English oral traditions Essay
English oral traditions
In 1978 Basil Bunting wrote that ‘poetry must be read aloud’ (Bunting 1978: 4-5). In this essay I will look at how far the literary oral traditions of England, and in particular Northern England, affected the poetry of Basil Bunting. I will first study what these traditions are. Then I will proceed by seeing how they appear to have influenced Bunting by studying the rhyme schemes, word usage and other literary forms of Buntings poetry. For this essay I will primarily concentrate on Briggflatts because the main character is Bloodaxe, an Anglo-Saxon lord and king.
So it is likely that Bunting was particularly aware of old oral traditions in this poem. I will decide through this essay whether it is important to read Bunting’s poetry aloud and so conclude whether oral tradition was important to Bunting and, by extension, contemporary poetry. What are the oral traditions that preceded the contemporary poets? ‘The first English literature was passed down orally’ (History of English Language Notes 449-1066).
Beowulf, the only surviving heroic epic in Old English, was originally memorised by bards called scops and passed on until, eventually, a monk recorded the poem. In Medieval England songs and sonnets were written for the probable accompaniment of the lyre or harp. Then in the ‘Elizabethan Age there was great cultural achievement, particularly in the area of music and drama’ (Kareti, Popular Amusements and Entertainment). By extension, the art of songs and musically accompanied sonnets also became rife in and around court.
Indeed, even in 1900, the North-East of England had a proud tradition of ballads and songs around which Bunting would have grown up. Clearly, the English language has evolved through an oral tradition right up until the present day. Whilst looking at Briggflatts I will compare Bunting’s techniques with those of past traditions in order to see how far these were important to him. Bunting’s poem Briggflatts is rife with alliteration which is an oral type of rhyme. This sort of rhyme was also extremely common in Old English.
Compare: Gotan mid gui?? e; giomonna gestrion (OE) To: Crew grunt and grasp (l 197) As can be seen from these quotations, Bunting’s use of alliteration is very similar to that of Old English and therefore designed primarily for reading aloud. Making many words begin with the same letter ties the lines together. It creates a symmetry and harmony that disappears when the poem is read in silence. I believe that it also brings out meaning in the poem that would be hidden because it draws attention to certain words in each sentence.
I have found, in reading Briggflatts that the letter ‘s’ is used many times in the alliteration. This gives the poem a more sombre feeling as the ‘s’ becomes drawn out and is a prolonged sound as opposed to letters such as ‘t’ and ‘p. ‘ Therefore, this slows down the speech of the reader and the poem begins to form moods as you read. Because reading aloud is so obviously important to this point I feel that this supports the view that Bunting found the oral traditions of England important.