Cotton Famine Christmas Countdown Day 7: Christmas in the Hard Times

Welcome to the seventh day of our Cotton Famine Christmas Countdown! To get us in the festive (sort of) spirit, we’re featuring a seasonal Cotton Famine Poem every day in the run up to our special Christmas event with Jennifer Reid on 20th December. Free tickets for the event are available here: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/the-twelve-cotton-famine-poems-of-christmas-tickets-52954230529

Our poem for today is ‘Christmas in the Hard Times’ from the Preston Guardian, published on December 6th 1862. The commentary comes from Bess Amelia Yeager, a student on the ‘Poetry and Politics’ module in the Department of English at the University of Exeter.

CHRISTMAS IN THE HARD TIMES

Thou art coming, hale and hoary

    Christmas, king of cheer and gladness;

But there’s dimness in thy glory,

And thy joy is tinged with sadness.

Yet we’ll welcome thee with pleasure,

    In the hope of better days;

And no sad or mournful measure

    Shall inspire our Christmas lays.

Welcome! joy inspiring spirit,

    Brooding o’er the dying year;

May mankind from thee inherit

    Peace, with its attendant cheer.

Driving back the shade of sorrow,

    Still we cry, “All hail to thee!”

Be thou like the coming morrow

    Which shall set the prisoner free.

Bless the rich with noble feeling,

    That the rich may bless the poor;

Keep the wasted hand from stealing;

Keep gaunt famine from the door.

When thou’st wooed all men with gladness,—

    When thou’st opened plenty’s store,—

Bind the fiends of war and madness—

    Keep them prisoners evermore.

Then from every hill and valley

    Peace and happiness shall smile;

Joy shall light each street and alley

    Through our patient, generous isle.

TAYLOR’S, too, with beauty glowing,

    In the styles which all admire,

Will be found on all bestowing

    Beauteous, good, and cheap attire!

CommentaryWritten in melodic trochaic tetrameter with some lines omitting the last syllable of the pattern, this poem functions as both an encouragement to celebrate the gifts of Christmas and an advertisement for a clothing store. The narrator addresses the personification of Christmas with words of optimism despite “dimness in [its] glory.” A capitalistic tone (“Bless the rich with noble feeling, / That the rich may bless the poor”) emerges halfway through the poem; this eventually culminates in a call to patronize E. Taylor’s clothing store in the last four lines. Rather than ending with a tone of universal solidarity against poverty and strife, the poem appeals to a class who can afford to shop at a clothing store like Taylor’s and implores Christmas to keep “the wasted hand” from stealing, and keep “gaunt famine” from the door.

Bess Amelia Yeager, University of Exeter

Victorian Christmas card from Wikimedia Commons.

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