Hard Times; Or, . (sic) Th’ Weyvur To His Wife. By “A Lancashire Lad,” (James Bowker.)

DRAW up thy cheer, owd lass, we’n still a bit o’ fire,
An’ I’m starv’t to deoth wi’ cumin’ throo th’ weet an’ mire;
He towd a lie o’ thee an’ me, as said as th’ love o’ th’ poor
Flies out o’ th’ kitchen window, when clemmin’ cums to th’ door.
Aw’m not ruein’ – as thae well knows – as ever I wed thee,
But I’ve monny a quare thowt as thae mon sometimes rue o’ me.
I’m mad at them America foos, as never hes enuff
O’ quarrelin’ an’ strugglin’, and sich unnat’rel stuff,
An’ its ter’ble hard, owd wife, to ceawer bi’ th’ chimley jam;
An’ think if they keep on feightin’, as thee an’ me mun clam;
An’ not aar faut, its like breykin’ wer shins o’er th’ neighbours’ stoos,
An’ it shows us for one woise mon, ther’s welly twenty foos.
But better chaps nor me an’ thee hes hed to live o’ nowt,
An’ we’n hed a tidy time on ‘t afoor th’ war brok’ out;
An’ if I’m gerrin’ varra thin, it matters nowt o’ me,
Th’ hardest wark is sittin’ here schaming for th’ choilt an’ thee.
Tha’art gerrin’ ter’ble pale too, but fowk wi’ nowt to heyt
Con’t luk as nice an’ weel as them as plenty hes o’ meyt.
Ther’s lots o’ hooams areawnd us whear wot they waste i’ th’ day,
‘Ud sarve for thee an’ th’ choilt an’ me, an’ some to give away;
An’ as I passes by their dooars, I hears their music sweet,
An’ I con’t but think o’ thee till th’ tears dim mi seet;
For if I’d lots o’ brass, thae shud be diff’rent, never fear,
For th’art nooan so feaw, yet, wench, if thae’d gradely clooas to wear.
An’ aar bonny little Annie, wi’ her pratty een so breet,
Hoo shud sleep o’ feathers, and uv angels dreom o neet;
I fancies I con see her monny a weary heawr i’ th’ day,
As I shud loike her to be sin, if luv mud heve its way;
And if what’s i’ this heart o’ moine cud nobbut cum to pass,
Hoo shud bi’ th’ happiest woman, as hoo is th’ bonniest lass.
I’m a foo wi’ clammin’ soa, or I shudn’t toke like this,
It nobbut meks wer teeth watter to think o’ sich like bliss;
An’ th’ winter cummin’ on so fast, wi’ th’ dark, an’ th’ snow, an’ th’ cowd,
For I heard th’ robin sing to-day as I heard him sing of owd,
When thee an’ me wur younger, an’ i’ wur soft cooartin days,
An’ I cum whistlin’ thro’ the fields to yoar owd woman’s place.
Thea loved me then, an’ as wimmen’s soft enuff for owt,
I do believe thae loves me neaw, mooar nor ever I’d hae thowt,
An’ tha’ hes but one excuse, if I’m ragg’d, I’m fond o’ thee,
An’ times, though hard, I connot think’ll change thee or me,
For if we’re true an’ reet, an’ as honest as we’re poor,
We’s never hev no wos chap nor poverty at th’ dooar.

Title:Hard Times; Or, Th' Weyvur to His Wife

Author:"A Lancashire Lad," (James Bowker)

Publication:Whittaker & Co.

Published in:Ave Maria Lane, London


Keywords:america, class, dialect, domesticity, gender, inequality, poverty, war


This poem, arranged in seven sestets (six-line stanzas), is written in rhyming couplets, but escapes the sense of a comic, or overly songlike rhythm, with its long lines of twelve, thirteen, or even fifteen syllables. This is complicated by the frequent use of the Lancastrian definite article ‘th’’, which is most properly elided into the previous word when spoken, so that, for example, the second half of the third line of the sixth stanza – wi’ th’ dark, an’ th’ snow, an’ th’ cowd,’ – is spoken with six syllables.

James Bowker was a highly skilled poet, and during the Cotton Famine he demonstrated his formal range with poems such as this, in heavy dialect and skilled characterisation, and works such as ‘Lancashire in 1862’ which is more of a state on the nation (or county) address in classic English blank verse, complete with historical allusions and lofty ideals. This piece is no less adept in achieving its ambitions in representing the feelings of shame and pride felt by working people during the Distress through a man reaffirming his commitment to his wife. There is certainly an element of Victorian sentimentality here, but also a dignity and maturity which serves to recognise and celebrate the decency of average workers during times of financial hardship.

- SR.