Mobile menu

Barnes and the slowing of time

John Osman

The Slow Train has a steady reassuring rhythm; one it can be surmised the poet would have known and possibly appreciated as he saw the landscape progress to his destination. Whether a person is a reader or listener, the association with trains and slow rhythms, runs through poetical capture on to Flanders and Swann and their sepia-tinted, wistful lament for lost railway horizons and destinations, with it's loving dwelling on the poetry of English place-names. It is a tendency to nostalgia that rides through the nature of myself, and probably all members of the William Barnes Society, of which I have been a member for eight years (or so).

I acquired an appreciation for the poetry of the Dorset quiet colossus - slowly - by a steady accretion of encounters. In 1959 beginning my secondary schooling, one group of boys had one music master, we another. Ralph Vaughan Williams's setting of Linden Lea was performed by the slaves of the first, but not by us and although instantly drawn to it, languished in my memory un-named and authorless, until I discovered it anew from the radio.

Also in 1959, my parents rented for three unforgettable weeks in July, the Old Warren cottage between Symondsbury and Broad Oak near Bridport, somewhat to the east of the poet's Blackmore Vale haunts, but well within his ambit. The summer was a long and sonorous one, and the cottage basic without a bath and a chemical toilet reached through the old rabbit run at the north side of the cob-thatch building. For entertainment, there was a collection of 78s and a wind up gramophone. Amazingly now, a spotted flycatcher was nesting beneath a south-facing window. The country about was quiet, butterfly-haunted and already turning cere from the unusual heat. I still go back to this place of my seeding with Dorset-love and climb Colmers Hill in my dreams.

Time passed - just try stopping it - and Palgrave's Golden Treasury my regular travelling companion contained two of Barnes non-dialectal poems, which I noted. In 1969, I worked as a proof-reader at Santype International, in Netherhampton in Salisbury, where there was another quiet, manikin-cigar-smoking, knowledgeable and kindly reader: Dick Barnes. I was told he was a descendant of the poet William Barnes. I thought him incredibly hard-working and to me, omniscient and considerate.

Fast-forwarding through various escapades and occupations to 2012, my sister who is a great Dorseteer, gave me a book of Barnes's poems and this gave me the linguistic and slow-musical accompaniment to my receding arcadia. In the poet's company, I can recover memories, thoughts and emotions that act as antidote to the mad rush of everything - but then the universe is expanding at an increasing velocity!

Therefore, my receipt of the William Barnes Society Newsletter, is a signal that I can segue into the company of like-minded and almost certainly fellow-travellers on the Slow Train to the lost, celebrated good folk of Dorset whom Barnes through his quiet literary industry, gave a voice through his pitch and grasp of their ways and speech.