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A poem for winter: The Vrost

Alan Chedzoy presents a seasonal poem by Dorset dialect poet William Barnes


Come, run up hwome wi’ us to-night,
Athirt the vield avroze so white,
Where vrosty sheades do lie below
The winter ricks a-tipp’d wi’ snow,
An’ lively birds, wi’ waggen tails,
Do hop upon the icy rails,
An’ rime do whiten all the tops
O’ bush an’ tree in hedge an’ copse,
In winds a-cutten keen.

Come, maidens, come: the groun’s a-vroze
Too hard to-night to spweil your clothes.
You got noo pools to waddle drough,
Nor clay a-pullen off your shoe:
An’ we can trig ye at the zide,
To keep ye up if you do slide:
Zoo while there’s neither wet nor mud,
‘S the time to run an’ warm your blood,
In winds a-cutten keen.

Vor young men’s hearts an’ maidens’ eyes
Don’t vreeze below the cwoldest skies,
While they in twice so keen a blast
Can wag their brisk lims twice so vast!
Though vier-light, a-flickren’ red
Drough vrosty window peanes, do spread
Vrom wall to wall, vrom he’th to door,
Vor us to goo an’ zit avore,
Vrom winds a-cutten keen.

(‘athirt’ – across; ‘avroze’ – frozen; ‘spweil’ – spoil; ‘drough’ – through: ‘trig’ – hold you up; ‘s’the’ – is the; ‘wag’ – move: ‘lims’ – limbs: ‘he’th’ – hearth)

This poem first appeared on the 30th of December, 1841, in the Dorset County Chronicle. The writer kept a boys’ school at Norman House, South Street, Dorchester. (The building has defied the developers and is still there, near Napper’s Mite). Nobody, not even his family, knew that Barnes was writing these Dorset dialect poems. Having composed them, it was his practice to go round to the newspaper office, presumably after dark, and to pop them into the letter-box.
Almost all his poems were first printed in the Chronicle, though later they were collected into books. For a long time people did not know what to make of them. The editor was one. He printed them not in his regular ‘poetry corner’, with the likes of ‘proper poets’ like Lord Byron, but among the agricultural advertisements. Many readers thought they were meant to be jokes because it was assumed that nothing seriously meant could be written in dialect.
However, Barnes believed in the value of recording the experiences and the language of Dorset farm workers, among whom he had been born in the Blackmore Vale in 1801.
He remembered Christmases long ago with the puddles and paths all icy, so that giggling girls need not dirty their skirts. And he remembered the young people, men and maidens, chasing and shouting across frozen bartons, too full of life to feel the cold. And he remembered them with love.

The People’s Poet: William Barnes of Dorset, by Alan Chedzoy, is published by History Press at £14.99, ISBN 978-0752455389;

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