
conversing with the bleat
of rancid air streaming up tenement stairways!

Gods awake and fierce
stalk across the night
grasping favour of men,
power to hurt or endow,

leave to inhabit
figure and name; or skulk
from impotence in light's


Day hides them, opaque day
hides their promenades; night
reveals them stalking



keeps a café in Reno.
Well, (eh, Cino?)
I dare no longer raise my eyes
on any lass
seeing what one of them has done to me.
So singlehearted, so steady
never lover, none so humble.

She made a new youth lord of her.
I lower my eyes. I say:
'I will not look on any,
maybe all are jilts.'


Pastorale arioso

What mournful stave, what bellow shakes the grove?
O, it is Attis grieving for his testicles!
Attis stiffening amid the snows
and the wind whining through his hair and fingers!

'Pines, my sisters, I, your sister,
chaffered for lambs in the marketplace.
I also won the 14 carat halfhunter goldwatch
at the annual sports and flowershow.
The young girls simpered when I passed.
Now I am out of a job. I would like to be lady's-maid

to Dindyma.

Pines, my sisters, I, your sister,
tended the bull and the entire horse.
Pensive geldings gape stale adolescence religiously,
yearning for procreative energy;
call it God. I sat amongst the atheists,
I was bankrupted by affiliation orders
who now bow my chaste vegetable forehead

to Dindyma.

Pines, my sisters, I, your sister,
parch in calm weather, swelter in Scirocco, sway in northwind,
I am passive to the heave of spring.
In the season I will pay my phallic harvest

to Dindyma.

Dindyma! Dindyma!
The wraith of my manhood,
the cruel ghost of my manhood,

limp in hell,
leapt sleeplessly in strange beds.
I have forgotten most of the details,

most of the names,

and the responses to

the ithyphallic hymns:

forgotten the syntax,

and the paradigms
grate scrappily against reluctant nerves.

(Oh Sis!
I've been 'ad!
I've been 'ad proper!)

Shall we be whole in Elysium?
I am rooted in you,


assure rile

the roses and myrtles,

the lavish roses,

the naively

portentous myrtles,
corroborate the peacock.

(I've been 'ad!)'

To whom Cybele:

'The peacock's knavery

keeps you in slavery.

The roses cheat

you, butcher's meat.

The myrtles' pretence

offends commonsense.

Yet a muse defrauds

the Mother of the Gods.

Ponder this allegorical


Attis his embleme:

Nonnulla deest.



Excerpted from Complete Poems
by Basil Bunting
Copyright © 2000 by Estate of Basil Bunting.
Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

About the Author:
Richard Caddel is Director of the Basil Bunting Poetry Center, Durham University, and is the author and editor of many works including Basil Bunting: Uncollected Poems (Oxford, 1991).

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