Tuesday, August 25, 2009

William Barnes--"The Clote" (1844 I think)

O zummer clote! when the brook’s a-glidèn
So slow an’ smooth down his zedgy bed,
Upon thy broad leaves so seäfe a-ridèn
The water’s top wi’ thy yollow head,
By alder sheädes, O,
An’ bulrush beds, O,
Thou then dost float, goolden zummer clote!

The grey-bough’d withy’s a leänèn lowly
Above the water thy leaves do hide;
The bènden bulrush, a-swaÿèn slowly,
Do skirt in zummer thy river’s zide;
An’ perch in shoals, O,
Do vill the holes, O,
Where thou dost float, goolden zummer clote!

Oh! when thy brook-drinkèn flow’r’s a-blowèn,
The burnèn zummer’s a-zettèn in;
The time o’ greenness, the time o’ mowèn,
When in the häy-vield, wi’ zunburnt skin,
The vo’k do drink, O,
Upon the brink, O,
Where thou dost float, goolden zummer clote!

Wi’ eärms a-spreadèn, an’ cheäks a-blowèn,
How proud wer I when I vu’st could swim
Athirt the deep pleäce where thou bist growèn,
Wi’ thy long more vrom the bottom dim;
While cows, knee-high, O,
In brook, wer nigh, O,
Where thou dost float, goolden zummer clote!

Ov all the brooks drough the meäds a-windèn,
Ov all the meäds by a river’s brim,
There’s nwone so feäir o’ my own heart’s vindèn
As where the maïdens do zee thee zwim,
An’ stan’ to teäke, O,
Wi’ long-stemm’d reäke, O,
Thy flow’r afloat, goolden zummer clote!

Source: Poets of the English Language (Viking Press, 1950)

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More Poems by William Barnes
The Fall
The Wind at the Door
More Nature Poems
Other Victorian Poets

William Barnes (1801-1866) was a Dorset dialect poet. I had never heard of him, and none of my anthologies have any selections from him in them, though apparently there is a modest section given over to him in the Portable Romantic Poets. He was a minister and a serious philologist, a close friend of Hardy's, and he apparently knew Tennyson and Gerard Manley Hopkins as well. All of which surprised me, because on reading his poem and reflecting on his general obscurity and the language he chose to write in I had imagined him to be one of those untutored and wild bards living a healthy natural life, remote from the enervating influences of modern civilization. This was not the case however.

I find this to be an oddly beautiful and moving poem. I thought when I first read it what I very rarely think, that I should like to talk to someone about it. This is because above all it evoked memories in me, though not literal ones: perhaps ancestral in some instances, though more likely the memory of ideals. It brought back to me the feeling of being in a second floor classroom in school on a clear and temperate day, the leaves outside the windows waving and shimmering, and having the sensation of confidence that one can become a master of one's own thoughts, and thence of life as it appeared to me at that time.

I feel strongly the contrast between the vision of life put forth in this poem and that of my own. It came to me in the form of "Yes, I can swim, but I have to drive there". Along with, I think, many modern people, I am consumed with the disappointments of life. I write selfishly, my great aim is to explain in some adequate manner the causes of my perceived failures, as if doing so would absolve me from them. I don't experience my own writings as anything communal with other people, with nature or with the language either as it lives or as it has come down to us. It is why, I suspect, I have never seriously attempted to write poems or songs or plays, for the essence of these is that they only succeed by being shared, and I instinctively sense that I could never do that. A novel or story at least deceives you into thinkin it can be a less immediately sensual kind of interaction. Ultimately of course it cannot be either, which incredibly I have only come to realize in the last couple of years, though its machinations for insinuating itself thus sensually are both the clumsiest and subtlest of all the arts.

What dates this poem, what gives it its power and what at the same time makes it sad for me, is that is conceives of the world and really the whole order of the universe as static and, essentially ever unchanging. Individual men grow old and die, but the life our grandchildren know, this says, and with conviction, will not differ materially or metaphysically from the life we know. That view of things is all shot to pieces now, though in terms of how men actually sensually experience the universe, and time, and so on, it really shouldn't be. The conception of both the extent of the vastness of time and place, as well as the impermanence and chaos which is inherent in these, as opposed to the idea of them as eternally more or less the same, has expanded far beyond man's capacity to incorporate what they signify into his actual experience, but the alteration in the psyche has already taken place. This, too, is the break between traditional and modern poetry, as can be most clearly seen in the career of Tennyson, who was a great poet of the traditional school where everything beautiful is so in the full dress of permanence, but was not so dumb as to miss the significance of geology where the understanding that could produce such poetry was concerned.

This isn't quite what I wanted to say, but I have imposed a time limit for these kinds of posts, with the hope of getting my mind back to some semblance of its erstwhile sharpness...

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