The circle of William Barnes's poetry : a discussion of the language and themes of his dialect poetry
2012-12-07T13:07:30Z (GMT) by
Barnes saw his dialect art as a means of teaching and preserving particularly for the stability of his local audience -- conservative and traditional values. Nevertheless, the poems deal rather more than has been generally realised with the challenges of the nineteenth century. Part One of this study discusses Barnes's chosen themes in relation to his contemporary audiences, both in Blackmore and beyond, and also argues that there is a warmth and energy in his perceptions which communicates vital images of rural life that can allow his work to transcend its contemporary social and political context. Part Two explains, through descriptive linguistic techniques, Barnes's practical application of his language theories and the appeal of dialect to Victorian readers. It is demonstrated that his desire to achieve a 'pure' language, together with his conviction that the circle of local speech forms are an integral part (and a signal) of local personality, may lead to artistic limitations. But it is explained that these beliefs, in freeing Barnes from the conventions of standard poetic diction, can also allow a rich individuality. There are, however, affinities (which may be appropriate in work designed to 'belong' to its rural personae) between his poems and elements of the folk tradition. Yet the blending of these with highly intricate verse patterns is handled with a skill that is able to incorporate natural speech rhythms. The dissertation develops a judgement that Barnes's aesthetics were based upon his appreciation of a harmonious 'fitness' which he believed to be God-given and identifiable in what he took to be nature and society's inevitable mixture of light and shade. Consequently the themes and structures of his dialect poetry reflect a desire for compromise, stability, and optimism in the circle of local life. The result is poetry rather too limited in its perceptions and language to be of major significance. But the value of Barnes's work lies in its demonstration of dialect's artistic potential, in its formal skill, and in the warmth and vitality of its imagery.