Basil Bunting Bunting, Basil

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(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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Bunting, Basil 1900–

An English poet and journalist, Bunting is considered an important literary descendant of Ezra Pound. His work, which is imagistic in style, also shows the influences of Eliot and Zukofsky. It incorporates many musical qualities, not only in the cadence of individual lines, but also in its formal structure. He has entitled one group of poems "Sonatas," another "Descant on Rawley's Madrigal." Bunting often mingles historical and personal elements, creating complex poetry that is both lyrical and dense. Briggflatts is generally considered his most important work. (See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 53-56.)

Anthony Suter

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Bunting's poetry [deals] in the structure of meanings and, moreover, the meanings are organised according to a musical architecture—that of sonata form….

For some years Bunting sought the kind of musical structure he required for his poetry, but he must have fixed his choice very early on the sonata, rather than on the more impressionistic prelude, for example. His first published long poem, Villon (1925), is based on simple sonata form, although he had embarked on more complicated variants at first…. (p. 47)

Villon (1925) is a very good example of how the poet's elementary sonata technique works. In fact, it has a pure, simple sonata structure that Bunting never bettered, if one considers that the later "sonatas" are much more complicated in form and often go far beyond the ordinary sonata because of the complexity of the themes involved…. Not only does each individual part have a beautifully structured development, but also the total structure of the poem moves through two parallel statements of themes to the final resolution of Part III. (p. 48)

A significant indirect influence on the development of the sonata was a poem that does not belong to this category at all, Chomei at Toyama (1932). This long poem shows Bunting making natural ideogrammic juxtapositions within a skeleton framework of narrative, so that the life of the work comes from within.

As the sonata becomes more complex, it does so from the inside, from Bunting's own development of sonata form. He took a fixed model to begin with, but when he found that model too limiting he did not seek a more complicated one that was ready-made for him (such as a Beethoven sonata): he sought to expand and experiment the basic form he had chosen in the beginning. Therefore, there is a development from a fixed form artificially imposed from the outside (—that is why Villon and Aus dem zweiten Reich seem so neat, almost too neat) to an organic growth of that form. Attis and The Well of Lycopolis represents a sort of testing ground, because instead of the simple, parallel structures of Villon and Aus dem zweiten Reich, the movements of these works have a complex interweaving of themes and a growth from movement to movement that foreshadow The Spoils (1951) and Briggflatts (1965).

The earlier of these two poems is obviously intended to make thematic material of the range of Attis and The Well of Lycopolis fit a structure nearly as simple as that of Villon. (p. 50)

The sonata element A B A is present in the two outer movements [of The Spoils] and in the total design of the poem. Also, all the various themes are in reality theme clusters, different manifestations of the central notion of "the spoils" (the spiritual treasures Man can gain on his journey through life), so that there is a development from movement to movement, more and more significance being added to the theme stated at the beginning of the whole work.

This is partly a preparation for the method of Briggflatts, except that the latter treats its thematic material in reverse. Whereas The Spoils states its theme at the beginning like a classical symphony, Briggflatts hides the real nature of its central thematic ideas until the end…. Fragments of theme—death, love, time, nature and the cosmos, artistic expression and experience—are presented throughout its five parts…. (p. 51)

Different fragments of the same theme gradually...

(The entire section is 3,568 words.)