God Help the Poor!

God help the poor! who, day by day,
The woes of want do feel;
Whose hardest toil, in brighter hours,
But earned a scanty meal;
Who, hapless, lag, with hungry looks,
And cheeks, so gaunt and pale,
That tell, so mutely eloquent,
The starvling’s piteous tale.
God help the poor! – ye rich and high,
With lands and mansions fine,
Think of the poor in their cold, bare homes,
Can you let them starve and pine?
Think of their shivering rag-clad limbs,
And spare, from your plenteous board,
A crust, for to fill their foodless mouths;
A mite from your golden hoard.
God help the poor! from hunger’s pangs,
In their dark hours of need;
Thy providence supplies their wants,
And better days, God speed!
And brothers, ye with bursting purse,
Give from your plenteous store;
In deeds of noblest charity,
Give – lend to your brother, the poor!
God help the poor! let better days
Dawn on our suff’ring land;
Let men in unity and peace,
Clasp firm the friendly hand,
And brothers greet, with honest hearts,
Of high and low degree,
And all men join – a happy band –
In blissful amity.
God send us peace! let discord, war,
And men’s dissesnsions cease;
Oh! give to mourning millions
The blessed boon of peace!
Let brothers sheath the cruel sword –
Fierce battles ended be;
Let foes be friends! And man to man
Breathe love and charity.

Title:God Help the Poor!

Author:Williffe Cunliam

Publication:Burnley Free Press And General Advertiser

Published in:Burnley

Date:29th August 1863

Keywords:charity, class, inequality, poverty, religion, war


This poem in five octets is written in quite static ballad metre – alternating iambic tetrameter and trimeter. The rhyme scheme throughout is ABCBDEFE, which gives the writer a relatively high word choice ratio within the strict metrical boundaries. The repeated use of the term ‘Let…’ at the beginnings of several lines towards the end of the poem give the poem something of the register of a prayer.

‘Williffe Cunliam’ (William Cunliffe) was a resident of the town of Burnley whose dialect poetry (‘Settling th’ War’, ‘Th’ Petched Shirt’, ‘Thenkful Jone’) is also featured on this site, but who also wrote in standard English. His standard English poetry tends to be less light-hearted or satirical, and though he generally encourages co-operation in his statements on social issues, there are interesting mentions of those with ‘mansions fine’ and ‘bursting purse’ in this poem which suggest at least a keen awareness of class distinctions and their consequences. Along with many other poems, this piece functions as an appeal for charity, and its entreaties are underpinned by graphic descriptions of the effects of malnutrition. It also, in keeping with several other pieces, ends by looking forward to the end of the American Civil War.

- SR.