William Barnes.

Select poems of William Barnes; online

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aroVERSn V ok < Af.IFORNH


This volume of verse includes, to the best of my
judgement, the greater part of that which is of the
highest value in the poetry of William Barnes. I
liave been moved to undertake the selection by
a thought that has overridden some immediate
objections to such an attempt, — that I chance to be
(I believe) one of the few living persons having
a practical acquaintance ^\ith letters who knew
familiarly the Dorset dialect when it was spoken as
Barnes Avrites it, or, perhaps, who know it as it is
spoken now. Since his death, education in the west
of England as elsewhere has gone on with its silent
and inevitable effacements, reducing the speech of
this country to uniformity, and obliterating every
year many a fine old local word. The process is
always the same : the word is ridiculed by the newly
taught ; it gets into disgrace ; it is heard in holes
and corners only ; it dies ; and, worst of all, it leaves
no synonym. In the villages that one recognizes to
be the scenes of these pastorals the poet's nouns,
adjectives, and idioms daily cease to be understood by

a 2


the younger generation, the hixury of four demon-
strative pronouns, of which he was so proud, vanishes
by their compression into the two of common English,
and the suffix to verbs Avhich marks continuity of
action is almost everywhere shorn aAvay.

To cull from a dead writer's whole achievement
in verse portions that shall exhibit him is a task of
no small difficulty, and of some temerity. There is
involved, first of all, the question of right. A selector
may say : These are the pieces that please me best ;
but he may not be entitled to hold that they are the
best in themselves and for everybody. This opens
the problem of equating the personality — of adjusting
the idiosyncrasy of the chooser to mean pitch. If it
can be done in some degree — one may doubt it —
there are to be borne in mind the continually chang-
ing taste of the times. But, assuming average critical
capacity in the compiler, that he represents his own
time, and that he finds it no great toil to come to
a conclusion on which in his view are the highest
levels and the lowest of a poet's execution, the com-
plete field of the work examined almost always
contains a large intermediate tract where the accom-
plishment is of nearly uniform merit throughout,
selection from which must be by a process of sampling
rather than of gleaning ; many a poem, too, of in-
different achievement in its wholeness may contain


some line, couplet, or stanza of great excellence ;
and contrariwise, a bad or irrelevant verse may
mar the good remainder; in each case the choice
is puzzled, and the balance struck by a single
mind can hardly escape being questioned here and

A word may be said on the arrangement of the
poems as * lyrical and elegiac"*; 'descriptive and
meditative ' ; ' humorous "" ; a classification which has
been adopted with this author in the present volume
for the first time. It is an old story that such
divisions may be open to grave objection, in respect,
at least, of the verse of the majority of poets, who
write in the accepted language. For one thing, many
fine poems that have lyric moments are not entirely
lyrical ; many largely narrative poems are not entire-
ly narrative ; many personal reflections or meditations
in verse hover across the frontiers of lyricism. To
this general opinion I would add that the same lines
may be lyrical to one temperament and meditative to
another ; nay, lyrical and not lyrical to the same
reader at different times, according to his mood and
circumstance. Gray's Elegy may be instanced as
a poem that has almost made itself notorious by
claiming to be a lyric in particular humours, situa-
tions, and weathers, and waiving the claim in others.

One might, to be sure, as a smart impromptu,
narrow down the definition of lyric to the safe boun-


dary of poetry that has all its nouns in the vocative
case, and so settle the question by the simple touch-
stone of the grammar-book, adducing the Benedicite
as a shining example. But this qualification would
be disconcerting in its stringency, and cause a flutter-
ing of the leaves of many an accepted anthology.

A story which was told the writer by Mr. Barnes
himself may be apposite here. When a pupil of his
was announced in the Times as having come out at
the top in the Indian Service examination-list of
those days, the schoolmaster was overwhelmed with
letters from anxious parents requesting him at any
price to make their sons come out at the top also.
He replied that he willingly would, but that it took
two to do it. It depends, in truth, upon the other
person, the reader, whether certain numbers shall be
raised to lyric pitch or not ; and if he does not bring
to the page of these potentially lyric productions
a lyrical quality of mind, they must be classed, for
him, as non-lyrical.

However, to pass the niceties of this question by.
In the exceptional instance of a poet like Barnes who
writes in a dialect only, a new condition arises to
influence considerations of assortment. Lovers of
poetry who are but imperfectly acquainted with his
vocabulary and idiom may yet be desirous of learning
something of his message ; and the most elementary
guidance is of help to such students, for they are


liable to mistake their author on the very threshold.
For some reason or none, many persons suppose that
when anything is penned in the tongue of the
country-side, the primary intent is burlesque or
ridicule, and this especially if the speech be one in
which the sibilant has the rough sound, and is
expressed by Z. Indeed, scores of thriving story-
tellers and dramatists seem to believe that by trans-
muting the flattest conversation into a dialect that
never existed, and making the talkers say ' be ' where
they would really say ' is ', a Falstaffian richness is at
once imparted to its qualities.

But to a person to whom a dialect is native its
sounds are as consonant with moods of sorrow as
with moods of mirth : there is no grotesqueness in it
as such. Nor was there to Barnes. To provide
an alien reader with a rough clue to the taste of the
kernel that may be expected under the shell of the
spelling has seemed to be worth while, and to justify
a division into heads that may in some cases appear

In respect of the other helps — the glosses and para-
phrases given on each page — it may be assumed that
they are but a sorry substitute for the full signifi-
cance the original words bear to those who read them
without translation, and know their delicate ability
to express the doings, joys and jests, troubles, sorrows,
needs and sicknesses of life in the rural world as


elsewhere. The Dorset dialect being — or having been
— a tongue, and not a corruption, it is the old
question over again, that of the translation of
poetry ; which, to the full, is admittedly impossible.
And further; gesture and facial expression figure
so largely in the speech of husbandmen as to be
speech itself ; hence in the mind's eye of those who
know it in its original setting each word of theirs
is accompanied by the qualifying face-play which no
construing can express.

It may appear strange to some, as it did to friends
in his lifetime, that a man of insight who had the
spirit of poesy in him should have persisted year
after year in writing in a fast-perishing language, and
on themes which in some not remote time would be
familiar to nobody, leaving him pathetically like

A ghostly cricket, creaking where a house was
burned ;

— a language with the added disadvantage by com-
parison with other dead tongues that no master or
books would be readily available for the acquisition
of its finer meanings. He himself simply said that
he could not help it, no doubt feeling his idylls to be
an extemporization, or impulse, without prevision or
power of appraisement on his own part.

Vet it seems to the present writer that Barnes,


despite this, really belonged to the literary school of
such poets as Tennyson, Gray, and Collins, rather
than to that of the old unpremeditating singers in
dialect. Primarily spontaneous, he was academic
closely after ; and we find him warbling his native
wood-notes with a watchful eye on the predetermined
score, a far remove from the popular impression of
him as the naif and rude bard who sings only because
he must, and who submits the uncouth lines of his
page to us without knowing how they come there.
Goethe never knew better of his ; nor Milton ; nor,
in their rhymes, Poe ; nor, in their whimsical allitera-
tions here and there, Langland and the versifiers of
the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries.

In his aim at closeness of phrase to his vision he
strained at times the capacities of dialect, and went
wilfully outside the dramatization of peasant talk.
Such a lover of the art of expression was this penman
of a dialect that had no literature, that on some
occasions he would allow art to overpower sponta-
neity and to cripple inspiration ; though, be it
remembered, he never tampered with the dialect
itself. His ingenious internal rhymes, his subtle juxta-
position of kindred lippings and vowel-sounds, show
a fastidiousness in word-selection that is surprising
in verse which professes to represent the habitual
modes of language among the western peasantry.


We do not find in the dialect balladists of the seven-
teenth century, or in Burns (with whom he has some-
times been measured), such careful finish, such verbal
dexterities, such searchings for the most cunning
syllables, such satisfaction with the best phrase.
Had he not begun with dialect, and seen himself
recognized as an adept in it before he had quite found
himself as a poet, who knows that he might not have
brought upon his muse the disaster that has befallen
so many earnest versifiers of recent time, have become
a slave to the passion for form, and have wasted all
his substance in whittling at its shape.

From such, however, he was saved by the conditions
of his scene, characters, and vocabulary. It may have
been, indeed, that he saw this tendency in himself,
and retained the dialect as a corrective to the tendency.
Whether or no, by a felicitous instinct he does at
times break into sudden irregularities in the midst of
his subtle rhythms and measures, as if feeling rebelled
against further drill. Then his self-consciousness
ends, and his naturalness is saved.

But criticism is so easy, and art so hard : criticism
so flimsy, and the life-seer's voice so lasting. When
we consider what such appreciativeness as Arnold's
could allow his prejudice to say about the highest-
soaring among all our lyricists ; what strange criticism
Shelley himself could indulge in now and then ; that


the history of criticism is mainly the history of error,
which has not even, as many errors have, quaintness
enough to make it interesting, we may well doubt
the utility of such writing on the sand. What is the
use of saying, as has been said of Barnes, that
compound epithets like 'the blue-hiird worold',
' the wide-horn'd cow,*" ' the grey-topp'd heights of
Paladore,' are a high-handed enlargement of the
ordinary ideas of the field-folk into whose mouths
they are put ? These things are justified by the art
of every age when they can claim to be, as here,
singularly precise and beautiful definitions of what
is signified ; which in these instances, too, apply with
double force to the deeply tinged horizon, to the
breed of kine, to the aspect of Shaftesbury Hill,
characteristic of the Vale within which most of his
revelations are enshrined.

Dialect, it may be added, offered another advantage
to him as the writer, whatever difficulties it may
have for strangers who try to follow it. Even if
he often used the dramatic form of peasant
speakers as a pretext for the expression of his own
mind and experiences — which cannot be doubted —
yet he did not always do this, and the assumed
character of husbandman or hamleteer enabled him
to elude in his verse those dreams and speculations
that cannot leave alone the mystery of things, —
possibly an unworthy mystery and disappointing if


solved, though one that has a harrowing fascination
for many poets, — and helped him to fall back on
dramatic truth, by making his personages express
the notions of life prevalent in their sphere.

As by the screen of dialect, so by the intense
localization aforesaid, much is lost to the outsider
who by looking into Barnes''s pages only revives
general recollections of country life. Yet many
passages may shine into that reader's mind through
the veil which partly hides them ; and it is hoped
and believed that, even in a superficial reading,
something more of this poefs charm will be gathered
from the present selection by persons to whom the
Wessex R and Z are uncouth misfortunes, and the
dying words those of an unlamented language that
need leave behind it no grammar of its secrets and
no key to its tomb.

T. H.

September, 1908.

The poems entitled ' The Lost Little Sister ', ' Winter a-
com^n ', ' The Wind at the Door ', ' White an' Blue ', and ' The
Fall ' are printed by permission of the Rev. W. Miles Barnes,
son of the poet. The four poems ' Melhill Feast ', ' The Bars
on the Landridge ', ' Joy Passing By ', and ' The Morning
Moon ' — which are among the few written by Barnes in other than
dialect — are taken by the kind permission of Messrs. Macmillan
from Poems of Rural Life in Common Enc/Iish published by
them in ISfiS. These permissions are gratefully acknowledged
by editor and publisher.







The Spring .

. 1

The ^^^oodlan(ls

. 2

Tlie Blackbird

. 3

Tlie Milk-maid o' the Farm

. 4

Tlie Gre't ^\'oak Tree that 's

n the Dell

. 6

May ....

. 8

Hope in Spring

. 10

The Shepherd o' the Farm

. 11


. 12

Meaken up a MifF .

. 14

The Clote .

. 15


. 17

A Zong ov Harvest Hwome

. 18

The AVelshnut Tree

. 19

Jenny out vrom Hwome

. 20

The Lost Little Sister .

. 21

A Wold Friend .

. 22


. 23

Jeiine o' Grenley Mill .

. 24

Blackmwore Maidens

. 26

My orcha'd in Linden Lea

. 27

Day's ^^'ork a-done

. 28

M'^inter a-comen .

. 80

Ellen Brine ov Allenburn

. 30

The Motherless Child .

. 32

The Maid o' Newton

. 33

Meary's Smile

. 35

Meiiry ^V^edded

. 30

Fair Emily ov Yarrow Mill

. 87

Minden House

. 38

The lovely Maid ov Elwell Mead .

. 40

The Window freiim'd wi' stwo

ne .

. 42



The Water-spring in the Leane

The Linden on the Lawn

Our Abode in Arby Wood

Melhill Feast

The Vier-zide

Kn owl wood .

Hallowed Pleiices .

When Birds be still


Spring ....

The ^Fater Crowvoot

The Lilac

The May-tree

Lydlinch Bells

Trees be Company .

The Winter's ^V^illow .

Jessie Lee

True Love

Ivy Hall

The Wife a-lost .

Angels by the Door

Pentridge by the River .

The Turn o' the Days

Moonlight on the Door .

My Love's Guardian Angel

Leeburn Mill .

Woone Smile mwore

Naighbour Playmeates .

WoakHill .

In the Spring

Early Playmeate .

Went Hwome

Childern's Cliildern

The Bars on the Landridge

Linda Deane .


Times o' Year

Zummer an' Winter

The Lew o' the Rick

The Wind in Woone's Feace

Leaves a-vallen

The ^Vidow's House

I'm out o' door




Lwoiiesomeness ........ 98

A Snowy Niglit

. 99

Shaftesbury Feiiir .

. 100

My Love is good .

. 101

Heedless o' my Love

. 102


. 104

The Little WoroM

. 105

The A\'ind at the Door

. 106

M'hite an' Blue

. 107

Joy Passing By

. 108



Velleu the Tree

Evenen in tlie ^'illage .

Jenny's Ribbons

Uncle an' Aunt

Hay-carren .

Grainmer's Shoes .

Tlie AVeepen Leiidy

Christmas Invitation

The A\'old A\^aggon

The \'aices that be gone

Tlie Hwomestead a-vell into Hand

The Girt A\'old House o' Mossy Stwone

A Father out, an' Mother hwome

Childhood ....

The Stwonen Buoy upon the Pillar

Tlie A\'old \\)'k dead .

Culver Dell and the Squire

Our Be'thplace

Milken Time .


A Pleiice iu Zight .

The Bwoat

The Pleiice our own agean

The Hedger .

The Flood in Spring

Comen Hwome




The Rwose in the Dark , . . . . . .147

The New House a-getten wold ..... 148

Zummer Stream ........ 149

The Child an' the Mowers 150

The Love-Child 1.51

To me 153

Tokens 155

Tweil 156

Evenen Light 157

Nanny's New Abode 158

Fall Time 159

Went vrom Hwome . . . . . . .160

The Beaten Path 161

The Fall 102

The Morning Moon 163



Eclogue : A Bit o' Sly Coorten 165

Eclogue : The Vearies 169

What Dick an' I did 173

The Settle an' the Gre't Wood Vire . . . .175

A Witcli 177

Bleiike's House in Blackmwore 178

Tlie Shy Man 182

False Friends-like ........ 184

GruiFmoody Gi-im ........ 185

Gammony Gay . . ...... 186

Tlie Neame-Letters 189

Praise o' Dorset 190




When wintry weather's all a-done,
An' brooks do sparkle in the zun,
An' naisy-builden rooks do vlee
Wi' sticks toward their elem tree;
When birds do zing, an' we can zee

Upon the boughs the buds o' spring, —

Then I'm as happy as a king,
A-vield wi' health an' zunsheen.

Vor then the cowslip's hangen flow'r
A-wetted in the zunny show'r, lo

Do grow wi' vi'lets, sweet o' smell,
Bezide the wood-screen'd grnegle's bell ;
Where drushes' aggs, wi' sky-blue shell,

Do lie in mossy nests among

The thorns, while they do zing their zong
At evenen in the zunsheen.

3 ndisy] noisy, vlee] fly, i elem] elm. 8 A-vield]

afield. 12 graegle's] wild hyacinth's. 13 drushes' aggs]

thrushes' eggs.



O SPREAD ageiin your leaves an"* flowVs,
Lwonesome woodlands ! zunny woodlands !

Here underneath the dewy showVs

O^ warm-air^d spring-time, zunny woodlands !

As when in drong or open ground,

AVi' happy bwoyish heart I vound

The twittVen birds a-builden round

Your high-bough'd hedges, zunny woodlands !

You gie'd me life, you gie"'d me jay,

Lwonesome woodlands ! zunny woodlands ! lo

You gie'd me health, as in my play

I rambled through ye, zunny woodlands !
You gie'd me freedom, vor to rove
In airy meiid or sheiidy grove ;
You gie'd me smilen Fanney's love,

The best ov all o't, zunny woodlands !

My vu'st shrill skylark whiver'd high,

Lwonesome woodlands ! zunny woodlands !

To zing below your deep-blue sky

An' white spring-clouds, O zunny woodlands ! 2o

An' boughs o' trees that woonce stood here,

Wer glossy green the happy year

That gie'd me woone I lov'd so dear.
An' now ha' lost, O zunny woodlands !

5 drong] lane. 17 vu'st] first, whiver'd] hovered.


O let me rove ageiin un spied,

Lwonesome woodlands ! zunny woodlands !
Along your green-boiigh'd hedges' zide,

As then I rambled, zunny woodlands !
An' where the niissen trees woonce stood,
Or tongues woonce rung among the wood, 30
My memory shall mejike em good,

Though you've a-lost em, zunny woodlands !


Ov all the birds upon the wing
Between the zunny show'rs o' spring, —
Vor all the lark, a-swingen high.
Mid zing sweet ditties to the sky,
An' sparrows, clust'ren roun' the bough.
Mid chatter to the men at plough, —
The blackbird, whisslen in among
The boughs, do zing the gayest zong.

Vor we do hear the blackbird zing
His sweetest ditties in the spring, 10

When nippen win's noo mwore do blow
Vrom northern skies, wi' sleet or snow,
But dreve light doust along between
The leane-zide hedges, thick an' green ;
An' zoo the blackbird in among
The boughs do zing the gayest zong.

3 Vor all] although. 4 Mid] may. 11 win's] winds.

13 dreve] drive, doust] dust.

B 2


'Tis blithe, wi' newly-waken eyes,

To zee the mornen's ruddy skies ;

Or, out a-haulen frith or lops

Vrom new-plesh'd hedge or new-vell'd copse, 20

To have woone's nammet down below

A tree where primrwosen do grow.

But there's noo time, the whole day long,

Lik' evenen wi' the blackbird's zong.


O Poll 's the milk-maid o' the farm !

An' Poll's so happy out in groun'
Wi' her white pail below her earm

As if she wore a goolden crown.

An' Poll don't zit up half the night,
Nor lie vor half the day a-bed :

An' zoo her eyes be sparklen bright,
An' zoo her cheiiks be always red.

In zunnner mornens, when the lark

Do rouse the early lad an' lass lo

To work, then she's the vu'st to mark
Her steps upon the dewy grass.

An' in the evenen, when the zun
Do sheen upon the western brows

O' hills, where bubblen brooks do run.
There she do zing bezide her cows.

19 frith or lops] brushwood or boughs. 20 plesh'd]

plashed, vell'd] felled. 21 nammet] noon or afternoon meal.


An' evVy cow of hers do stand,

An' never overzet her pail,
Nor try to kick her nimble hand.

Nor switch her wi' her heavy tail. 20

Noo leJidy wi' her muff an' vail
Do walk wi' sich a steiitely tread

As she do, wi' her milkcn pail
A-balanc'd on her comely head.

An' she at morncn an' at night

Do skim the yollow cream, an' mould

An' wring her cheeses red an' white,
An' zee the butter vetch'd an' roll'd.

Zoo Poll 's the milk-maid o' the farm !

An' Poll's so happy out in groun' 30

Wi' her white pail below her eiirm

As if she wore a goolden crown.

28 vetch'd] churned.



The gre't vvoak tree that 's in the dell !
There 's noo tree I do love so well ;
Vor times an' times when I wer young
I there Ve a-climb'd, an' there've a-ZAvung,
An' pick'd the eiicorns green, a-shed
In wrestlcn storms from his broad head,
An' down below 's the cloty brook
Where I did vish with line an' hook,
An' beat, in playsome dips and zwims,
The foamy stream, wi' white-skinn'd lim's, lo
An' there my mother nimbly shot
Her knitten-needles, as she zot
At evenen down below the wide
Woak's head, wi' father at her zide.
An' I've a-played wi' many a bwoy.
That 's now a man an' gone awoy ;
Zoo I do like noo tree so well
'S the gre't woak tree that's in the dell.

An' there, in leiiter years, I roved

AVi' thik poor maid I fondly lov'd, — 20

The maid too feiiir to die so soon, —

AVhen evenen twilight, or the moon,

Cast light enough 'ithin the pleiice

To show the smiles upon her feiice,

1 gre't woak] great oak. 7 cloty] water-lilied. :^0 Wi'
thik] with that.


Wi' eyes so dear's the glassy pool,

All' lips an' cheiiks so soft as wool.

There han' in han"', wi' bosoms warm

Wi' love that burn'd but thought noo harm,

Below the wicle-boughVl tree we past

The happy hours that went too vast ; 30

An' though shell never be my wife,

She's still my leaden star o' life.

She 's gone : an' she've a-left to me

Her token in the gre't woak tree ;
Zoo I do love noo tree so well
'S the gre't woak tree that's in the dell.

An' oh ! mid never ax nor hook

Be brought to spweil his steately look ;

Nor ever roun' his ribby zides

Mid cattle rub ther heiiiry hides ; 40

Nor pigs rout up his turf, but keep

His Iwonesome sheiide vor harmless sheep ;

An' let en grow, an' let en spread.

An' let en live when I be dead.

But oh ! if men should come an' veil

The gre't woak tree that's in the dell.

An' build his planks 'ithin the zide

O' zome gre't ship to plough the tide,

Then, life or death ! I'd goo to sea,

A-sailcn wi' the gre't woak tree : 50

An' I upon his planks would stand,

An' die a-fighten vor the land, —

32 leaden] leading. 38 spweil] spoil. 43 en] it. 45 veil] fell.

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