Monday, May 28, 2012


We have all perhaps heard that life today has become too complex.  One of the better advocates of simple living is an Englishman of the 19th century: the Reverend William Barnes, who besides being an Anglican priest was also a linguist, mathematician, farmer, poet, and many things else.  In short, a genius.  His effort to free English speech from thralldom to the tongue of the Norman invaders is worthy of study in and of itself, for language is a more important part of the life of a people than we often credit it.  That effort is evident in the poem below (and in all his poems written in the Dorset dialect).  But more immediately, we should take note of just how content we could be with a very few things that we valued greatly:  good company, a warm fire, a sword, sturdy furnishings.  More will be friendly to this point of view during our self-made economic crisis, but we should remember it well in good times also.

‘The Settle an’ the Girt Wood Vire’

Ah! naïghbour John, since I an' you
Wer youngsters, ev'ry thing is new.
My father's vires wer all o' logs
O' cleft−wood, down upon the dogs
Below our clavy, high, an' brode
Enough to teäke a cart an' lwoad,
Where big an' little all zot down
At bwoth zides, an' bevore, all roun'.
An' when I zot among em, I
Could zee all up ageän the sky
Drough chimney, where our vo'k did hitch
The zalt−box an' the beäcon−vlitch,
An' watch the smoke on out o' vier,
All up an' out o' tun, an' higher.
An' there wer beäcon up on rack,
An' pleätes an' dishes on the tack;
An' roun' the walls wer heärbs a−stowed
In peäpern bags, an' blathers blowed.
An' just above the clavy−bwoard
Wer father's spurs, an' gun, an' sword;
An' there wer then, our girtest pride,
The settle by the vier zide.
Ah! gi'e me, if I wer a squier,
The settle an' the girt wood vier.

But they've a−wall'd up now wi' bricks
The vier pleäce vor dogs an' sticks,
An' only left a little hole
To teäke a little greäte o' coal,
So small that only twos or drees
Can jist push in an' warm their knees.
An' then the carpets they do use,
Ben't fit to tread wi' ouer shoes;
An' chairs an' couches be so neat,
You mussen teäke em vor a seat:
They be so fine, that vo'k mus' pleäce
All over em an' outer ceäse,
An' then the cover, when 'tis on,
Is still too fine to loll upon.
Ah! gi'e me, if I wer a squier,
The settle an' the girt wood vier.

Carpets, indeed! You coulden hurt
The stwone−vloor wi' a little dirt;
Vor what wer brought in doors by men,
The women soon mopp'd out ageän.
Zoo we did come vrom muck an' mire,
An' walk in straïght avore the vier;
But now, a man's a−kept at door
At work a pirty while, avore
He's screäp'd an' rubb'd, an' cleän and fit
To goo in where his wife do zit.
An' then if he should have a whiff
In there, 'twould only breed a miff:
He cant smoke there, vor smoke woon't goo
'Ithin the footy little flue.
Ah! gi'e me, if I wer a squier,
The settle an' the girt wood vier.

A Brief Guide to the Dorset Dialect:
aï=‘ah’ followed by long ‘e’
eä=long ‘e’ followed by long ‘a’
wo=long ‘o’
Settle=high backed wooden bench


All of Rev Barnes’s poems are now part of the public domain.  The best collection of his poems per Father Andrew Phillips, who has written a biography of Rev Barnes, a study of his thought on various subjects, and has examined in detail his attempt to revive the Anglo-Saxon/Wessex form of English (The Rebirth of England and English: the Vision of William Barnes), is the two-volume set The Poems of William Barnes (1962), edited by Bernard Jones.  This version of ‘The Settle an’ the Girt Wood Vire’ comes from this web site:

Some changes have been made so that it follows the Jones edition.


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