Saturday, October 30, 2010

William Barnes (1801-1886)

I am enjoying The Rebirth of England and English: The Vision of William Barnes, a short read by Fr. Andrew Phillips. Frankly, this is my first introduction to Barnes. He was primarily noted for his poetry, mostly written in the dialect of his native Dorset. More interesting to me, however, was his work as a philologist. Barnes' particular passion was the study of Anglo-Saxon England. I am anxious to read his A Philological Grammar and Early England and the Saxon English. As the author observes, "Barnes was a polymath and a polyglot, familiar with some seventy languages, modern, ancient and oriental, and fluent in fourteen of them; he was interested in everything. This self-taught man from a rural backwater, loving husband and father, priest, poet, teacher extraordinary, writer, linguist of genius, was also draughtsman, engraver, painter, art-collector, mathematician, mechanic, carpenter, gardener, cabinet-maker, clock-maker, political economist, musician, antiquarian, historian, inventor and archaeologist."

A representative example of his Dorsetshire poetry:

The Hwomestead

An' I be happy wi' my spot
O' freehold ground an' mossy cot,
An' shoulden get a better lot
If I had all my will.
I'm landlord o' my little farm,
I'm king 'ithin my little pleace;
I don't break laws, an' don't do harm,
An' ben't afeard o' noo man's feace.

His poetry written in "national" English is said to be inferior to that penned in dialect. But I find the following poem to be very good, indeed.

The Cost of Improvement

For aught that's nice
You pay a price...
The higher has become your speed
The stronger are your calls for haste;
Wealth's quicker streams in more ways waste,
The more you have the more you need.
Your fathers trode on English dust,
And while you, o'er the world, will roam,
The more you roam, the more you must,
From irksomeness of any home.
Whatever changes you may choose,
And something gain, you something lose...
Fell woods, your shield from wind and heat,
And you must meet the weather's strokes;
Or turn the oak-grove to a street,
And smoking tuns will cost the oaks.
Give night with day to toil for wealth,
And then your gain will cost your health.
To buy new gold
give up some old.


Milton T. Burton said...

It is rare that anyone mentions an English literary figure that I haven't at least heard of, but you "done went and done it" as we used to say in OUR local East Texas dialect. And for this I thank you.

Mary Alice Cook said...

I never heard of him either but he sounds like a nineteenth century prophet who was tuned in to the coming mobile, consumer culture."The more you have the more you need," and "The more you roam the more you must" describes that culture to a T.