This poem is an earnest paean to charity and humility; Robert Story died prior to the cotton famine, so the (undated) text finds itself as a more general response to man’s suffering. Comprised of four octaves, each one spends its first half on the four seasons’ individual responses to plight. The message is identical throughout the stanzas; to this end, the second half of each repeats the same four lines near-identically, alternating only for a “neighbour”, “e’en a bad man”, “the unlucky”, and “every poor man”. Much of the poem is dedicated to this discourse. The progression across the seasons varies the imagined voice and effect of the seasons, ranging from the more passive and instructional sun “shin[ing] alike on the good and the bad”, to Winter’s cold that must be kept “from the hearths of the poor”. The weather appears almost indifferent; the “moral” that man might take must come both along the lines of, and in response to, the depredations of the season.
The archaic word “pelf”, referring to money (or property) obtained in a dishonourable manner, is repeatedly invoked as an almost inherent vice of the world. To this end, questions of charity, capital, and relief are made clear. Addressed to all of “man”, implicitly whether rich or poor, everyone is seen to have something to offer regardless of economic status. The poem frames an equivalence between those who might only offer goodwill, and those who offer supplies and monetary aid. Every man must contribute to the cause of making glad. Despite this, the repeated, and denigrating, use of “pelf” returns to the question of capital possession and value – though goodwill may be spread by all, the speaker sees the basis of much of man’s plight as unavoidably economic in nature. That “a little bit good” might be done is universal. However, the poem’s conclusion in esteeming every “poor man a brother” reaffirms the point: it is directed towards those that might tangibly aid the poorer.
Harry Caton, University of Exeter