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24 September 2014

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You are in: Dorset > Voices > The Dorsetshire Poet

William Barnes' statue in Dorchester

William Barnes' statue in Dorchester

The Dorsetshire Poet

Dorset school master William Barnes was revered as one of the finest poets of his day, and his work inspired Dorset poet Devina Symes to adopt some of his styles in her own work.

William Barnes

  • William Barnes was born in a Rushay - a village near Sturminster Newton, in 1801
  • His first volume of poetry was called Lapland Tale, and was published in 1823.
  • A bronze statue of William Barnes still stands in central Dorchester.
  • Dorchester Library holds a collection of William Barnes' work, including poetry, critical works and journals.


Dorset school master William Barnes was revered as one of the finest poets of the day.

A self-taught genius, he saw the Dorset dialect as one of the purest forms of English.

One of Dorset's foremost writers was quite a guy. As well as writing several volumes of poetry William Barnes was also master of 30 languages and a amateur inventor - most notably of the pneumatic walking boots! (It's true!)

It is for his tender pastoral verse that he is remembered. His use of the Dorset dialect sets him apart from his contemporaries and forever weds him to the county that he loved.

Devina Symes

Devina Symes

Dorset poet Devina Symes first came across the poems of William Barnes at the age of 12, when her father showed her a volume of his works. "I was just immediately hooked - not only by the dialect but how he wrote his thoughts", she said. "His mind seemed so pure - just beautiful."

A year later Devina started writing her own poetry in the Dorset dialect and she's been hooked ever since.

"It's part of my identity now. It's part of the heritage of the whole area and I think it's very important. It's linked to the past and we can learn so much from the past", she added.

Herrenston by William Barnes

Zoo then the leady an' the squire,
At Christmas, gather'd girt an' small,
Vor me'th, avore their roaren vire,
An' roun' their bwoard, 'ithin the hall;
An' there, in glitt'ren rows, between
The roun'- rimm'd pleates, our knives did sheen,
Wi' frothy eale, an' cup an' can,
Vor maid an' man, at Herrenston.

An' there the jeints o' beef did stand,
Lik' cliffs o' rock, in goodly row;
Where woone mid quarry till his hand
Did tire, an meake but little show;
An' after we'd a-took our seat,
An' greace had been a-zaid vor meat,
We zet to work, an' zoo begun
Our feast an' fun at Herrenston.

An' mothers there, beside the boards,
Wi' little childern in their laps,
Did stoop, wi' loven looks an' words,
An' veed em up wi' bits an' draps;
An' smilen husbands went in quest
O' what their wives did like the best;
An' you'd ha' zeed a happy zight,
Thik merry night, at Herrenston.

A' then the band, wi' each his leaf
O' notes, above us at the zide,
Play'd up the praise ov England's beef
An' villed our hearts wi' English pride;
An' leafy chains o' garlands hung,
Wi' dazzlen stripes o' flags, that swung
Above us, in a bleaze o' light,
Thik happy night, at Herrenston.

An' then the clerk, avore the vier,
Begun to lead, wi' smilen feace,
A carol, wi, the Monkton quire,
That rung drough all the crowded pleace.
An' dins' o' words an' laughter broke
In merry peals drough clouds o' smoke;
Vor hardly wer there woone that spoke,
But passed a joke, at Herrenston.

Then man an' maid stood up by twos,
In rows, drough passage, out to door,
An' gaily beat, wi, nimble shoes,
A dance upon the stwonen floor.
But who is worthy vor to tell,
If she that then did hear the bell,
Wer woone o' Monkton, or o, Ceame,
Or zome sweet neame ov Herrenston.

Zoo peace betide the girt vo'k's land,
When they can stoop, wi' kindly smile,
An' teake a poor man by the hand,
An' cheer en in his daily tweil.
An' oh! Mid He that's vur above
The highest here, reward their love,
An' gi'e their happy souls, drough greace,
A higher pleace than Herrenston.

Barnes enthusiast Devina Symes reflects on Herrenston

She writes: "Living in England in the 21st century, where we are able to enjoy good food and have a great deal of free time, it is hard to imagine a life where the opposite was the norm.

"150 years ago it was certainly different. Here in Dorset, our ancestors were rather stoic yet content with their lot. They had a dry sense of humour and enjoyed the parties, which were called 'randies', held in local barns and the big houses.

"William Barnes was one of Thomas Hardy's mentors and in one of Hardy's poems he writes that 'he never expected much', a true reflection of Dorset folk at that time.

"So what did Christmas mean in those days? With another year over, it was a time for thanksgiving and also a quieter time for nature and man. Christmas time was also for many, the first holiday since Good Friday, when, if they were seen in Church by the farmer at morning service, they could take the rest of the day off.

"At Christmas the landowner or Squire gave his workers a party, this was a great event, especially if the squire was a kindly man, as is described in the poem Herrenston by William Barnes.

"In his later years Barnes became rector of Came near Dorchester, which had within its parish Herrenston and Monkton. All of Barnes' poems reflect rural life at that time, none more so than Herrenston."

last updated: 31/03/2008 at 14:56
created: 29/03/2005

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