Publication:Burnley Free Press And General Advertiser
Date:11th July 1863
Keywords:america, charity, dialect, domesticity, poverty, unemployment, war
Although written broadly in iambic tetrameter this poem’s conversational format, characteristic of Williffe Cunliam (William Cunliffe) and much dialect poetry more generally, encourages the reader to follow the sense of the poem more than its metre. Even the strict ABAB rhyme scheme is largely disguised by the frequent exclamations, caesurae (punctuation breaks in the line), and switches between speakers. There are eleven quatrains, which is quite short for this kind of conversation poem, but the writer manages to pack a lot of detail into this, covering commentary on the American Civil War, accounts of charitable efforts, and discussion about the prospect of the mills starting up again.
The poem appears to be a representation of a conversation between acquaintances on the street, and it uses this conceit to highlight the common concerns of the day, including war, unemployment, and charity. One of the things that connects this poem to Cunliffe’s other work for the Burnley newspaper he wrote for is the foregrounding of the shift in social attitudes to the receipt of charitable relief as the Cotton Famine progressed. The second speaker is not ashamed of the help they have received, and indeed, with the discussion touching on clothes that have been mended until they can be mended no more, this poem might be seen as a kind of sequel to the same poet’s ‘The Petched Shirt’.