Drooping Hearts in Lancashire

In the north is bitter wailing,
Sighs more plaintive day by day,
Fuel, food, and raiment failing;
Hear, O hear their mournful lay;
Sorrow’s cloud-wreath dark and drear,
Sadly looms o’er Lancashire.
Distant war their occupation
Has completely from them torn;
Filled their homes with desolation,
Left them wretched and forlorn,
Bounteous aid is needed here,
For the folk of Lancashire.
Now the days are dark and dreary,
Still desponding more and more;
Languid, listless, faint, and weary,
Scarce they venture out of door;
Winter’s bitter cold is here,
Help the folk of Lancashire.
Cold and hunger once their master,
Fever soon will strike a blow –
Claim its victims fast and faster,
Sap their vitals, lay them low;
O! avert a fate so drear
From the folk of Lancashire.
Let the arrows soon be heeded,
Which so bravely have been borne;
Fuel, food, and clothes are needed,
Fill a brighter day shall dawn;
Let your kindness quickly cheer
Drooping hearts in Lancashire.
When their occupations flourish,
None more freely give than they;
Must they now from famine perish?
Faint, and droop, and die away?
No! the welcome shout we hear,
“Aid shall come to Lancashire!”

Title:Drooping Hearts in Lancashire

Author:J. Harvey Perry

Publication:Ashton and Stalybridge Reporter

Published in:Ashton-under-Lyne

Date:January 3rd 1863

Keywords:charity, hunger, unemployment


This poem is a plea for aid in Lancashire’s time of suffering. It is comprised of six sestets of iambic near-tetrameter, imperfectly following the occasionally-used hymnal fashion of 8,7,8,7,8,7 syllables per verse. The ABABCC rhyme-scheme is identical to Wordsworth’s lyric poem “I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud”, perhaps forming an ironic, community-focused counterpoint to that poem’s pastoral solitude and beauty. Indeed, the concern is here centralised on Lancashire, each stanza ending with an aspect of the “folk” of the place. “Lancashire” is here taken to represent not a geographical location, but the people themselves, “failing” in both material needs and spirit. The speaker, however, is notably distanced from their plight; the opening line addresses a “north”, while the aforementioned and repeated use of “folk” places the people of Lancashire as the object of concern. Even the urgency framed as “[n]ow the days” and “[f]ever soon will strike” are themselves contained by the constant appeals to the plight of others, to whom an imagined recipient may “let your kindness quickly cheer”.

The nature of that kindness and aid is itself a matter of specificity for the speaker, in their concern for the Lancashire peoples’ “occupation”. The word is taken in two of its meanings. The initial use regards their mental concern for the “[d]istant war” in America that has precipitated the famine, while its use in the final stanza frames it in the context of labour that might “flourish”. The people of the poem are mainly benighted by their low morale, “desponding more and more”, rarely “ventur[ing] out of door”; the “famine” itself is mentioned only briefly at the end. The implication ties into the speaker’s idea of a restored Lancashire – the people that are at once “[l]anguid, listless” might see their “occupations flourish” in better times. In effect, while concluding with the rousing apostrophe of “‘Aid shall come’”, the speaker implicitly measures this aid by whether the people are able to leave the house, and busy themselves. It is a result of inactivity brought about due to famine that the morale of “[d]rooping hearts” is laid low. Aid brings people out of the home, with “[f]uel, food, and clothes” replacing the “plaintive” and “bitter” sighs and wails with a revived morale.

Harry Caton, University of Exeter