Basil Bunting


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 is 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 unforewained.
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.