Basil Bunting Biography


(British and Irish Poetry, Revised Edition)

Basil Cheesman Bunting was born in Scotswood-on-Tyne, Northumberland, on March 1, 1900. He was reared and educated a Quaker and spoke fondly of the Briggflatts Meeting House, constructed by the Friends in 1675. When he was eighteen, Bunting refused the draft and was imprisoned in Wormwood Scrubs Prison for a year. Glimpses of the harsh prison conditions can be found in the poem “Villon” (1925). After release, he studied at the London School of Economics. At about the same time, he began to write Imagist poetry. This early work contains, in the manner of Pound, dramatic monologues and vignettes from other poets, but the influence of Eliot, whom he met in the mid-1920’s, also makes itself known. Bunting left for Paris in 1923, beginning an odyssey that kept him out of England for much of the next fifty years. From Paris, he joined Pound in Rapallo, where the two became close friends. There he met and married Marian Culver, an American. The marriage lasted until 1935 and produced three children.

In the late 1920’s, Bunting was for a short time music critic of The Outlook in London. He returned to Italy, where he lived until 1933. In Rapallo, Bunting and Pound edited the Active Anthology, which contained a number of Bunting’s earliest poems. These are the most Poundian of Bunting’s work. In the 1930’s, he lived in the United States, and from 1937 to 1939, he earned a living as captain of a private yacht that sailed the Mediterranean and crossed to the United States. The rise of Adolf Hitler overcame his pacifism, and in 1939, he returned to England to join the Royal Air Force. Bunting spent most of the war in Iran, where his facility with languages was put to good use in Intelligence. After the war, he stayed in Iran as Persian correspondent for The Times. In 1948, he married an Iranian, Sima Alladadian. Many of his Middle Eastern experiences are captured in The Spoils, a poem written in 1951 but not published until 1965. In 1951, he returned to England. In the mid-1960’s, the Pound critic Hugh Kenner was instrumental in bringing Bunting to the University of California, Santa Barbara, where he taught until he accepted a position at the University of Durham, England. He subsequently retired to Black Fells Village, Northumberland, England. Bunting died in Hexham, England, in 1985.