from Odes: 30. The Orotava Road

By Basil Bunting 1900–1985 Basil Bunting
Four white heifers with sprawling hooves
         trundle the waggon.
   Its ill-roped crates heavy with fruit sway.   
The chisel point of the goad, blue and white,
         glitters ahead,
   a flame to follow lance-high in a man’s hand   
who does not shave. His linen trousers
         like him want washing.
   You can see his baked skin through his shirt.   
He has no shoes and his hat has a hole in it.
         ‘Hu ! vaca ! Hu ! vaca !’
   he says staccato without raising his voice;   
‘Adios caballero’ legato but
         in the same tone.
   Camelmen high on muzzled mounts   
boots rattling against the panels   
         of an empty
   packsaddle do not answer strangers.
Each with his train of seven or eight tied   
         head to tail they
   pass silent but for the heavy bells   
and plip of slobber dripping from
         muzzle to dust;
   save that on sand their soles squeak slightly.   
Milkmaids, friendly girls between   
         fourteen and twenty
   or younger, bolt upright on small   
trotting donkeys that bray (they arch their   
         tails a few inches
   from the root, stretch neck and jaw forward
to make the windpipe a trumpet)
         chatter. Jolted
   cans clatter. The girls’ smiles repeat   
the black silk curve of the wimple   
         under the chin.
   Their hats are absurd doll’s hats   
or flat-crowned to take a load.
         All have fine eyes.
   You can guess their balanced nakedness   
under the cotton gown and thin shift.   
         They sing and laugh.
   They say ‘Adios!’ shyly but look back   
more than once, knowing our thoughts   
         and sharing our
   desires and lack of faith in desire.



Basil Bunting, “30. The Orotava Road” from Complete Poems, edited by Richard Caddel. Reprinted with the permission of Bloodaxe Books Ltd., www.bloodaxebooks.com.

Source: Collected Poems (Bloodaxe Books, 1968)

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Poet Basil Bunting 1900–1985

POET’S REGION England

SCHOOL / PERIOD Modern

Subjects Relationships, Love, Social Commentaries, Jobs & Working, Activities, Desire, Realistic & Complicated

 Basil  Bunting

Biography

Basil Bunting was born in Scotswood-on-Tyne, Northumberland. Despite numerous years abroad in Italy, the Canary Islands, the United States, and current-day Iran, Bunting is known as a poet of Northern England and is closely associated with Northumberland, where he lived during the last years of his life. Bunting attended a Quaker school and was a conscientious objector during World War I. Arrested for his political views, . . .

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Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Relationships, Love, Social Commentaries, Jobs & Working, Activities, Desire, Realistic & Complicated

POET’S REGION England

SCHOOL / PERIOD Modern

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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