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This article is taken from PN Review 219, Volume 41 Number 1, September - October 2014.

Vestiges 10: William Barnes Adam Crothers
Photograph of the inside of 'Poems of Rural Life in the Dorset Dialect
Reproduced by permission of the Master and Fellows of St John’s College, Cambridge

Photograph of a bench in the grounds of St John's
Photograph by Adam Crothers

A bench in the grounds of St John’s was donated by the William Barnes Society in memory of the Dorset poet and philologist, who received a Bachelor of Divinity degree from the college in 1851. Barnes’s poems in the Dorset dialect are the work of a celebrant and conservationist. Yet a hint of revolutionary danger is inevitable: Barnes also wrote in ‘national’ English, and while such a poem as ‘The Bench by the Garden Wall’ is unobjectionable, and indeed formally assured (‘The moon’s bright ring would slowly spring / From down behind the woody mound’), the contented clarity might indicate submissiveness when encountered alongside his more emphatically provincial poetry, which by contrast inclines towards the secretive and the uncanny.

Take ‘I Got Two Vields’ from Poems of Rural Life in the Dorset Dialect: the poem explicitly addresses the modest accomplishment of owning a mere two fields yet appreciating their various beauties, but implicit is the ability to move from one state to, or to see one state from the point of view of, the other.

An’ trees, a-hangen overhead,
Do hide a trinklen gully-bed,
A-cover’d by a bridge vor hoss
Or man a-voot to come across.

The little surprises ...


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