Work, Lads, and Think

Rise to the task with good heart in the morning,
Seek not, the duty of labour to shirk,
Labour degrading? the thought rightly scorning,
Willingly, cheerfully bend to the work.
Not like a thing, without meaning or notion,
Wielding the hammer with dull senseless clink;
Not a machine, with but one line of motion,
In round unvarying, - work, lads, and think.
Think of the men who have laboured before you;
Think of the brave hearts that laurels have won;
Not stooping like cravens, hard lot to deplore you –
The race is half won if in earnest begun.
Look – look around on the triumphs of labour,
Think of the blessings ‘t has brought, nor then shrink
From hope in the task; with aim in your labour,
Honestly, earnestly, work, lads, and think.
Nor with ambition for fame or for station;
Seeking applause form the popular tongue,
Though praise may be from the heart of a nation,
Rightfully, truthfully, honestly wrung.
What, though your worth by the world unconceded?
With good honest toil your fortunes still link:
Toil bringeth blessings – obscure and unheeded;
Work for the love of it, work, lads, and think.

Title:Work, Lads, and Think

Author:Williffe Cunliam

Publication:Burnley Free Press And General Advertiser

Published in:Burnley

Date:7th November 1863

Keywords:class, gender, virtue, work


This broadly anapaestic piece contains just six quatrains and is deliberately songlike in its structure and metre. Indeed, this might easily be regarded as a work song, and its language, despite a couple of archaisms, is generally simple. The poem is addressed to the ‘lads’, which is both characteristically working-class and Lancastrian in its connotations, with the ‘Lancashire Lad’ (with various spelling alternatives) being a stock character appearing throughout the region’s literature during this century and the next.

Published at the height of the Cotton Famine, in a town deeply affected by the crisis, one might wonder what ‘work’ is being referred to here, and what the social purpose of this poem might be. It could be that the poem relates to some of the sponsored building projects or other alternative forms of employment which were provided for mill workers laid off during the Cotton Famine. If this is the case, then the tone of the poem suggests that there might have been some resistance towards these forms of employment, either through unsuitability, or lower wages. In any case, the speaker here is clearly subscribing to a generalised work ethic, and the ‘think’ aspect may also relate to the many educational programmes begun at this time.

- SR.