Aw Wod This War Wer Ended
Title:Aw Wod This War Wer Ended
Author:W. M. Billington
Publication:The Blackburn Times
Date:October 10, 1863
Keywords:dialect, gender, poverty, war
This piece in quite heavy dialect is written in a fairly close ballad meter, alternating four and three beat lines in iambic pentameter. The rhymes also alternate, and this is one of Billington’s more song-like poems. The density of the dialect is deliberate in that there is an attempt to shore up the authenticity of this as a representation of working-class expression. Lines such as ‘Some forrud foos ull rant reet herd’ (‘Some forward fools will rant right hard’) cleverly incorporate dialect terms and pronunciations with more traditional poetic devices such as alliteration.
Not only does this poem blend the usual personal account of financial hardship with commentary on the geopolitical situation, but it provides an example of the ways that different publication contexts can affect the decisions a poet makes in terms of the ideological position of the text. There are two versions of the last stanza of this poem, with the first newspaper publication reading like this:
And the second version, published long after the Cotton Famine in Billington’s Lancashire Songs, with Other Poems and Sketches in 1883, reads like this:
There is a clear difference here, with the first version much more equivocal regarding the nature of the American conflict, and suggesting that there are divided loyalties among ordinary people in Lancashire. The second version introduces a wholly new abolitionist message, and directs censure at the factory owners, suggesting a class divide in North-South support which is entirely absent in the first. If the second version was really first published in 1883, then its historical revisionism is all the more questionable, as it is attributed with an 1862 composition date. This second version is also one of eleven Cotton Famine poems which feature in Brian Hollingworth’s Songs of the People: Lancashire dialect poetry of the industrial revolution (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1977), the most significant anthology of such works during the twentieth century.