Bunting’s Thrush.

Yesterday’s post reminded me of one of my favorite Basil Bunting poems; it’s the first in his Second Book of Odes:


A thrush in the syringa sings.

‘Hunger ruffles my wings, fear,
lust, familiar things.

Death thrusts hard. My sons
by hawk’s beak, by stones,
trusting weak wings
by cat and weasel, die.

Thunder smothers the sky.
From a shaken bush I
list familiar things,
fear, hunger, lust.’

O gay thrush!

(I don’t think I had realized before that “syringa” is lilac, and Bunting used the fancier word for the resonance with “sings.”) More on Bunting here, and more odes here.


  1. Let’s also get the big (571 pages), newish (2016) Poems of Basil Bunting, ed. Don Share (Faber).

  2. Goddammit, I’ve already got the Collected Poems and the Complete Poems; once you’ve got the Complete you’re supposed to be done! No more poems! It’s Complete!

  3. David Eddyshaw says

    A poem is never finished; it is only abandoned.

  4. Kozma Prutkov was there first. Or at least earlier. He kept all his writings in Morocco leather briefcases with «d’inachevé» emblazoned on them.

  5. David Eddyshaw says

    A propos of nothing much, I was googling to find the original that Auden was paraphrasing and discovered this Valéryism, which appealed to my existential dread:

    Dieu a tout fait de rien. Mais le rien perce.

  6. Is there a close-quote missing on the penultimate line?

  7. Stu Clayton says

    Mais le rien perce

    Another gnomic gnosticism. We are urged to cultiver nos jardins, not spend our time fretfully turning over every cabbage leaf in fear of what might lie beneath.

    Reading on from another thread, I found consolation in the notion of a “proper class of Woodin cardinals”. It explains so much I myself have worried about.

  8. David Eddyshaw says

    Enough of this Panglossery! Embrace the Void!

  9. Stu Clayton says

    Offer Void where inapplicable.

  10. David Eddyshaw says

    Woodin Cardinals are a consolation, to be sure. Especially when they form proper classes. I’ll concede that.

  11. Stu Clayton says

    I’ll have you know that for decades I embraced the Void at every opportunity, in every conceivable position. I’m absolutely sated with Emptiness. And for what ?

  12. David Eddyshaw says

    For nothing?

  13. Stu Clayton says

    Goal achieved. Now I must start again from the beginning, right ? There’s something fishy here, possibly flounder (my favorite Grimm).

  14. Is there a close-quote missing on the penultimate line?

    Well spotted! Thanks, I’ll fix it.

  15. J.W. Brewer says

    Apropos of absolutely nothing immediately above, I just spotted this link, thought it would be of decidedly Hattic interest, found myself too tired to compose a separate email to the proprietor alerting him to it, and thus decided to just stick it here out of context and let Mr. Hat do another thread about it if he thinks it worth the bother: https://www.themoscowtimes.com/2020/03/27/a-guide-to-russian-stance-verbs-a69777

    It reminded me of “She said money is like us in time / It lies but can’t stand up.” But maybe that’s just me.

  16. Stu Clayton says

    That piece by Mab deserves a thread of its own.

  17. I often suspect I’m on a different planet from most everyone here, but the fact that yesterday’s post reminded me of Temples of Syrinx, a song from Rush’s classic 2112 album, seems to put that into sharper focus.

    It seems relevant that a poet conversant with rare cognates of syrinx is named Bunting.

    It’s in the fall, long after mating season, that Buntings form mixed flocks with Woodin cardinals. It’s a vulgarity to describe them as classes.

  18. AJP Crown says

    Shelah cardinals are a kind of large cardinals.

    – ̶C̶a̶t̶h̶o̶l̶i̶c̶ ̶A̶u̶s̶t̶r̶a̶l̶i̶a̶̶.̶ ̶ ̶ Wikipedia.

  19. AJP Crown says

    Syringa: Bunting’s Thrush or Thrunting’s Bush?

  20. AJP Crown says

    That piece by Mab deserves a thread of its own.

    It does. What do clothes do in English? Hang?

  21. Stu Clayton says

    They hang on hooks, or from the shoulders of the emaciated. Otherwise they fit, or don’t, or are worn.

    English is, I suspect, in this respect little affected by the sartorial practices of desert countries where lengths of cloth serve as clothing.

  22. That’s a great column and I’ve posted it — thanks!

  23. John Cowan says

    There’s something fishy here, possibly flounder (my favorite Grimm).

    Links to the story in the original Low Saxon, English, Scots, Dutch, Standard German, an American cultural translation, and Pushkin’s Russian. “Kannitverstan” in the original German, English, and Dutch for lagniappe.

  24. J.W. Brewer says

    To Ryan’s point, even if one were inclined to free associate over to rock music from pretty much anything, which is definitely a tendency I have myself, I should think syringa -> syringe -> any of the vast number of talented-yet-imprudent musicians who got mixed up with heroin would be the more obvious free-associative pathway than syringa -> Temples of Syrinx. That said, Ryan should be no more ashamed to confess an unfashionable taste for Rush than David E. should be to confess an unfashionable taste for Calvinism. This is Liberty Hall, innit?

  25. David Eddyshaw says

    What do clothes do in English?

    In Kusaal, you most clothes, but you pid items of clothing that you insert a peripheral part of your person into, like rings, shoes, and (of course) Hats.

    IIRC, Japanese makes a similar sort of distinction but with more categories.

    an unfashionable taste for Calvinism

    Pah. We Calvinists are classic early adopters (we know this for certain, of course, because Predestination.)

  26. Japanese makes a similar sort of distinction


  27. SFReader says

    Mongolian uses verb “to hang” for wearing scarves, glasses, earrings, jewelry in general, ties, other accessories.

    Crowns and medals too, but not hats which are “worn”.

  28. David Marjanović says

    Links to the story in the original Low Saxon

    I think that’s a suitably prince-sized halibut in there, not a flounder.


    In literary German that’s tragen (“carry, bear”) for everything, but that’s not what I’m used to: anhaben for clothes including ties but not scarves, aufhaben for headgear, and just haben for jewelry and scarves.

  29. possibly flounder (my favorite Grimm)

    As discussed here. (Where’s Grumbly? I put that Butt in just for him!)

  30. Trond Engen says

    Norwegian clothing is taken on yourself and had on yourself.
    Jeg har ingenting å ha på meg! “I have nothing to wear!”
    Ta på deg lue og votter når du går ut. “Take on a warm hat and mittens when you go out,”

  31. Lars Mathiesen says

    In Denmark we’re not so self-centered, it’s just ta(ge) på and ha(ve) på. (Or perhaps that’s exactly what we are, since we just assume people know who is wearing stuff).

    Also we can place an adverb properly: Ta hue og vanter på når du går ud!

  32. David Marjanović says

    “Take” is an option in German with such things.

    Setz (dir) eine Haube/Mütze auf und zieh Handschuhe an, wenn du hinausgehst
    Nimm eine Haube/Mütze und Handschuhe, wenn du hinausgehst

    “I have nothing to wear!”

    “I have nothing to put on” in German: ich habe nichts anzuziehen/zum Anziehen.

  33. Which is literally “to pull on”.

  34. The state flower of Idaho is the syringe. I did not realize until now that it was a high falutin’ way to say lilac.

  35. Hey, Karl, great to see you around these parts!

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