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Posted 11-23-2010 at 04:30 PM by Steve Bucknell
Updated 03-01-2011 at 02:06 PM by Steve Bucknell
Trees radiant in the low light, oak and beech. Dark stone walls against green upswept fells. In a flash we pass a road sign that points down a lane that says “Briggflatts”. I sit in the car wondering.

We arrive in Sedbergh. Westwood Books is a great barn of a bookshop full of treasures. I get nice collections by Chesterton and Belloc but the real prize is an anthology called “A Book of the Winter” compiled by Edith Sitwell. It’s a first edition published by Macmillan in 1950. It is superb. It makes my hands shake, full of Sir Thomas Browne,Burton, Donne, Blake, Rimbaud, Wyatt, Herrick, James Joyce, and Villon. Eight pounds! I feel nervous paying at the counter in case I’m found out. I run out of the shop waving “A Book of the Winter” triumphantly at the battered hills.

Next we go along the street to “The Sleepy Elephant”, which is cosy with Celtic and Moroccan knitwear, soaps and trinkets. We linger there to warm up and then I find “The Ewart Quarto” with witty illustrations by Nicola Jennings. Last stop in Sedburgh is Bertram Books where we meet Jill Bertram, who gets very enthusiastic about her collection of Fair Trade percussion instruments, and soon she and Adrienne are making astonishing rainforest tinklings and drummings while I hover bemused near the bookshelves. Here I snaffle a 1959 first edition of “Songs” by Christopher Logue which looks to have some powerful versions of Neruda:

“Two humans stand on a promontory.
The sun beats on them, the moon
Sickens their flesh, the wind flays them,
Softly: and the sea licks through the rock”

That’ll do me. Quite expensive, this, at fifteen pounds, but Adrienne encourages me to go for it.

By now I want to follow that glimpsed sign to Briggflatts, wondering if there’s any connection with the Basil Bunting poem. We turn down the lane and follow to “Friends Meeting House 1675." The Meeting House is a comforting place, with a calm well-like interior of wood surrounded by a gallery.

Up in the gallery I find a settle full of words and works by Basil Bunting. His 1975 poem “At Briggflatts Meetinghouse” centres me in this place:

Boasts time mocks cumber Rome. Wren
Set up his own monument.
Others watch fells dwindle, think
The sun’s fires sink.

Stones indeed sift to sand, oak
Blends with saints’ bones.
Yet for a little longer here
Stone and oak shelter

Silence while we ask nothing
But silence. Look how clouds dance
Under the wind’s wing, and leaves
Delight in transience.

The Quaker burial ground is a simple walled green space where each headstone is modest and equal, equally spaced; “Basil Bunting” it says “1900-1985”. Moss already blurs his name, though his own monument “Briggflatts” will remain to be rediscovered by new readers. This is a wonderful place to stand and be, but it's getting chilly. I’m ready to hurry home now to open my own copy of “Briggflatts” to breathe in its invigorating air again.

The Late Swallow

Leave, leave your well-loved nest,
Late swallow, and fly away.
Here is no rest
For hollowing heart and wearying wing.
Your comrades all have flown
To seek their southern paradise
Across the great earth’s downward sloping side,
And you are alone.
Why should you cling
Still to the swiftly ageing narrowing day?
Shake your pinions long untried
That now must bear you there where you would be
Through all the heavens of ice;
Till falling down the homing air
You light and perch on the radiant tree.

Edwin Muir
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