Devonshire dialect poem: ‘Piskies’ by T.P. Cameron Wilson

Two of the factors that make the West Country such a wonderful place to visit are the local dialect and the mysterious folklore.  This week, we’re sharing an old poem from a Victorian poet from Devon that combines the two.  “There’s piskies up to Dartymoor, an’ tidden gude yew zay there bain’t”!


T.P. Cameron Wilson  (1888 – 1918)was a former schoolteacher and poet from Devon who was killed in action in the first world war.  His poetry is still largely unknown, but includes some moving works.  Our personal favourite is called ‘Piskies‘ and offers a charming record of Devonshire dialect at the turn of the century. 

Many of the words are no longer in use, so we’ve taken the liberty to jot down an approximate translation (of course with none of the poetic flair of the original) in case there are words you’re not sure about.  

T.P. Cameron Wilson

“Piskies” – ‘Writ in Devon’
Theodore Percival Cameron Wilson.

THERE’S piskies up to Dartymoor, 
An’tidden gude yew zay there bain’t. 
I’ve felt ’em grawpin’ at my heart, 
I’ve heard their voices callin’ faint, 
I’ve knawed a man be cruec down — 
His soul fair stogged an’ heavy-like — 
Climb up to brawken Zaddle Tor 
An’ bare his head vor winds to strike. 
An’ all the gert black mawky griefs, 
An’ all the pain an’ vog an’ grime, 
Have blawed away and left en clear 
Like vuzz-bush vires in swalin’ time. 
An’ what med do so brave a thing 
As thic’ white spells to tak an’ weave, 
But li’l piskies’ vitty hands, 
Or God Himself as give ’em leave ? 
But tidden Him would stop an’ spy 
From Widdicombe to Cranmer Pule, 
To maze the schemin’ li’l heart 
Of every Jacky-Lantern fule ! 
For mebbe ’tis a lonesome rod 
Or heather blooth, or peaty ling, 
Or nobbut just a rainy combe — 
The spell that meks ‘ee tek an’ sing. 
An’ this I knaw, the li’l tods 
Be ever callin’ silver faint. 
There’s piskies up to Dartymoor, 
An’ tidden gude yew zay there bain’t.”

There are pixies up in Dartmoor,
And it isn’t good you say there ain’t.
I’ve felt them groping at my heart,
I’ve heard their voices calling faint,
I knew a man be bent down (like a crook) –
His soul bogged down and heavy like –
Climb up to Broken Saddle tor
And bare his head for winds to strike.
And all the great black sentimental grief,
And all the pain and fog and grime,
Have blown away and left him clear
Like gorsebush fires in swaling time.
And what would do so brave a thing
As to take and weave strong good spells,
but little pixies’ clever hands,
Or God himself has let them?
But God wouldn’t stop and scrutinize
from Widecombe to Cranmer Pool,
To confuse / stop the scheming little heart
Of every Jack o’Lantern (Willo the Wisp) fool!
For maybe it’s a lonely road
Or heather bloom, or peaty gorse,
Or nothing but a rainy valley
That is the spell that makes him start to sing.
But this I know, the little cratfy people (tod – fox)
Are always calling silvery and faint.
There are pixies up in Dartmoor,
And it isn’t good you say there ain’t.

Please note, we do not own the copyright for this poem, which may still be available within anthologies.