‘Briggflatts’ by the Northumbrian poet Basil Bunting (1900-1985) is a long, discursive poem in free verse, somewhat in the style of Ezra Pound’s ‘Cantos’, which Bunting greatly admired, and like the ‘Cantos’ it makes considerable demands on the reader. This is a tradition that I struggle to relate to, and I have to confess that much of the poem is not to my taste, but I do like these two passages, which are separate in the text yet seem to fit naturally together as an elegiac farewell to life and love.
My love is young but wise. Oak, applewood,
her fire is banked with ashes till day.
The fells reek of her hearth’s scent,
her girdle is greased with lard;
hunger is stayed on her settle, lust in her bed.
Light as spider floss her hair on my cheek which a puff scatters,
light as a moth her fingers on my thigh.
We have eaten and loved and the sun is up,
we have only to sing before parting:
Goodbye, dear love.
Her scones are greased with fat of fried bacon,
her blanket comforts my belly like the south.
We have eaten and loved and the sun is up.
The sheets are gathered and bound,
the volume indexed and shelved,
dust on its marbled leaves.
Lofty, an empty combe,
silent but for bees.
Finger tips touched and were still
fifty years ago.
Sirius is too young to remember.
Sirius glows in the wind. Sparks on ripples
mark his line, lures for spent fish.
Fifty years a letter unanswered
a visit postponed for fifty years.
She has been with me fifty years.
Starlight quivers. I had day enough.
For love uninterrupted night.