Where thou art Betsy, I will be
And share thy joy and sorrow:
The bitter cup we drink to day
Will perhaps be sweet to morrow.
And if it still retains its gall
of [bitter] adverse [fortune] ,
This will our aching hearts console,
Our love it can not [shorten] .
That genial spell by heaven sent,
Domestic peace to strengthen,
To shorten every ill of life,
And every good to lengthen.
Has kept her throne through varied scenes
Of life’s contending struggle,
And shed her [lucid] cheering beams
Through every cloud of trouble.
Your azure eyes are filled with love,
Lit by a generous heart,
And though in humble life we move
You act a noble part.
Your outward charms and inward grace
The household’s matchless pair,
Are mangled in your glowing face,
And lighten every care.

Title:In Adversity

Author:J. Heywood

Publication:Accrington Guardian

Published in:Accrington

Date:March 8th, 1862

Keywords:domesticity, gender, poverty


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