Dorset dialect of William Barnes

William Barnes

William Barnes

First published in News

A BOOK has been published to help poetry lovers understand the native tongue of North Dorset’s most famous son.

Australian academic Tom Burton, a professor of English at the University of Adelaide, has published a guide to pronouncing the dialect poems of William Barnes.

The William Barnes Society recently met at the Stalbridge home of Dorset writer Hilary Townsend to launch the book in England.

“Barnes was a remarkable man who spoke over 60 languages. He was educated in Sturminster Newton and befriended by various clergy,” said Mrs Townsend, who has written two books on the area.

“His work is very beautiful, with tremendous depth of feeling. I worked in industry for many years and I was always comforted by his poem Linden Lea.

“The Blackmore Vale was very secluded. The language was handed down from Norse and Saxon and very different from the language of South Dorset.”

The society’s vice-chairman, Dr Alan Chedzoy, recently gave a reading of Barnes’s dialect poems to the Bournemouth Literary Society.

“A lot of people don’t get past the language on the page. When I read it, I try to give people clues to understanding it,” he said.

“Then they find that the poetry is a wonderfully honest account of the language of their grandparents. It was the language spoken in Dorset from the time of Shakespeare until the arrival of the railways.

“That’s when things started to change across rural England. The habits, the customs and the language of London came down to Dorset almost with every train.

“The rural dialect was a disappearing language all over England. Barnes said writing in dialect is like writing in snow on a spring day. He knew it was disappearing.”

He added: “Those who come across Barnes love him. They may appreciate Hardy and other poets, but with Barnes it’s a question of love.”

William Barnes’s Dialect Poems: A Pronunciation Guide, by TL Burton, is published by the Chaucer Studio Press.

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