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Part 1: My Early Years in the Dorset of William Barnes

Hilary Townsend

The Manor Farm, Bagber
The Manor Farm, Bagber

My father was born at the Manor Farm, Bagber, a hamlet near Sturminster Newton in North Dorset. The place features in William Barnes's poetry as `The Haunted House`. It was a remarkable Tudor building, since rebuilt, beside the halter path leading from Stalbridge to Sturminster Newton in North Dorset.

`The Manor Farm, Bagber` my father said proudly is next to William Barnes`s `Pentridge by the River` and then I learnt that Barnes's `Uncle and Aunt`, pictured so affectionately in the poems, had been our kinsfolk.

William Barnes had written many poems in the Dorset dialect, which, as a child in the 1930's, I heard all about. And he loved trees. `Trees be Company` he wrote and he loved `The Girt Woak Tree That's In the Dell`. His poem `Leaves A'Vallen` inspired deep thoughts, the poplars, he wrote, `do play soft music` and he loved `elems` (elm trees).

So, when I too was young, I became aware of the sheer beauty of the landscape and the big trees of the heavily wooded Blackmore Vale. My childhood swing was in a poplar tree and I seemed to swing right up the trunk. I played beneath oaks and elms and, to a child playing beneath them, such trees make their own light and shade and mystery.

One of the many strengths of Barnes's poetry lies in the portrait he gives of big trees, including the elm trees, now long gone, but he can also portray a small tree, like the apple tree in `Linden Lea`.


 

The 'Real' Girt Woak Tree That's In the Dell
The Oak Tree that inspired the poem the 'Girt Woak Tree That's In the Dell' at Bagber near Sturminster Newton

The Girt Woak Tree That's In the Dell

By William Barnes

The girt woak tree that's in the dell!
There's noo tree I do love so well;
Vor times an' times when I wer young,
I there've a-climbed, an' there've a-zwung,
An' picked the eacorns green, a-shed
In wrestlen storms vrom his broad head.
An' down below's the cloty brook
Where I did vish with line an' hook,

An' beat, in playsome dips and zwims,
The foamy stream, wi' white-skinned lim's.
An' there my mother nimbly shot
Her knitten-needles, as she zot
At evenen down below the wide
Woak's head, wi' father at her zide.
An' I've a-played wi' many a bwoy,
That's now a man an' gone awoy;
Zoo I do like noo tree so well
'S the girt woak tree that's in the dell.

An' there, in leater years, I roved
Wi' thik poor maid I fondly loved, -
The maid too feair to die so soon, -
When evenen twilight, or the moon,
Cast light enough 'ithin the pleace
To show the smiles upon her feace,
Wi' eyes so clear's the glassy pool,
An' lips an' cheaks so soft as wool.
There han' in han', wi' bosoms warm,
Wi' love that burned but thought noo harm,
Below the wide-boughed tree we passed
The happy hours that went too vast;
An' though she'll never be my wife,
She's still my leaden star o' life.
She's gone: an' she've a-left to me
Her mem'ry in the girt woak tree;
Zoo I do love noo tree so well
'S the girt woak tree that's in the dell.

An' oh! mid never ax nor hook
Be brought to spweil his steately look;
Nor ever roun' his ribby zides
Mid cattle rub ther heairy hides;
Nor pigs rout up his turf, but keep
His lwonesome sheade vor harmless sheep;
An' let en grow, an' let en spread,
An' let en live when I be dead.
But oh! if men should come an' vell
The girt woak tree that's in the dell,
An' build his planks 'ithin the zide
O' zome girt ship to plough the tide,
Then, life or death! I'd goo to sea,
A sailen wi' the girt woak tree:
An' I upon his planks would stand,
An' die a-fighten vor the land, -
The land so dear, - the land so free, -
The land that bore the girt woak tree;
Vor I do love noo tree so well
'S the girt woak tree that's in the dell.