Wednesday, 26 November 2008

Two Poets

It had become something of a standing joke. We'd go to Heptonstall to look for Sylvia Plath's grave. We've been several times but never found it: until the other week. Call me gormless, but I never realised that there were two cemeteries there: an old and a new...

And then, before I'd had a chance to run off the film in my camera, we found ourselves a few miles further North, on the banks of the River Rawthey, the opening scene of one of my favourite poems, Basil Bunting's Briggflatts:

Brag, sweet tenor bull,
descant on Rawthey's madrigal,
each pebble it's part
for the fell's late Spring...

If you don't know the poem, the first part is available online. In a way, this is misleading. The poem does not sustain the tone of the first part throughout. It changes key more than once. Bunting subtitled it "An Autobiography", but this is an autobiography which admits not only all history (this is clear from the first part), but all time as well:

Aldebaran, low in the clear east,
beckoning boats to the fishing.
Capella floats from the north
with shields hung on his gunwale.
That is no dinghy's lantern
occulted by the swell - Betelgeuse,
calling behind him to Rigel.
Starlight is almost flesh.


Then is Now. The star you steer by is gone,
its tremulous thread spun in the hurricane
spider floss on my cheek; ...

Briggflatts occupies a niche in my mind which I think "English Literature" likes to reserve for The Waste Land. Bunting's refreshingly down-to-earth footnotes to the the poem are a good read in themselves ("Scone: rhyme it with 'on', not for heaven's sake, 'own'") and point out:
'"Sailors pronounce Betelgeuse "Beetle juice" and so do I. His companion is Ridgel, not "Rhy-ghel".'


BarbaraS said...

Ah, gorgeous. Even in winter there is beauty.

The Weaver of Grass said...

I must say that I cross the Rawthey at Sedbergh often and I never cross it without thinking of BriggFlats - that is what good poetry (or prose) should do I think - stay in the mind to be recalled often.

Sorlil said...

Plath's grave is looking a bit overgrown, do you live nearby then?

Anonymous said...

Bunting is very admirable but it's a shame he's wrong about how to pronounce 'scone'! He goes for the utterly middle class (at least around these yer parts) 'on' but all good sons and daughters of the soil (or other grubby parts) know that is a snobby fabrication. Pronounce it how it's spelt! ;)

Peace to all cake lovers.

Eclipse said...

Thank you for posting the picture of Sylvia Plath's grave, and a really nice picture of River Rawthey... Love the reflection!

Dominic Rivron said...

BarbaraS: at the right time of year there is loads of may-blossom round there, just as Bunting describes it.

TWG: have you visited the Briggflatts Friends Meeting House? It's just down the road.

Sorlil: yes it is. I don't live nearby. My children do.

Singing Bear: round here "scone" rhyming with "own" is thought of as the posh version. If you use it you get laughed at. Such is the strange world of regional variation. :)

Bunting thought Briggflatts should ideally be read with a Northumberland accent. He said “southrons would maul the music of many lines" in the poem.

Eclipse: you're welcome. (For some reason the UK seems to be just about the only country in the world I know of where people don't routinely reply to "thank you" with the expression "you're welcome", or something like it).

Poet in Residence said...

I must get round to reading Brigflatts. It's almost a crime that I haven't done so. Thanks for the link.
Have read a lot of Plath, have a volume Soc Vertical (pub: Barcelona Uni). Also have Bell Jar.
Grave looks suitably forlorn.
I did a silly thing. Went to the wrong graveyard in Laugharne first time, looking there for Dylan Thomas. Daft, eh?

Dominic Rivron said...

Can't beat a spot of celebrity grave-spotting! I used to work round the corner from Karl Marx's grave in Highgate Cemetry. It was a source of much amusement to us that he was buried opposite a Mr Spencer.

Poet in Residence said...

Have now had a listen to Bunting via your link. Great voice, almost Hebridean, he has. Many thanks. Gwilym

Totalfeckineejit said...

Nice shot of sylvias grave there Dominic, it clearly shows where the vandalised 'Hughes' part has been repaired.Must check out that Basil Bunting poem.Interesting too the promounciation,I vaguely remember hearing once that Wordsworth would have rhymed water with latter ie watter which was a fascinating revelation to me.

swiss said...

how did i miss that!? i feel the need for a trip down to englandshire now! esp when it's damp and textural so that i can wander about with bunting in my ears! let me know if you fancy a copy of the cd