Hearts and Homes.

A cloud is lifted from out skies on many a smoke-wrapt town,
With broad and unaccustomed ray the summer sun looks down;
A cloud has fallen on our homes; oh what shall break the gloom
That makes a darkness to be felt in many a humble room?
Oh, who shall count the hearts that grow each hour more full of care?
Oh, who shall count the homes that grow with every day more bare?
Five hundred thousand English homes where children pine unfed,
And fathers’ hands can find no work, and mothers’ hands no bread!
And are there none among us here who weep, and none who feel
For all our starving brethren there? And are there none who kneel
To the great Father of us all, and make this fervent prayer –
“Give us this day our daily bread; oh, give that we may share?”
And are there none among us here who meet to think, and plan
How best to cheer the breaking heart, to save the sinking man –
To save him to his struggling wife, to save him to his child,
To save him to his God, before despair has made him wild?
And are we all content to read of how, from day to day,
His hard-won earnings melt like snow, his comforts drop away –
Content to see him sell his bed, his coat – content to wait
To give the pittance of the churl, the help that comes top late?
I go about my daily work, I pass down the street;
Chance words, like these, perhaps, I hear from those I chance to meet –
“What! just a shilling in the week! that does indeed seem small;
But I suppose the Queen will give, and Heaven is good to all.”

Title:Hearts and Homes.


Publication:Bury Guardian

Published in:

Date:October 4th 1862

Keywords:domestic, hunger, poverty


This poem was preceded by the following quotation from the Times newspaper: [Note – “It is impossible, even if one had never heard of the cotton famine, to travel many miles through this district without being struck by the signs of the great calamity which has befallen it. The thick smoky curtain which usually hangs between heaven and earth has been lifted up. There are a glare of sunlight and a bright clear atmosphere. On every side giant factories, which were the support of thousands, stand mute and motionless, giving no sign of life save here and there a streamlet of thin vapour, lost almost as soon as it issues forth, telling of “half-time” and wages reduced just short of starvation point. – The Times, August 22.”]

As in the coronavirus outbreak of 2020, a cleaner atmosphere in this poem is associated with human inactivity and widespread unemployment. Several poems written during the Cotton Famine noted the ‘smokeless chimneys’, but found them to be strangely melancholy reminders of human misery. This piece is rare in that it numbers the amount of homes affected by the crisis, and although this is obviously an estimate, it may not be far off the mark. – SR