Week 31: Woak Hill, by William Barnes

Woak Hill

When sycamore leaves wer a-spreadèn
    Green-ruddy, in hedges,
Bezide the red doust o’ the ridges,
    A-dried at Woak Hill;

I packed up my goods all a-sheenèn
    Wi’ long years o’ handlèn,
On dousty red wheels ov a waggon,
    To ride at Woak Hill.

The brown thatchen ruf o’ the dwellèn,
    I then wer a-leävèn,
Had shelter’d the sleek head o’ Meäry,
    My bride at Woak Hill.

But now vor zome years, her light voot-vall
    ‘S a-lost vrom the vloorèn.
Too soon vor my jäy an’ my childern,
    She died at Woak Hill.

But still I do think that, in soul,
    She do hover about us;
To ho vor her motherless childern,
    Her pride at Woak Hill.

Zoo–lest she should tell me hereafter
    I stole off ‘ithout her,
An’ left her, uncall’d at house-riddèn,
    To bide at Woak Hill–

I call’d her so fondly, wi’ lippèns
    All soundless to others,
An’ took her wi’ aïr-reachèn hand,
    To my zide at Woak Hill.

On the road I did look round, a-talkèn
    To light at my shoulder,
An’ then led her in at the door-way,
    Miles wide vrom Woak Hill.

An’ that’s why vo’k thought, vor a season,
    My mind wer a-wandrèn
Wi’ sorrow, when I wer so sorely
    A-tried at Woak Hill.

But no; that my Meäry mid never
    Behold herzelf slighted,
I wanted to think that I guided
    My guide vrom Woak Hill.

William Barnes

The beloved wife of the Dorset poet William Barnes died in early middle age, leaving him with several young children. The Dorset dialect may make it look odd at first, but I think that in its aching purity of loss this poem along with his ‘The Wife A-lost’ are two of the great poems of grief in our language.

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