Th’ Poor Mon un Hiz Childer
Title:Th’ Poor Mon un Hiz Childer
Publication:Burnley Free Press and General Advertiser
Popular dialect poetry during this period frequently turns to domestic scenes of love and marriage. In ‘Th’ Poor Mon un Hiz Childer’, the poet subverts this theme of dialect poetry in order to demonstrate how the security of the hearth and homestead has been stripped away by famine. The family merely sits in silence, weeping, ‘Cowd un hungry’.
The poem punctures the inactivity and wilful ignorance of those who perceive such suffering yet go ‘heedless by’. In response to an act of indifference towards the family, the speaker steps out of his role of observer to become active champion for the family, as in the lines ‘Nother wer oa long uh teckin / Th’ hungry crayturs whoam wi me’.
At its beginning, the poem appears to be a straightforward narrative of the family’s suffering, yet the intervention of the speaker blurs the specificity of the early stanzas. We never learn ‘Whot this life tuh them hed bin’. The family’s history is known only by the speaker, even though we are assured it is a tale ‘weel worth yerin’. Instead, it is reported indirectly, and becomes a more general tale of nobility in the face of poverty. By maintaining this narrative distance, the speaker both broadens his gaze—wryly aware that this could be any poor family’s fortune—and almost sets up the reader as one of those capable of disinterest when faced with poverty. It is a subtle and effective rhetorical shift.
The speaker’s quiet fury is enabled by the trochaic metre, falling heavy on the first beat of every line. Yet there is no relief as the stanza progresses. The second and fourth lines of the stanza are truncated, meaning that, where we would expect an unstressed syllable to close the line, the poet instead ends on both a stressed beat and a rhyme to form the quatrain. We see this when the speaker questions how a man can ‘Pass um by tuh starve un dee’. There is no room for evasion here: the metre ensures that the speaker’s testimony of destitution cannot be ignored.
‘Th’ Poor Mon un Hiz Childer’ does not end with a rallying cry for hope. Rather, the poem teases apart abstract religious ideals of charity and the very real material needs of the family it describes. There is recognition that ‘all may toke ut’s willin [to help]’—yet such talk does not ‘fill thur balliz’. The speaker’s own poverty is revealed at the last, with a direct challenge to the reader to extend aid to those starving.
Georgia Thurston, University of Cambridge