A PRAYER FOR PEACE.
BY JOHN CHARLES TWIST.
Title:A Prayer for Peace
Author:John Charles Twist
Publication:Ashton and Stalybridge Reporter
Date:Sept 5th 1863
Keywords:poverty, religion, war
Prince’s ‘A Prayer for Peace’ consists of two large stanzas of 16 and 18 lines each. Despite having an irregular meter, the stanzas can each be divided into an initial quatrain of shorter lines with an alternating ‘ABAB’ rhyme scheme, followed by 12 or 14 lines of rhyming couplets. These read almost like distorted sonnets, appealing to God for peace and love, with the barrage of couplets seeming as much like a desperate plea as a ‘prayer’ for peace.
The opening quatrain gets straight to the core of the poem: “Peace for the nations,” Prince demands, which here can be specifically linked to the American Civil War. The “fertile sod” alludes to agriculture and produce (specifically cotton), and the “brothers [who] are staining” the crop can be read as the Unionists and Confederates, soiling the cotton industry overseas. At the time, a Southern imposed boycott and later a Union blockade prevented the transportation of raw cotton from America to the Lancashire mills, which led to the unemployment and impoverishment of a vast proportion of the Lancastrian working class. John Critchley Prince, himself a factory worker in Ashton-under-Lyne and later a reed-maker (reeds being an integral mechanical element of the cotton looms) felt this economic slump keenly.
Indeed, as well as disrupting the domestic, Prince paints war as disrupting technological progress too: “the spirit of Progress back recoils/ At the far borne bruit of unhallowed broils”. Another accurate depiction of the time; new loom technology was delayed in being implemented in the mills due to the cotton famine. The use of capital letters in “Progress”, “Freedom” and “Peace” personify these abstracts, making them seem all the more vulnerable and fragile.
Prince then focuses in from the national to the domestic, repeating his chorus but this time praying for “Peace for the household”. This act of near-anaphora emphasises the link between the national and the individual, how war on a grand scale can be comparable even to the quarrels of children. Using this comparison, Prince subtly highlights the futility of war and the avoidable nature of its catastrophic effects. Prince’s own domestic life was far from perfect; applying to the Royal Literary Fund numerous times for financial support, Prince lived in debt and abject poverty. He lost his wife and child to illnesses undoubtedly exacerbated by their impoverished condition caused by the famine, and so this plea for national and so familial peace could not be more personal.
Prince ends his poem with a question mark, a final statement on the uncertainty of the times. The piece transitions from a prayer, to a plea, and finishes as a question; the desperation of the poet could not be clearer.
Sarah Abrahams, University of Exeter