Basil Bunting


Down into dust and reeds
at the patrolled bounds
where captives thicken to gaze
slither companions, wary, armed,
whose torches straggle
seeking charred hearths
to define a road.
Day, dim, laps at the shore
in petulant ripples
soon smoothed in night
on pebbles worn by tabulation till
only the shell of figures is left
as fragile honeycomb breeze.
Tides of day strew the shingle
tides of night sweep, snoring;
and some turned back, taught
by dreams the year would capsize
where the bank quivers, paved 
will gulls stunned on a cliff
not hard to climb, muffled
in flutter, scored by beaks,
pestered by scavengers
whose palms scoop droppings to mould
cakes for hungry towns. One
plucked fruit warm from the arse
of his companion, who
making to beat him, he screamed:
Hastor! Hastor! but Hastor
raised dung thickened lashes to stare
disdaining those who cry:
Sweet shit! Buy!
for he swears in the market:
By God with whom I lunched!
there is no trash in the wheat
my loaf is kneaded from.
Nor will unprofitable motion
stir the stink that settles round him.
Leave given
we would have slaughtered the turd-bakers
but neither whip nor knife
can welt their hide.
Guides at the top claim fees
though the way is random
past hovels hags lean from 
rolling lizard eyes
at boys gnawed by the wolf,
past bevelled downs, grey marshes
where souse in brine
long rotted corpses, others,
needier, sneak through saltings
to snatch toe, forearm, ear,
and on gladly to hills
briar and bramble vest
where beggars advertise
rash, chancre, fistula,
to hug glib shoulders, mingle herpetic
limbs with stumps and cosset the mad.
Some the laughing Stone disables
whom giggle and snicker waste
till fun suffocates them. Beyond
we heard the teeming falls of the dead,
saw kelts fall back long-jawed, without flesh,
cruel by appetite beyond its term,
straining to bright gravel spawning pools.
Eddies batter them, borne down to the sea,
archipelago of galaxies,
zero suspending the world.
Banners purple and green flash from its walls,
pennants of red, orange blotched pale on blue,
glimmer of ancient arms
to pen and protect mankind.
But we desired Macedonia,
the rocky meadows, horse, barley pancakes,
incest and familiar games,
to end in our place by our own wars,
and deemed the peak unscaleable; but he
reached to a crack in the rock
with some scorn, resolute though in doubt,
traversed limestone to gabbro,
file sharp, skinning his fingers,
and granite numb with ice, in air
too thin to bear up a gnat, 
scrutinizing holds while day lasted,
groping for holds in the dark
till the morning star reflected
in the glazed crag
and other light not of the sun
dawning from above
lit feathers sweeping snow
and the limbs of Israfel,
trumpet in hand, intent on the east,
cheeks swollen to blow,
whose sigh is cirrus: Yet delay!
When will the signal come
to summon man to his clay?

Heart slow, nerves numb and memory, he lay
on glistening moss by a spring;
as a woodman dazed by an adder’s sting
barely within recall
test the rebate tossed to him, so he
ascertained moss and bracken,
a cold squirm snaking his flank
and breath leaked to his ear:
I am neither snake nor lizard,
I am the slowworm.

Ripe wheat is my lodging. I polish
my side on pillars of its transept,
gleam in its occasional light.
Its swaying
copies my gait.

Vaults stored with slugs to relish,
my quilt a litter of husks, I prosper
lying low, little concerned.
My eyes sharpen
when I blink.
Good luck to reaper and miller!
Grubs adhere even to stubble.
Come plow time
the ditch is near.

Sycamore seed twirling,
O, writhe to its measure!
Dust swirling trims pleasure.
Thorns prance in a gale.
In air snow flickers,
twigs tap,
elms drip.

Swaggering, shimmering fall,
drench and towel us all!

So he rose and led home silently through clean woodland
where every bough repeated the slowworm’s song.