Bunting at Brigflatts

Basil Buntin (1900-1985) at Briggflats 1983. Photo by Derek Smith. Courtesy Bloodaxe Blogs.

Basil Cheesman Bunting (1 March 1900 – 17 April 1985)[1] was a significant modernist English poet whose reputation was established with the publication of Briggflatts in 1966.[2] He had a lifelong interest in music that led him to emphasize the sonic qualities of poetry, particularly the importance of reading poetry aloud. He was an accomplished reader of his own work.


Bunting was born into a Quaker family in Scotswood-on-Tyne, Northumberland (now part of Newcastle upon Tyne). He studied at 2 Quaker schools: 1912-1916 at Ackworth School in Yorkshire, and 1916-1918 at Leighton Park School in Berkshire.[3]

His Quaker education strongly influenced his pacifist opposition to World War I, and in 1918 he was arrested as a conscientious objector, serving a sentence of more than a year in Wormwood Scrubs and Winchester prisons.[4] Bunting's friend Louis Zukosfky described him as a "conservative/anti-fascist/imperialist",[5] though Bunting himself listed the major influences on his artistic and personal outlook somewhat differently as "Jails and the sea, Quaker mysticism and socialist politics, a lasting unlucky passion, the slums of Lambeth and Hoxton ..."[6]

These events were to have an important role in his first major poem, "Villon" (1925). "Villon" was one of a rather rare set of complex structured poems that Bunting labelled "sonatas," thus underlining the sonic qualities of his verse and recalling his love of music. After his release from prison in 1920, traumatized by the time spent there, Bunting went to London, where he enrolled in the London School of Economics, and had his earliest contacts with journalists, social activists and Bohemia. Bunting was introduced to the works of Ezra Pound by Nina Hamnett who lent him a copy of Homage to Sextus Propertius.[7] The glamour of the cosmopolitan modernist examples of Nina Hamnett and Mina Loy seems to have influenced Bunting in his later move from London to Paris.

After having travelled in Northern Europe while holding small secretarial jobs in London, Bunting left the London School of Economics without a degree and went to France. There, in 1923, he became friendly with Ezra Pound, who years later would dedicate his Guide to Kulchur (1938) to both Bunting and Louis Zukofsky, "strugglers in the desert". Bunting's poetry began to show the influence of this friendship. He visited Pound in Rapallo, Italy, and later settled there with his family from 1931 to 1933. He was published in the Objectivist issue of Poetry magazine, in the Objectivist Anthology, and in Pound's Active Anthology.

During World War II, Bunting served in British Military Intelligence in Persia. After the war, he continued to serve on the British Embassy staff in Tehran until he was expelled by Muhammad Mussadegh in 1952.

Back in Newcastle, he worked as a journalist on the Evening Chronicle until his rediscovery during the 1960s by young poets, notably Tom Pickard and Jonathan Williams, who were interested in working in the modernist tradition. In 1965, he published his major long poem, Briggflatts, named for the Quaker meeting house in Cumbria where he is now buried. Bunting died in 1985 in Hexham, Northumberland.[1]



Main article: Briggflatts

Divided into 5 parts, Briggflatts is a kind of poetic autobiography, looking back on teenage love and on Bunting's involvement in the high modernist period. In addition, "Briggflatts" can be read as a meditation on the limits of life and a celebration of Northumbrian culture and dialect, as symbolised by events and figures like the doomed Viking King Eric Bloodaxe. The critic Cyril Connolly was among the first to recognise the poem's value, describing it as "the finest long poem to have been published in England since T.S. Eliot's Four Quartets".


Portrait bustEdit

Basil Bunting sat in Northumberland for sculptor Alan Thornhill with a resulting terracotta[8] (for bronze) in existence. The correspondence file relating to the Bunting portrait bust is held as part of the Thornhill Papers (2006:56) in the archive[9] of the Henry Moore Foundation's Henry Moore Institute in Leeds and the terracotta remains in the collection of the artist.



  • Redimiculum Matellarum. privately printed, 1930.
  • Poems: 1950. Cleaners' Press, 1950
    • revised edition published as Loquitur. Fulcrum Press, 1965.
  • The Spoils. Newcastle-upon-Tyne, UK: Morden Tower Book Room, 1965.
  • First Book of Odes. Fulcrum Press, 1965.
  • Ode II/2. Fulcrum Press, 1965.
  • Two Poems. Unicorn Press, 1967.
  • What the Chairman Told Tom. Pym-Randall Press, 1967.
  • Collected Poems. Fulcrum Press, 1968\
    • Oxford University Press, 1978; 2nd edition, 1980.
  • Uncollected Poems (edited by Richard Caddel). Oxford University Press, 1991.
  • The Complete Poems (edited by Richard Caddel), Oxford University Press, 1994.


  • Briggflatts: An Autobiography. Fulcrum Press, 1966
    • 2nd edition, 1966.
  • Basil Bunting on Poetry (edited by Peter Makin). Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1999.


  • Selected Poems of Ford Madox Ford (editor and author of preface). Pym-Randall Press, 1971.
  • Version of Horace. Holborn, 1972.
  • Selected Poems of Joseph Skipsey (autographed edition). Sunderland: Ceolfrith Press, 1976.

BASIL BUNTING, Second Book of Odes, 1

BASIL BUNTING, Second Book of Odes, 1

Except where noted, bibliographical information courtesy the Poetry Foundation.[10]

Basil Bunting reading from 'Briggflatts'

Basil Bunting reading from 'Briggflatts'

See alsoEdit


  • Alldritt, Keith, The Poet As Spy: The Life and Wild Times of Basil Bunting.London: Aurum Press, 1998. ISBN 9781854104779.
  • Makin, Peter (editor), Basil Bunting on Poetry. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1999. ISBN 9780801861666.
  • Alldritt, Keith, Modernism in the Second World War:The Later Poetry of Ezra Pound, T.S. Eliot, Basil Bunting and Hugh MacDiarmid. New York: Peter Lang, 1989. ISBN 0-8204-0865-4


  1. 1.0 1.1 "Basic Bunting - A Basic Chronology". Basil Bunting Poetry Center. Durham University. 26 May 2009. Retrieved 21 May 2010. 
  3. Pursglove, Glyn (21 March 2002). "Basil Bunting". The Literary Encyclopedia. The Literary Dictionary Company. Retrieved 7 May 2006. 
  4. Myers, Alan (2004). "Basil Bunting (1900–1985)". Myers Literary Guide to North-East England. Centre for Northern Studies. Archived from the original on 5 March 2006. Retrieved 7 May 2006. 
  5. James J. Wilhelmm, Ezra Pound: the tragic years, 1925-1972, Penn State Press, 1994, p. 128.
  6. Bill Griffiths (1998). Chicago Review 44. 
  7. Peter Makin, "Bunting: the Shaping of his Verse" (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1992)
  8. portrait head of Basil Bunting in clay for bronze image of sculpture by Alan Thornhill who travelled to Northumberland for Bunting's sitting
  9. HMI Archive
  10. Basil Bunting 1900-1985, Poetry Foundation, Web, Aug. 14, 2012.

External linksEdit

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