Cotton Famine Christmas Countdown Day 8: A Christmas Carol

Welcome to the day 8 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

Today’s anonymous poem is ‘A Christmas Carol’ from the Blackburn Times, December 20th, 1862.

A CHRISTMAS CAROL.

IT is Christmas! and I’m thinking

We might make the poor to feel

Happy, in this time of friendship

That will o’er the wealthy steal.

What of Christ, our risen brother,

Who the multitude did feed

With the loaves and two small fishes,

When of food they were in need?

Dare we say the loaves and fishes

Now are taken in His name?

And the simple Christian gospel

Is not still the very same

That the weary and forsaken

Turn’d to with a loving part,

While the Everlasting Father

Heal’d the broken, bleeding heart?

Oh! I read how one Zaccheus,

Short of stature, climb’d a tree,

To see the Teacher as He pass’d,

And evoked His sympathy.

Salvation to his house had come

When Zaccheus, for the poor,

Gave half his goods; and a four-fold

Those he’d wrong’d in craft before.

Where the spirit, wounded, broken,

Silent suffers in this woe,

By your Christian Christmas bounty

Let your alms in secret flow

From the halls where plenty reigns,

From the mites that might be saved,

A merry Christmas, and God bless you,

For the Blackburn well-behaved.

Commentary

Today’s poem follows familiar themes in Christmas Cotton Famine Poetry, with a focus on religion and charity. As in many of the other poems we’ve featured, the joys and comforts of Christmas for the wealthy and its potential trials for the poor are contrasted, and the poet goes on to draw on Biblical teaching to encourage some redistribution of resources. Interestingly, the tone towards the rich is one of disapproval, and the wording suggests that they are due some of the blame for the condition of the poor. References are made to the loaves and fishes being ‘taken’ from the people, and to Zaccheus the tax collector, regarded as a sinner until his faith in Christ led him to seek redemption by returning dishonest earnings and giving to the poor. Finally, there is a warning against ostentatious giving, so we know that the envisioned ‘well-behaved’ of Blackburn are those who help the poor through pure motives rather than to gain social approval.

Though this poem is described as a carol, unfortunately there is no further information provided about any musical accompaniment or a suggested tune.

Dr Ruth Mather, University of Exeter.

A Victorian Christmas Card, from Nova Scotia Archives on flickr.com

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