Basil Bunting Analysis

Other literary forms

Basil Bunting wrote little aside from poetry. Although he claimed that he had no use for literary criticism, he did write a small amount of critical prose. With Ezra Pound, Bunting edited the Active Anthology (1933), which contained a number of his poems. He contributed prose to Agenda and Poetry. In an article titled “English Poetry Today” (Poetry, February, 1932), Bunting descants on the poetry of the time. His remarks reveal much about his own poetic practice. The poet also elaborates upon his attitudes in an interview titled “Eighty of the Best . . .” (Paideuma, Spring, 1980).


Basil Bunting, in his own self-deprecating estimation, was a “minor poet, not conspicuously dishonest.” His poetic career, like his life, was quixotic. He began in the tradition of the 1920’s, following the lead of Pound and Louis Zukofsky, but his work did not appear in print until a limited edition of 1930 was published in Milan. His adherence to the school of Pound and the relative obscurity of his work kept him from being read by a British audience who had turned to the new men of the 1930’s such as W. H. Auden, Louis MacNeice, and Stephen Spender. A collection of his poems published twenty years later in Texas (the poet himself was residing in Persia) did little to widen his audience. It was not until the 1960’s, especially with the publication of Briggflatts, that Bunting was rediscovered.

Bunting was quick to acknowledge the influence of Pound and Zukofsky. He was a close friend of Pound, who dedicated Guide to Kulchur (1938) jointly to Bunting and Zukofsky. Bunting’s early poems exhibit the brittle precision, vigor, and social commentary of Pound’s Cantos (1925-1972). In these early poems, one also finds, ingeniously rendered in modern idiom, showpiece passages of Horace, Lucretius, Niccolò Machiavelli, the Persian poet Firdusi, Rdak of Samarkand, and others (Bunting was a master of languages). Such “translations” are actually free resurrections in English of the poetry of another language. Again after the manner of Pound, Bunting skillfully captures the character of the speaker in...

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Agenda 8 (Autumn, 1966). The entire issue is devoted to Bunting’s poetry and includes essays by established critics and poets. Kenneth Cox discusses Bunting’s economy of language and willingness to take risks with unexpected word choice. Robert Creeley notes Bunting’s deep English roots and his ear for the English language. Sir Herbert Read comments on Bunting’s insistence on music in poetry, and Charles Tomlinson explores the roots of that music in the work of Ezra Pound and William Carlos Williams and examines the musical structure of Briggflatts.

Agenda 19 (Spring, 1978). Another special issue on Bunting and his poetry. Peter Dale sets out to attack Bunting’s analogy of poetry with music and tries to find meaning instead, while Roland John discusses why the critics have neglected Bunting’s work. Peter Makin wonders to what degree the sound of a poem can communicate emotion, and Anthony Suter wonders also whether Bunting neglects meaning in his pursuit of sound. Also examines Bunting’s creative process in an interview with Peter Quartermain.

Alldritt, Keith. The Poet as Spy: The Life and Wild Times of Basil Bunting. London: Aurum Press, 1998. This biography of Bunting chronicles the poet’s early and lasting struggle to attain recognition for his talents, covering his imprisonment in 1918 for his role as conscientious objector to his travails in England, Iran, and Italy. Discusses the influence of Ezra Pound on his...

(The entire section is 643 words.)