Friday, January 25, 2013

Dialect Poetry

In honour of this being 'Burns Night', the 254th anniversary of the birth of the Scottish poet Robert Burns, I've decided to write a short post on dialect poetry as it was used by my current research subject, FW Harvey.

Robert Burns, The Bard of Scotland
Burns was known for his poetry in the Scottish dialect, penning famous stanzas such as this from his 'Address to a Haggis:

'Fair fa' your honest, sonsie face,
Great chieftain o' the pudding-race!
Aboon them a' yet tak your place,
Painch, tripe, or thairm:
Weel are ye wordy o'a grace
As lang's my arm.'

For the full poem click here.

Burns cultivated an outstanding ability to express Scottish thoughts in Scottish dialects. FW Harvey, inspired by the dialect poems of Burns and Kipling, did the same thing with Gloucestershire dialects. Harvey was a scholar of the dialects of his native county, often giving lectures and talks on the subject, including BBC programmes to include: 'The Dialects of Gloucestershire and Particularly of the Forest of Dean' (1935), 'Yeoman's English' (1935), and 'The Forest of Dean' (1938). Radio serials written by Harvey such as 'Gunter's Farm' (1935-1936) and 'My Friends the Foresters' (1935) also dealt with and made use of local dialects.

However, perhaps his most remembered and endearing use of Gloucestershire dialect is his poem 'John Helps'. This poem not only demonstrates Harvey's love of Gloucestershire dialects, but also one of his favourite topics, pear cider or perry! The poem in full is below (For anyone entirely unfamiliar with English 'West Country' accents, it may be best for you to read this aloud to figure it out, and perhaps place some emphasis on the r's.):

FW Harvey, The Laureate of Gloucestershire

'John Helps a wer an honest mon;
   The perry that a made
Wer crunched vrom purs as honest
   As ever tree displayed.
John Helps a were an honest mon;
    The dumplings that a chewed
Wer made vrom honest apples
    As autumn ever grewed.
John Helps a were an honest mon,
   And I be sorry a's dead.
Perry and honest men be scarce
   These days, 'tiz zed.'
Perry is a drink which is often associated with the West Country and Gloucestershire, and therefore makes a fitting subject for a poem which also uses that dialect. Just as Burns used his haggis to demonstrate Scotch dialect, Harvey used his Perry for Gloucestershire.
Of course this peom includes another favourite topic of Harvey's, which was dry humour. As dry as a nice, crisp perry perhaps? I'll let the reader decide that for themselves.

-FW Harvey, 'The Dialects of Gloucestershire and Particularly of the Forest of Dean' (1935), The Gloucestershire Archives (henceforth GA), FW Harvey Collection (henceforth FWH), D12912/9/2/3
-FW Harvey, 'Yeoman's English' (1935), GA, FWH, D12912/9/2/25
-FW Harvey, 'The Forest of Dean' (1938), GA, FWH, D12912/9/2/11
-FW Harvey, 'Gunter's Farm: The Story of  Farming Family' (1935-1936), GA, FWH, D12912/9/2/5
-FW Harvey, 'My Friends the Foresters' (1935), GA, FWH, D12912/9/2/6
-Robert Burns, 'Address to a Haggis', accessed at on 25 January 2013
-FW Harvey, 'John Helps', Farewell (London:Sidgwick & Jackson, 1921), p. 32

(n.b.: All sources above from the FW Harvey collection are cited using the currently assigned reference number, which is subject to change as cataloging work continues.)

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