The Spoils, as published, is a poem in three parts; Bunting originally designed it as a “sonata” in four parts but in response to comments by Louis Zukofsky on a draft of the poem, Bunting somewhat hurriedly conflated parts three and four of his original design. The result is, as Bunting himself was later to feel, a certain “lopsidedness”. A central theme of the poem is stated in its first four lines:
Man's life so little worth,
do we fear to take or lose it?
No ill companion on a journey, Death
lays his purse on the table and opens the wine.
In the symmetrically constructed Part I, four speakers (their speeches as neatly ordered as a fugue) offer their variations on this …