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Briggflatts is a long poem by Basil Bunting published in 1966. The work is subtitled "An Autobiography." The title "Briggflatts" comes from the name of Brigflatts Meeting House (spelled with one "g" in Quaker circles) in a Quaker Friends meeting house near Sedbergh in Cumbria, England. Bunting visited Brigflatts as a schoolboy when the family of one of his schoolfriends lived there, and it was at this time that he developed a strong attachment to his friend's sister, Peggy Greenbank, to whom the poem is dedicated. It was first read in public on 22 December 1965 at the Morden Tower, and published in 1966 by Fulcrum Press.[1] Bunting also wrote another poem with "Briggflatts" in its title, the short work "At Briggflatts meetinghouse" (1975).[2][3]

Looking south down Brigflatts Lane. The Quaker Meeting House is the building on the left.

The poem[edit]

The poem begins with an epigraph reading: "The spuggies are fledged". The text contains a note explaining that the word means "little sparrows" in a north-east dialect.[4] The poem itself has a five-part structure. The first part has a regular structure of 12 stanzas each containing 13 lines. In the following four parts the stanzas vary in length from couplets to quatrains to stanzas of more than 20 lines. The rhyme scheme also changes throughout the poem as the bulk of the text appears in free verse while other lines do contain rhyming patterns.

Bunting believed that the essential element of poetry is the sound, and that if the sound is right, the listener will hear, enjoy and be moved; and that there may be no need for further explanation.

"Poetry, like music, is to be heard. It deals in sound - long sounds and short sounds, heavy beats and light beats, the tone relations of the vowels, the relations of consonants to one another which are like instrumental colour in music. Poetry lies dead on the page until some voice brings it to life, just as music on the stave, is no more than instructions to the player. A skilled musician can imagine the sound, more or less, and a skilled reader can try to hear, mentally, what his eyes see in print: but nothing will satisfy either of them till his ears hear it as real sound in the air. Poetry must be read aloud." [Bunting, 1966. The Poet's Point of View', included in Basil Bunting, Briggflatts (2009). Bloodaxe Books, Northumberland].

Critical response[edit]

Mark Rudman suggests that "Briggflatts" is an example of how free verse can be seen as an advance on traditional metrical poetry. He cites the poem to show that free verse can include a rhyme scheme without following other conventions of traditional English poetry. To Rudman, the poem allows the subject to dictate the rhyming words and argues that the "solemn mallet" is allowed to change the patterns of speech in the poetry to meet with the themes discussed in the text.[5]


  1. ^ "A Basic Chronology"[permanent dead link], Basil Bunting Poetry Centre. Accessed 2006-12-01.
  2. ^ "Basil Bunting - At Briggflatts meetinghouse (1975)", Jacket Magazine; accessed 2006-12-01.
  3. ^ "Bunting Texts" Archived July 18, 2006, at the Wayback Machine, accessed 2006-12-01.
  4. ^ Davie, Donald. Under Briggflatts. University of Chicago Press, 1989, p. 40.
  5. ^ Rudman, Mark. "Word Roots: Notes on Free Verse". Conversant Essays: Contemporary Poets on Poetry, Wayne State University Press, ISBN 978-0-8143-2100-3, p. 153–155.
  • Bunting, 1966. "The Poet's Point of View", included in Basil Bunting, Briggflatts (2009). Bloodaxe Books, Northumberland.

External links[edit]