Saturday, May 01, 2010


Come Below the Open Sky

William Barnes (1801-1886), Maÿ, from Poems of Rural Life in the Dorset Dialect (London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trübner, 1898), pp. 20-22:
Come out o' door, 'tis Spring! 'tis Maÿ
The trees be green, the vields be gaÿ;
The weather's warm, the winter blast,
Wi' all his traïn o' clouds, is past;
The zun do rise while vo'k do sleep,
To teäke a higher daily zweep,
Wi' cloudless feäce a-flingèn down
His sparklèn light upon the groun'.

The aïrs a-streamèn soft,—come drow
The winder open; let it blow
In drough the house, where vire, an' door
A-shut, kept out the cwold avore.
Come, let the vew dull embers die,
An' come below the open sky;
An' wear your best, vor fear the groun'
In colours gaÿ mid sheäme your gown:
An' goo an' rig wi' me a mile
Or two up over geäte an' stile,
Drough zunny parrocks that do leäd,
Wi' crooked hedges, to the meäd,
Where elems high, in steätely ranks,
Do rise vrom yollow cowslip-banks,
An' birds do twitter vrom the spraÿ
O' bushes deck'd wi' snow-white maÿ;
An' gil'cups, wi' the deäisy bed,
Be under ev'ry step you tread.

We'll wind up roun' the hill, an' look
All down the thickly-timber'd nook,
Out where the squier's house do show
His grey-wall'd peaks up drough the row
O' sheädy elems, where the rook
Do build her nest; an' where the brook
Do creep along the meäds, an' lie
To catch the brightness o' the sky;
An' cows, in water to theïr knees,
Do stan' a-whiskèn off the vlees.

Mother o' blossoms, and ov all
That's feäir, a-vield vrom Spring till Fall,
The gookoo over white-weäv'd seas
Do come to zing in thy green trees,
An' buttervlees, in giddy flight,
Do gleäm the mwost by thy gaÿ light
Oh! when, at last, my fleshly eyes
Shall shut upon the vields an' skies,
Mid zummer's zunny days be gone,
An' winter's clouds be comèn on:
Nor mid I draw upon the e'th,
O' thy sweet air my leätest breath;
Alassen I mid want to staÿ
Behine' for thee, O flow'ry Maÿ!
The Oxford Companion to English Literature says, "According to his many admirers, who included Tennyson, G.M. Hopkins, Hardy, and Gosse, Barnes was a lyric poet of the first rank, but the difficulties presented by the Dorset dialect have restricted his audience and contributed to the image of a quaint provincial versifier." The "difficulties presented by the Dorset dialect" are minimal — one soon figures out that v is sometimes substituted for f, d for th, z for s, etc. The only words that gave me pause in Maÿ were alassen = lest, mid = might, parrock = small field, and rig = climb.

Barnes wrote at least three poems that touch on the theme of arboricide — The Woodlands, The Girt Woak Tree That's in the Dell (where girt = great), and Vellèn o' the Tree.

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