In such soft air
they trudge and sing,
laying the tune frankly on the air
Crew grunt and gasp. Nothing he sees
they see, but hate and serve. Unscarred ocean,
day's swerve, swell's poise, pursuit,
he blends, balances, drawing leagues under the keel
to raise cold cliffs where tides
knot fringes of weed.
Heart slow, nerves numb and memory, he lay
on glistening moss by a spring;
as a woodman dazed by an adder's sting
barely within recall
tests the rebate tossed to him, so he
ascertained moss and bracken,
a cold squirm snaking his flank
and breath leaked to his ear:
I am neither snake nor lizard,
I am the slowworm.
Ripe wheat is my lodging. I polish
my side on pillars of its transept,
gleam in its occasional light.
copies my gait.
Sycamore seed twirling,
O, writhe to its measure!
Dust swirling trims pleasure.
Thorns prance in a gale.
In air snow flickers,
Swaggering, shimmering fall,
drench and towel us all!
So he rose and led home silently through clean woodland
where every bough repeated the slowworm's song.
I hear Aneurin number the dead and rejoice,
being adult male of a merciless species.
Today's posts are piles to drive into the quaggy past
on which impermanent palaces balance.
Clear Cymric voices carry well this autumn night,
Aneurin and Taliesin, cruel owls
for whom it is never altogether dark, crying
before the rules made poetry a pedant's game.
Applewood, hard to rive,
its knots smoulder all day.
Slur, ratio, tone,
chime dilute what's done
as a flute clarifies song,
trembling phrase facing to pause
then glow. Solstice past,
years end crescendo.
Mist sets lace of frost
on rock for the tide to mangle.
Day is wreathed in what summer lost.
silence by silence sits,
and Then is diffused in Now.
Starlight is almost flesh.
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 sextant's 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.
Starlight quivers. I had day enough.
For love uninterrupted night.
Bloodaxe's new edition of Briggflatts, including a CD of Bunting's reading of the poem and a DVD film of Bunting, can be purchased from Amazon.co.uk.