Poems Without Frontiers

Poems in Translation

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William Barnes 1801- 1886

Barnes was born at Bagber, in the Blackmore Vale area of Dorset to a lowly farming family where he acquired a command of the local dialect and attended the elementary school until the age of 13 whereupon he was engaged as copy clerk with a Dorchester solicitor.

He took advantage of the town facilities to study science, history, archaeology, philology and languages as well as music and the plastic arts turning at an early age to poetry writing in both dialect and standard English. He published Poems of Rural Life in 1844 which ran to several editions. This was followed by Hwomely Rhymes (1859) and Poems of Rural Life in Common English (1868). He also wrote several pamphlets on social conditions and education.

At age 22, he opened a school at Mere, Wiltshire but returned to Dorchester in 1835 after his early years of marriage, celebrated in 1827, to open another school which gained a high reputation for excellence. He gained an external Divinity degree from Cambridge University becoming ordained in 1847 and subsequently became rector of Winterborne Came with Whitcombe near Dorchester in 1862 remaining until his death in 1886.

He was a purist in the English language seeking unsuccessfully to expunge classical and foreign influences and to replace them with Old English substitutes. His poetry was praised by numerous worthies of the day but tended to be overshadowed by its dependence upon dialect which deprived him of wider recognition; but the rustic simplicity of his settings endeared him to many of his contemporaries and remains attractive to subsequent generations.