“Go hence, ill year, with robes that reek of war,
[Hands] that struck down the labour of our North;
My curse go after thee beyond the door
That darkens at thy ghastly going forth;
“Away, foul beldame! give the Young Year room,
What he is like none who await him know;
At worst his looks will mend thy face of doom,
Worse year than thou the world can never know!”
The Old Year on the threshold paused and turned,
[2 words illegible] were thick upon the shroud he wore,
An awful light, [on] the sunk eye-balls glared
That looked upon me from the darkened door.
And thin and hollow-sounding, as from far,
A voice came to me, sad at once and stern;
“Wise art thou, that arraign’st at thy blind bar
The power who guides the million orbs that burn.
“About this sphere, where thy poor life is past,
Ephemeral, in ephemeral grief or glee,
[That] ban and blessing, like a child, dares’t [1 word illegible]
On years that owe not an account to [thee]
God’s chastisements and bounties is [thine]
To measure with thy staff; weigh thy brains
I work his bidding; His the will [be mine]
Know I how ill dies out, and [good] remains?
“But ev’n with reverent [judgement] , meet for man,
Marking the doings of [1 word illegible] mouths gone,
The root of [4 words illegible]
Methinks [1 word illegible] thy [1 word illegible] might have known.
“From civil war’s heaped and festering grave,
By means [1 word illegible] of those who fight or rule,
Grows, slow [1 word illegible] the freedom of the slave,
While [1 word illegible] gapes, a baffled fool.
“In war’s gripe, what lies, which stoutest thrust
Of [1 word illegible] and all her train, could never shake,
Are [1 word illegible] into rottenness and dust –
[1 word illegible] powers of unguessed nobleness awake!
[1 word illegible] lessons are made clear by war’s red light
[1 word illegible] those who fight and those who watch the strife!
Out of the soil swept bare by battle’s blight
“What seeds of new strength sudden leap to life!
“For cotton dearth, with pain and misery rife,
The blessing hidden in it all must own,
Who see how suffering calls love to lige,
How of endurance comes a strength unknown.
“Then curse me not, but bless me; there is balm
For every bruise that God inflicts on earth;
His ways are in the storm, as in the calm,
In war and misery, as in peace and mirth.”

Title:Lessons of the Year (Punch)


Publication:Ashton and Stalybridge Reporter

Published in:Ashton-under-Lyne

Date:Jan 10th 1863

Keywords:cotton, poverty, religion, war


This Punch poem addresses the personified outgoing year, accusing it of having ‘hands that struck down the labour of our North’. The themes focus on the American war and its effects on the cotton industry, and the framing of this as a ‘lesson’ suggests that things will be different in the New Year. It is significant that this quite melancholy poem (despite its brief uplift in the last line) was published during the very worst winter of the Cotton Famine. – SR