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This article is taken from PN Review 59, Volume 14 Number 3, January - February 1988.

Poems and Poesies Les A. Murray

In an article published posthumously in the Canadian magazine Writing in 1985, Basil Bunting takes strong exception to the opinion of Pound and Eliot that poetry is a useful art, purifying the dialect of the tribe and keeping words sharp-edged and precise. He argues that they were in thrall to the utilitarianism of Jeremy Bentham and Benjamin Franklin, unable to escape from that tradition into the real world. He writes:

Utilitarianism is the extreme case of humanism, for what they mean by 'useful' is 'what ministers to the material needs of man' - that's Franklin - 'of mankind in general' - that's Bentham. If religion is what we are taught from our youth up, what is meant to influence all our behaviour and most of our thoughts, utilitarianism is the religion of the West in this century as it was through most of last century: a religion that has put an abstraction called Man in the place that used to be occupied by a foggy idea called God. The fellow who makes two blades of grass grow where one grew before is the greatest benefactor (therefore it was right for the Italians to conquer Libya, and it is right for the Jewish farmers and manufacturers to drive out nomad Arabs, and it was right for the settlers on this continent to starve or shoot the Indians). It is wrong to loaf and gawp about instead of working steadily at something useful, and of course it ...

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