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24 September 2014
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William Barnes
Dorset poet William Barnes

The Dorsetshire Poet

Writing in the time of Thomas Hardy, Dorset school master William Barnes was revered as one of the finest pastoral poets of the day.

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!)

Voices Fact Box

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.

But 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.

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.

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. Primarily, they had a great acceptance of life. WBs was T 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.

Barnes enthusiast Devina Symes


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 WB 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. Devina Symes

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