The Dialectics of Dialect

It's always a fun surprise to study the Imagists in the midst of studying Gatsby.  Although published within a decade of each other, the works are about as far apart as two works can be: on one hand are Fitzgerald's crazy aphorisms -- "There are only the pursued, the pursuing, the busy and the tired" -- and on the other, this:
so much depends


a red wheel


glazed with rain


beside the white


The students reacted with unanimous delight.  "I LOVE this poem!"  "It's so easy to understand!"  "I can just picture a farm in sort of a misty rain."

I agreed with them: "Every word contributes so much to the image.  It's powerful because it contrasts: white, fluffy feathers against a wet, shiny wheel barrow."

"Wait, what are you saying?" one girl asked. "Wheel barrel?"

"Barrow," I said, slowly and clearly.  "Bear-row."

"I thought it was 'barrel,'" they murmured, almost to a person. "Wheel barrel."

Aghast, I realized their Baltimore dialect had reared its ugly head.  "Barrow," I corrected them.  "There's no 'l' at the end.  See?"  But they didn't.  They tried and honestly couldn't say it.  "Barr-oww?"  "Bear-all?"  "No, there's definitely an 'l' in there."  "It makes sense because wheel barrels roll.  They're on wheels, right?"

They were laughing now, and I was still stupefied.  "You really think so?  What about straw?"

"Strawl?" they responded.

I wrote the word on the board.  "S-T-R-A-W.  See?  No 'l.'"

"Strah?" "Straaaa?" "Stroah?"

Now I was laughing.  "You guys are SO from Baltimore!"

They loved it.  "Do another one!  This is so fun!"

We had to return to the poem then, although I was dying to hit them with "pull," "egg," and the ever-popular "down to the ocean."  With a little luck, they'll remember Imagism for a long time to come.