Date:March 8th, 1862
In this poem, the speaker describes how the ‘inward charms’ and ‘outward grace’ of a woman named Betsy – implied to be a spouse or partner – helps maintain a sense of optimism and hope despite widespread unemployment and poverty being prevalent throughout the Cotton Famine. Despite the title, ‘In Adversity’, an unexpectedly positive tone is maintained throughout, with the main focus being on the ‘love’ and ‘domestic peace’ that the speaker and Betsy experience despite the difficult circumstances in which they live.
The rhyme scheme is an even iambic tetrameter alternating with iambic trimeter, conveying an air of constancy which may reflect the emotional and domestic stability ‘Betsy’ provides. Even when the meter is briefly interrupted, such as in the case of ‘perhaps’, it is quickly regained despite the admittance that the ‘bitter cup’ may ‘retain its gall’. The satisfaction gained from the continual presence of Betsy and the 'genial spell' she brings to the household, as well as the ability to ‘share every joy and sorrow’, is prioritised by the speaker over the uncertain hope of resolution of the ‘adversity’ he is experiencing. The speaker maintains a passive attitude towards fluctuating and unpredictable political and financial circumstances, acknowledging it as another ‘varied scene’ of ‘life’s contending struggle’. Instead, a shared experience – even endurance – of this ‘adversity’ is seen as sufficient to ‘lighten every care’.
As this poem was published in a local newspaper and thus intended to be read in a domestic environment by those experiencing similar difficulties, it could be argued to act as an advisory piece. The socioeconomic vulnerability experienced by workers during the Cotton Famine was the result of external political and industrial circumstances – such as overproduction of cotton and the American Civil War – and could not be altered by those living a ‘humble life’, and thus the importance of domesticity and loving interpersonal relationships is emphasised as being necessary to maintain an optimistic outlook.
Charlotte Lewis, University of Exeter