Things Tuh Think on at This Time
Title:Things Tuh Think on at This Time
Publication:Burnley Free Press and General Advertiser
‘Things Tuh Think on at This Time’ is a carefully plotted poem, written in the Burnley dialect. The beginning of each stanza sets up traditional poetic images of brightness, beauty and knowledge—yet always stresses their remoteness and reluctance to perform. The speaker wryly asserts that if stars were not paid with admiration, they would soon cut off their light ‘like them gas fellys duz’. In the lilting refrain section of each stanza, the speaker reclaims these ideas of morality from the traditional poetic vehicles of the stars and flowers by showing them to be inadequate. Instead, these attributes are best evinced by the men and women who become ‘brothers tuh poor’ at their time of need.
The other important force at work in the poem is that of time. Each stanza begins with the adverb ‘Nau’, while the poem’s title emphasises the immediacy of ‘This Time’. The remote appearance of stars and the perennial spring flowers do nothing to ease the troubles of those suffering. Instead, relief and strength comes from those who are present now, in the midst of crisis and ‘cowd winter haurs’. The speaker asserts that it is these deeds of kindness that will be remembered in future ages: ‘Showin men throo hist’ry’s pages, / Whot uh mon tuh mon should be.’
This notion of two strands of time comes to the fore in the final stanza, which forms a blistering rebuke to the inadequate responses of those in power. Slater satirises those who merely ‘plann’d uh fine lot’ and achieved nothing, apart from unpicking their own belief in God. This satire is biting when it turns to the working class, for whom nothing was planned—aside from, of course, the cruel system of parish workhouses. The refrain section invokes British innovations that have shaped the industrial Lancashire region: the steam engine of James Watts, Samuel Crompton’s spinning mule, and Richard Arkwright’s water frame. The speaker appeals to this inventing spirit as a means to escape the current struggles that the region faces.
As with all poems written in dialect orthography, this poem comes alive and shows its full power when read aloud. This is a poem where performance is encouraged within the reading process, emphasising the speaker’s rallying final call for courage and cohesion in the face of desperate poverty.
Georgia Thurston, University of Cambridge