Sunday, 16 November 2014

William Barnes rediscovered - again

Today's Poetry Please was dedicated to Dorset dialect poet William BarnesDaljit Nagra discovered Barnes only through Thomas Hardy, ignorant of John Arlott's championing of the poet and of the fact that Francis Turner Palgrave himself selected two Barnes poems for the original Golden Treasury.

The latter, which used to be in every literate English household along with the collected works of Shakespeare, was where I first came across Barnes. Surprisingly neither of the poems chosen was Linden Lea which in its version in "proper" English is one of Vaughan Williams' best-known songs. Palgrave actually selected The Wife a-Lost and Blackmwore Maidens. The representation of the dialect on the page was off-putting but the verse was immediately attractive. However, it wasn't until John Arlott, a real devotee and a former BBC Radio producer of poetry programmes, broadcast a tribute that I learned anything of Barnes the man. Sadly, there seems to be no recording of Arlott reading Barnes. No doubt, as a Hampshire man and not an actor, he was unduly diffident about doing justice to the Dorset accent. Jon Pertwee from the other neighbouring county of Devon could have risen above the standard Mummerset, but I can find no trace of his reading the poetry either.

Blackmwore Maidens

The primrose in the sheäde do blow,
  The cowslip in the zun,
The thyme upon the down do grow,
  The clote where streams do run;
An' where do pretty maïdens grow
  An' blow, but where the tow'r
Do rise among the bricken tuns,
  In Blackmwore by the Stour?

If you could zee their comely gaït,
  An' pretty feäces' smiles,
A-trippèn on so light o'waight,
  An' steppèn off the stiles;
A-gwaïn to church, as bells do swing
  An' ring within the tow'r.
You'd own the pretty maïdens' pleäce
  Is Blackmwore by the Stour.

If you vrom Wimborne took your road,
  To Stower or Paladore,
An' all the farmers' housen show'd
  Their daeters at the door;
You'd cry to bachelors at hwome -
  "Here, come: 'ithin an hour
You'll vind ten maïdens to your mind,
  In Blackmwore by the Stour."

An' if you looked 'ithin their door,
  To zee em in their pleäce,
A-doèn housework up avore
  Their smilèn mother's feäce;
You'd cry - "Why, if a man would wive
  An' thrive, 'ithout a dow'r,
Then let en look en out a wife
  In Blackmwore by the Stour."

As I upon my road did pass
  A school-house back in Maÿ
There out upon the belten grass
  Wer maïdens at their plaÿ;
An' as the pretty souls did twile
  An' smile, I cried, "The flow'r
O' beauty, then, is still in bud
  In Blackmwore by the Stour."

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