“Give Us Our Daily Bread.”

“Oh! give us still our daily bread,” the sons of labour call,
Amid the gloom that gathers round, and raps us as a pall;
‘Tis heard in every cottage home, ‘tis ringing in the street;
The pale and anxious supplicants at every turn we meet.
The well-known sounds of industry but feebly greet the ear,
Th’ unwilling idlers, in groups, are gathered here and there;
And words are heard that harrow up the feelings of the soul,
Of suff’ring that is placed beyond the sufferer’s control.
The broker hath a busy time, he keeps the poor man’s bank,
The bargain’s made, the money paid, there’s no one else to thank;
What though his Sunday coat be gone, one sheet less on his bed,
The money buys him, for the time, his children’s daily bread.
Nor blame too harshly she who tries her fortune on the street,
Who turns her fortune into gold – ‘tis gold will purchase meat.
And virtue totters on the throne when vice gets better pay;
She always did, and always will, how’er we preach and pray.
I ask not who is in the right, our brothers North or South,
Nor will the argument suffice to fill one hungry mouth;
Leave statesmen to decide the cause, perchance they can agree,
The works of love and charity are left to you and me.
We hear of wealthy leagues, designed to bring from distant lands
The stores of cotton that we need for labour’s busy hands;
Not yet the ships have hove in sight, and we require til then
Another league, to feed and clothe, our starving fellowmen.
Look on the hills, where winter hath his snowy mantle spread;
List to the angry winds, that wail and whistle round your head;
The biting frost, the driving storm, ah, do not these awake
The better feelings of the heart, the poor man’s part to take?
Old hoary Christmas comes [apace] , how shall we greet him in
With song and dance, or sigh and sob, which will his favour win?
The former suits his cheerful heart, still frolicsome and young,
He loves the mazes of the dance, the music of the song.
Then let us join, both rich and poor, each brother hand in hand;
In sunshine and in shadow, together let us stand,
And show that England yet hath sons, with large and loving hearts,
Still ready, in adversity, to manly play their parts.

Title:Give Us Our Daily Bread

Author:Thomas Hodson

Publication:Ashton And Stalybridge Reporter

Published in:Ashton-under-Lyne

Date:November 30th 1861

Keywords:charity, gender, poverty, virtue, war, work


Thomas Hodson’s poem is one of the earliest examples of poetry referring specifically to the impoverishment of Lancashire’s workers following the outbreak of the American Civil War. In common with many of poems appealing for charity, it paints an honourable image of the unemployed cotton workers. These are the ‘sons of labour’, ‘unwilling idlers’ whose inability to earn a living is no fault of their own, and who desperately pawn their belongings to fulfil their responsibility to provide for their starving families. More unusually, Hodson also calls for his readers to withhold judgement of women who turn to prostitution for the same reason. Though couched in the highly moralised language of vice and virtue, Hodson’s sympathy for impoverished women is in contrast to many poems which hold up the spectre of prostitution as a fate to be prevented at all costs. The reference to the Lord’s Prayer in the title serves to remind the reader of the religious imperative to charity, and perhaps also that the repeated resistance to moral judgement demonstrated by Hodson mirrors Jesus’s acceptance of outcasts and sinners within the New Testament. Hodson is also ambivalent about where fault lies in the American Civil War, preferring to focus on the immediate need for charity in his local area. Although the poem paints a pessimistic image of thousands of starving workers, in need of a league of ships to bring relief, and facing a bleak winter, it ends on a note of optimism, calling for fraternity in the face of adversity. – RM