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Page last updated at 10:54 GMT, Thursday, 6 May 2010 11:54 UK
Poet William Barnes 'deserves more acclaim'
William Barnes
William Barnes died in 1886

A university professor studying the work of the Dorset writer and poet William Barnes believes the poet's work deserves a wider audience.

Dr Thomas Burton is an Associate Professor of English from the University of Adelaide.

He said Barnes's 'brilliant' poems 'deserve better': "Outside of Dorset, they have faded from the public mind."

Dr Burton's work has particularly focussed on Barnes's poems written in a Dorset dialect.

Dorset dialect

He first discovered William Barnes in 2001 while on visit to Dorset.

Dr Burton said: "It was the 200th anniversary of his birth (1801) and the libraries here were making a big deal of it. Normally he doesn't get much of a look in, Thomas Hardy eclipses everything.

"But the name rang a bell with me as I teach history of language and medieval literature, and I remembered he wrote poems in dialect, and that he didn't like borrowing words from French or Latin.

"He wanted to keep his work to native Anglo Saxon English words."

'Absolutely hooked'

So Dr Burton went to read his first William Barnes poem.

Dr Tom Burton
Dr Tom Burton discovered William Barnes in 2001

He said: "By the time I'd read his third poem I was absolutely hooked but the stanza forms and rhymes [in the poems] were so complex I looked for recordings of people reading the poems in a Dorset dialect - I wanted to know how they sounded.

"I listened to audio recordings of some of the poems read by current dialect speakers and was struck by the many differences amongst them and by the fact that various rhymes were being missed - no two readers were doing it the same."

It was this that made Dr Burton want to research the subject further.

He said: "And that's what I've been doing ever since then, and I've just finished."

Pronunciation guide

The result is a pronunciation guide for the collection of poetry William Barnes's Poems of Rural Life in the Dorset Dialect.

Dr Burton has recently spent three weeks back in Dorset concluding his research and he says he loves spending time in the county.

He said: "William Barnes did write poems in standard English as well as in a Dorset dialect, and he was a very able poet I think, but anyone would say that the poems written in dialect have a great freshness, directness and vigour about them - the dialect is part of its bodily existence.

Listen to Dr Burton read the William Barnes poem Jenny Out Vrom Hwome.

He said: "It's spoken by a girl who is homesick, and anyone can respond to it.

"She's addressing the winds, and I defy anyone to read or hear that poem and not be moved by it."




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