D. H. Lawrence, poetry and dialect – The Collier’s Wife.

A few personal thoughts on writing in dialect.

The thing I most admire about D. H. Lawrence is his use of langauge, not just the written word but also his spoken dialect. He must have had a very musical ear for his characters always sound “right”. Writing historical fiction I struggle over whether to use thee, thy, etc. and what to contract and what not to. Then there’s the problem of consistency, if one of my characters never sounds the ‘g’ on the end of a word I have to make sure his singing is always singin’. Lawrence’s poems have fluctuating rhythm and for me the meaning takes precedence over this.

For some local voicing here are the first three verses of “The Collier’s Wife”.

Somebody’s knockin’ at th’ door
Mother, come down an’ see!
— I’s think it’s nobbut, a beggar;
Say I’m busy.

It’s not a beggar, mother; hark
How ‘ard ‘e knocks!
— Eh, tha’rt a mard-arsed kid,
‘E’ll gie thee socks!

Shout an’ ax what ‘e wants,
I canna come down.
— ‘E says, is it Arthur Holliday’s?
— Say Yes, tha clown.

It transpires there’s been an accident at the pit. Mother is anxious that her husband has clean stockings and a shirt. She makes light of the accident saying he always makes a fuss and there’ll be compensation and club money. After all, ‘E’s ‘ad twenty accidents, if ‘e’s ‘ad one;’ It’s not stated how her husband is, but the underlying feeling is that this could be very bad since ‘Th’am ta’ein’ ‘im i’ th’ ambulance’ and the suggestion is that her fussing about clean socks and a shirt is a way of expressing the deep anxiety she really feels.

For me, Lawrence has the gift of writing dialect that can be read and understood with ease and this is part of what makes him such a great writer.

Image ref: Simon Harriyott from Uckfield, England, CC BY 2.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

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