A long poem
by Basil Bunting
, his best-known work. He subtitled it "An Autobiography
". It was published in 1966.
It is named after a Quaker meeting-house, more usually spelt Brigflatts, near Sedbergh in the West Riding of Yorkshire, in the dale of the River Rawthey. Basil Bunting attended services here for 72 years. The house, of stone, oak, and plaster, dates from 1675, the first meeting-house in the north of England. The poem is dedicated to Peggy, sister of the school-friend who introduced him to it.
The poem, a little over thirty pages long, is in five parts. The first is full of short, tough words, to match the rhythm and work of a stonemason. A cart creaks; sheep and larks sound over the Rawthey. The tale of Eric Bloodaxe, the Viking king of York, hangs over the land. In the second the poet thinks of the sea and the south, of a galliard by Byrd and a madrigal by Monteverdi. There are so many different voices and styles in it that I can barely begin to convey the tone.
Stone smooth as skin,
cold as the dead they load
on a low lorry by night.
The moon sits on the fell
but it will rain.
Under sacks on the stone
two children lie,
hear the horse stale,
the mason whistle,
harness mutter to shaft,
felloe to axle squeak,
rut thud the rim,
It sounds right, spoken on the ridge
between marine olives and hillside
blue figs, under the breeze fresh
with pollen of Apennine sage.
It feels soft, weed thick in the cave
and the smooth, wet riddance of Antonietta's
bathing suit, mouth ajar for
submarine Amalfitan kisses.
Win from rock
flame and ore.
Furthest, fairest things, stars, free of our humbug,
each his own, the longer known the more alone,
wrapt in emphatic fire roaring out to a black flue.
Each spark trills on a tone beyond chronological compass,
yet in a sextants' bubble present and firm
places a surveyor's stone or steadies a tiller.
Then is Now. The star you steer by is gone,
its tremulous thread spun in the hurricane
spider floss on my cheek; light from the zenith
spun when the slowworm lay in her lap
fifty years ago.