Owd Jinny’s Egsperianze.
Title:Owd Jinny’s Egsperianze.
Publication:Burnley Free Press and General Advertiser
Date:December 12th 1863
Told from the perspective of an eighty year old woman, this poem laments the changes that have taken place during the course of the speaker’s lifetime. Williffe Cunliam (William Cunliffe) chooses the poetic gaze of ‘an owd woman’s spectacles’ to frame his narrative, wherein the span of the poem and the years of Jinny’s life become a form of testimony, representative of others’ lives ruined by grinding poverty.
Fortune, with its dual significance as both material wealth and a force of arbitrary chance, shapes the lives of local people. Cunliam plays on the tension between two traditions here: rural folk heritage and the complex politics of regional and international trade. We see this most clearly in the line ‘Soa fortune! life’s weigh-scales does up and down twitch.’ Some individuals are able to profit, making ‘brass fly like dry dust abroad’; but, invoking classical tropes of tragedy, Jinny also recognises the fickle nature of wealth and poverty.
The poem lingers on the visceral consequences of dashed hopes and wasted youth. Material details portray the terrible effects of famine: the iron clogs of ‘raggle’t’ weavers who can only find employment in stone breaking, and the rags worn in workhouses by women who were once proud. The internal rhyme on the line ‘Haorts broken, hoaps brasted, lives wasted i’ sin’ marks a point of capacity for the speaker. She has witnessed all of the suffering she can bear and, with the death of her friends, feels she has ‘ower-lived my time’.
The poem is driven on by an anapaestic metre, much like the relentless progress of wealth and poverty. This comes to a shocking conclusion at the close of the poem, however, when it is revealed that the speaker no longer wishes to live; the final stress on ‘swap’ leaves the reader with a sense of bleak finality.
Georgia Thurston, University of Cambridge