Poetry exercise – William “Bill O’ Jacks” Baron.

Now that the snow has come and gone, and the snowdrops are coming through in profusion, it’s time for a poem. Healey Dell, on the outskirts of Rochdale and nestled in the Spodden Valley, is a popular beauty spot. However, it was once the scene of industry with the remains of cotton mills and a disused 19th century viaduct – now a nature trail – looms over the Dell.

The Fairy Chapel at Healey Dell. Don't  promise your soul to these pretty fiends.
The Fairy Chapel at Healey Dell. Don’t promise your soul to these pretty fiends.

There are a few folk stories associated with the Dell that include tales of witches and trickster fairies retold by folklorist John Roby. (There’s a brief retelling on the Healey Dell nature reserve website – click on the link to read them..)

There have been poems dedicated to the spot, the following poem is one of the few non-dialect poems written by William Baron (b. 1865, d. 1927). Baron’s dialect poetry was written during a bit of a revival during the late Victorian era. A good deal of Baron’s poetry exalts the pastoral – ‘A Ramble I’ T’ Country’ and ‘A Ramble I’ T’ Lancashire Lanes’ are cases in point – and ‘Healey Dell’ honours the natural.

The viaduct over Healey Dell. Taken 22nd June 2013.
The viaduct over Healey Dell. Taken 22nd June 2013.

‘Healey Dell’

O, sweet to the vision is Healey’s famed dell,
With its shady retreats, and its pathways so green!
What pen can describe it?—What language can tell
The charms and the beauties surrounding the scene?
‘Tis a picture as fair as the Eden of old
Where mankind’s first parents were tempted and fell;
Our hearts are enraptured whene’er we behold
The rich works of nature in Healey’s cool dell.

How grand to stroll there at the coming of Spring,
When the buds and the blossoms are fresh on the trees!
To list to the song birds, that soar as they sing,
And inhale the pure fragrance that comes on the breeze.
Our fancies, our thoughts, how delightful they are!—
Too deep for expression, our bosoms they swell;
Life brings many pleasures, but dearest by far
To me is a ramble through Healey’s sweet dell.

When the leaves by the zephyrs at night-fall are stirred,
And darkness is lowering upon the earth’s breast;
The voice of the cuckoo may often be heard
As he calls for the mate of his choice to his nest.
And the murmuring stream as it ripples along,
Looks up at the daisy, and nodding blue-bell,
Which open their petals to list to its song
That awakens their slumbers in Healey’s fair dell.

When the moon sheds her rays an the old ruined mill,
There the maiden of Shawclough roams forth with her swain;
And with breast beating high, in that spot calm and still—
He pleads for her hand, and he pleads not in vain.
When troubles oppress me I thither repair,
And roam o’er the scenes that I love, oh, so well!
For the Almighty’s goodness is shown to me there,
In the unrivalled beauties of famed Healey Dell!

From Baron, William (1903), Echoes from the Loom. A Collection of Poems Chiefly in the Dialect,Rochdale: Omerod Bros.

The remains of industry, Healey Dell. Taken 22nd June 2013
The remains of industry, Healey Dell. Taken 22nd June 2013

So, your task – if you choose to accept it – is to write a poem about place, this being a local “beauty spot” near you. Venerate it. Celebrate it. But don’t be scared of including any industrial ruins that may be there. You can use the rhythm and rhyme scheme of Healey Dell if that helps to structure the poem. But you must promise me that you’ll get outside and have a wander around before you start scribbling!

You can hear some of the dialect poetry of William Baron here: from Welcome to “Malc’s Books A Celebration of Working Class Culture” website.

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