Basil Bunting’s Lectures on Poetic Origins – 3

Basil Bunting (1900-1985)

Allen Ginsberg’s remarks on Basil Bunting’s lectures continues

AG: So then, the next thing would be the comparing of the time of the steps, the time it takes for steps, or the ratio of times of the steps, to count the syllables. In.. an orderly measure in dance would be the steps, in music, it would be the notes, in poetry, the syllables. A pattern of spatial rhythms, ratio of repetitions, and so forth.

And then he (Basil Bunting) says – this is really interesting – this – “A poem is not quite alien to a pot.” Because when you put it… The pot is the dance of clay on the potter’s wheel, and you make a sort of orderly ratio of designs, as the wheel goes round in your hand you make designs. So he was saying the poem is not quite alien to a pot. That is to say, Pottery, visually – that’s where visual arts evolve out of the dance (which was a very interesting conception, if you follow. I mean it’s just a strange idea.,whether it’s true or not. It’s just really knocked out

Student: Quite an analogy!

AG: ..erm..

Student: Did you get all this from his lectures?

AG Yeah, this is just a little summary, of these few gists that I got, that I was listening to, last night. (That) where music and poetry diverge… Well, also, it’s (his) formulations, it’s his language that I really like (about) it – a real simple thing that saying, “Some languages measure the time it takes to speak a syllable and that is called quantity”. That is about the best definition of quantitative measure that I’ve heard –Some languages measure the time it takes to speak a syllable..” It’s real simple. I mean, my own explanation is so complicated, but this seems.. “the time it takes to speak a syllable”.

And he says, “When music and poetry diverge too far they lose shape and become slack (I guess you could apply it to dance)

Student: Allen.. (you said that) (he says this is) the time it takes to measure a.. syllable?

AG: Yes

Student: And that’s the same as quantitative?

AG: Yes. The time it takes to speak a syllable (or is it “say”?, the phrase I have here – to “speak” a syllable) – “Some languages measure the time it takes to speak a syllable”

He also said something interesting.. (but…), Does that make sense?

Student: Well, I thought that quantitative had to do with vowels, with (taking in the) vowels and not the syllable?

AG: Yeah, but, I suppose he was calling it just on…he was just laying it down on syllable ok as syllable, which, I think, is maybe more basic than vowel. I guess it’s the vowels that are measured in Greek and Latin but he’s just saying syllables. No? what.?.

Student 2: A long vowel does make a long syllable but it’s not the only thing that can make long syllables.

AG: Aha what? Consonants.

Student 2: Yeah, you can have a short vowel before certain combinations of consonants and it’s long

AG: Okay, then it would be better to say ‘syllable” than vowel

He pointed out, incidentally, that German (is this true? I don’t know German) German prosody includes both quantity and stress on syllables – Germany includes both quantity and stress. In other words, in measurement of German poetry, there is a.. He said it was the only language that retained some quantitative measure as well as stressed syllables. I don’t know enough German to know that . Does that make any sense to anybody that knows German?

Student: I’m not sure. He says it’s the only language that does that ?

AG: The only European language that does it. Well, we’ll check it out.

And what else?

to be continued

[Audio for the above can be heard here, beginning at approximately twenty-four-and-a-quarter minutes in and concluding at approximately twenty-eight minutes in]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *