My Orcha’d in Linden Lea


Photograph by Christopher Benson

While strolling the Roman Road behind Thomas Hardy’s cottage in Upper Bockhampton, my family encountered a Dorset furze-cutter (furze is a low, prickly shrub more commonly called gorse). Such a profession was described in The Return of the Native. What Hardy says about the reddleman (a dealer in red ocher) could apply just as easily to the furze-cutter: “He was one of a class rapidly becoming extinct in Wessex, filling at present in the rural world the place which, during the last century, the dodo occupied in the world of animals. He is a curious, interesting, and nearly perished link between obsolete forms of life and those which generally prevail.”

This bearded man with ruddy cheeks enthusiastically informed us about the wild scene before us (pictured above) and then—impromptu—recited a famous poem from the region by William Barnes (1801-1886), “My Orcha’d in Linden Lea.” (Be sure to check out Ralph Vaughan William’s lovely choral work based on this poem.) Barnes, as I learned, was a Dorset-dialect poet, schoolmaster, and clergyman. Upon his death, an obituary read: “There is no doubt that he is the best pastoral poet we possess, the most sincere, the most genuine, the most theocritan; and that the dialect is but a very thin veil hiding from us some of the most delicate and finished verse written in our time.”

To hear the poet’s use of dialect, listen to this audio recording as you read the poem.

My Orcha’d in Linden Lea

‘Ithin the woodlands, flow’ry gleaded,
By the woak tree’s mossy moot,
The sheenen grass-bleades, timber-sheaded,
Now do quiver under voot ;
An’ birds do whissle over head,
An’ water’s bubblen in its bed,
An’ there vor me the apple tree
Do lean down low in Linden Lea.

When leaves that leately wer a-springen
Now do feade ‘ithin the copse,
An’ painted birds do hush their zingen
Up upon the timber’s tops;
An’ brown-leav’d fruit’s a turnen red,
In cloudless zunsheen, over head,
Wi’ fruit vor me, the apple tree
Do lean down low in Linden Lea.

Let other vo’k meake money vaster
In the air o’ dark-room’d towns,
I don’t dread a peevish measter;
Though noo man do heed my frowns,
I be free to goo abrode,
Or teake agean my hwomeward road
To where, vor me, the apple tree
Do lean down low in Linden Lea.

Here is commentary from Poetry by Heart, the educational initiative of The Poetry Archive:

This celebration of pastoral beauty and depiction of man in harmony with nature written in a Dorset dialect constantly returns to the image of the apple tree in Linden Lea. It provides not simply food but a kind of spiritual nourishment. The apple tree is always there ‘vor me’, providing comfort and security and making the speaker appreciate the beauty of his home. Significantly, the apple tree is said to lean towards the speaker, a movement that is captured in mellifluous, alliterative phrases. The poem also conveys the sense of freedom inspired by being at one with nature. The city might offer the chance of making more money, but its attractions and challenges are no competition for the peace and tranquillity found next to the apple tree in Linden Lea, where no peevish employer need be feared.

The use of alliteration and the harmonious balance of individual lines along with a skilfully controlled rhyme scheme give a sense of ease and serenity to the poem, even though there is clearly technical virtuosity on display here.


4 thoughts on “My Orcha’d in Linden Lea

    • Before our trip, I arranged a guide, Alistair Chisholm, from Thomas Hardy Explorer. He was terrific! And yes, he recited the poems with much feeling and thoughtfulness, syncing them to the places we visited in Hardy’s Dorset.

  1. That’s pretty awesome. Is Thomas Hardy Explorer connected with the cottage in Upper Bockhampton, or is it completely separate?
    What was Hardy’s home like?

    • Thomas Hardy Explorer is Alistair Chisholm’s organization, which offers tours and walks of Hardy’s Dorset. The National Trust maintains the birthplace cottage of the Victorian author. My family was more impressed with the environs of the cottage than the cottage itself, which has cramped rooms and low ceilings. Owing to its small size, I understand why Hardy, as a boy and a young man, escaped to the heath behind the cottage, where his imagination soared and roamed.

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