‘Howst’ th’ gan on?’ A Cumbrian dialect poem

A while back, I promised Hobbo A.K.A. ‘The Yorkshire Laureate’ that I would include some Cumbrian dialect poetry on this blog. First have a listen to the following recording.

Esther Dixon-Graham recites a Cumbrian Poem

Cumbrian version (my transcription)

If ivver twa farmers at Caer’l should meet
Ye’d hear what they say, t’uther side o’ the street:
Owwer t’ roar o’ the busses comes th’ voice o’ good cheer
And this is the wurds for sartain yu’d hear:

Howst’ th’ gan on, Lad
Howst’ th’ gan on,
Thou’s lakin gay badly
But howst’ th’ gan on?

If yer seekin’ yer fort’un in some forr’n land
It’s then that yer valley, tha’ll clasp ower hand*
And lads the wurrld ower’ll know comfort n bliss
To hear old lingo spokken, summat like this:

Howst’ th’ gan on, Lad
Howst’ th’ gan on,
Is Caer’l toon hall still stannin yit?
Howst’ th’ gan on?

For three years young Joseph courted ‘Lisabeth Jane
That he wanted some pushin’ at leek farra playin’
Her father, he thowt th’ud never meek a match
So he whispered Jane like, just ta bring lad up t’scratch:

Howst’ th’ gan on, Lad
Howst’ th’ gan on,
Tha’s mappin nee a hurry,
But howst’ th’ gan on?

Now a say it when me shuart span on Earth has gaen by
An a fin mesel aloft, and adrift in the sky
When a reach gowlden yeats, an a knock t’ git in
A bet ye Saint Peter’ll say with a grin:

Howst’ th’ gan on, Lass
Howst’ th’ gan on,
Tha’s fust up frae Cum’merland,
S’ howst’ th’ gan on?

*even I struggled with this line, so I can’t guarantee I got it right.

Standard English (My Translation)

If ever two farmers at Carlisle should meet
You’d hear what they say from over the street
Over the roar of the buses comes their good cheer
And these are the words for certain you’d hear:

How’re you going on lad,
How’re you going on?
You’re not looking too good
But how’re you going on?

If you’re seeking your fortune in some foreign land
It’s then in that valley, they’ll clasp their hands
And lads the world o’er will know comfort and bliss
To hear the old language spoke something like this:

How’re you going on lad,
How’re you going on?
Is Carlisle town hall still standing yet?
How’re you going on?

For three years young Joseph courted ‘Lisabeth Jane
But he needed a push to get on with the playin’
Her father thought they would never make a match,
So he whispered to bring the young lad up to scratch:

How’re you going on lad,
How’re you going on?
You’re making no hurry
But how’re you going on?

Now when my short span on this earth has gone by
And I find myself drifting aloft in the sky
When I reach th’ golden gates and I knock to get in
I bet you St Peter will say with a grin:

How’re you going on lass,
How’re you going on?
You’re the first up from Cumbria
So how’re you going on?

About this poem

Phew! That was a challenge for a Sunday morning. This is the language of my homeland: I was born in Carlisle, and as I write this, the town hall is still standing (see Featured Image.)

The audio was taken from this video, which talks in depth about the Cumbrian dialect:

I am also linking this to Earthweal’s open link weekend. If you care about Cumbria, and indeed the future of our planet, and you are a UK citizen, please consider signing the following petition:


We need to do all we can to help stop the madness of a new coal-mine in Cumbria. Those fossil fuels need to stay in the ground!

29 thoughts on “‘Howst’ th’ gan on?’ A Cumbrian dialect poem

Add yours

  1. A great poem, thank you Ingrid. The dialect is very similar to the part of Yorkshire I am from. In fact, it’s much nearer to Tyke than the Lancashire dialect I am currently surrounded by, even though I am less than 30 miles from my home town! I suspect the dialect might flummox some Southerners though!

    1. It’s interesting: there’s a video on YouTube about the similarities between the two dialects as well. I think we have our Viking ancestors to thank for that!

  2. You guys all sound like you’re from New Joisey! Kididng … it takes a keen ear to write in dialect, and a poet to make the point. Well done. .. Brendan

  3. We still have some dialects in the US, but they are disappearing. This is a wonderful exercise. We need to cherish these differences. (K)

  4. You did an exceptional job of transcribing the dialect. Well done. I love the refrain. It reminds me of how, in some parts of Africa, people greet each other with Are you well? I am well if you are well.

      1. Haha, yeah but it’d be exciting if a particular phrase made sense.
        I’m always fascinated with picking through thick accents if they are speaking English. The original ones add an extra thrill, the Scots and Irish and yours as well

  5. Impressive post, Ingrid! I enjoyed every aspect of it from the recording to the transscription to the English translation. You have provided that little bit of history and culture that brightened up my day! Love it! <3 All the best!

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