Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

Briggflatts is a poem of departure and return, both in the musical sense and in terms of the poem’s architecture. It includes more than five decades in the life of the poet and is structured as a journey from home ground into the world and then back to the poet’s origins. The wide range of events and locales that it covers is ordered by the development of the distinctive sensibility of the poet. This central “character” is eager for experience, fascinated by phenomena, determined to confront moral conundrums, in love with learning, and deeply affected by his feeling for the countryside of his birth. He takes, as his task, the reconstruction of the crucial incidents of his formation as an artist and, in accordance with this goal, accepts the challenge of assessing the moral dimensions of the choices he made during that process.

To accomplish this, Bunting likens a person’s life course to the progression of the seasons—a familiar and resonant comparison—calling spring a time of “Love and betrayal,” summer a period in which there is “no rest from ambition,” autumn a season for “reflexion,” and winter (or “Old age”) the time when one “can see at last the loveliness of things overlooked.” Throughout, there is an awareness of mortality, and the semiserenity of the poem’s close is more a matter of a willingness to accept the ongoing mysteries of existence as a source of wonder and contemplative delight than any kind...

(The entire section is 481 words.)