The Dying Workman.

I am dying – so they tell me, may be ‘tis for the best,
That these poor weary limbs of mine should have some little rest;
But I’ve labour’d hard and long, till my cheek was pale with care,
Till my brow was deeply furrowed, and silver’d was my hair.
My feeble strength is ebbing fast, my sight is growing dim;
I know Death is coming now, but have no fear of him,
Come, kiss me, wife; and you, old Ralph, give me your horny hand;
In death aye faithful as in life, by your old mate you stand.
These five-and-thirty years, my man, we’ve rough’d it side by side,
And in out weakness and our strength we each on each relief;
And now, like to a shatter’d loom, Life’s web I weave no more,
But leave this earth of scorn and hate for Heaven’s radiant shore.
I hear the strain of golden harps, the sound of angel wings,
And feel, too late, I might have dared and done far nobler things
That idle all my youth away. Life’s mellow, sunny prime,
Before the frosts of age had crown’d my head with silv’ry rime.
But what was I? What was I taught? Son of a drunken sire;
Child of a hag whose fingers plied my lips with liquid fire!
Rear’d in the keenl and the street; the filthy “slum” my school,
Where shame-faced Vice at Virtue laugh’d, and call’d her “slave” and “fool.”
Man! never once my infant lips were taught a word of prayer;
A wretched infant Arab I, I could but lie and swear.
What could I be but what I was – a sign of England’s shame?
Place in my stead your noblest man, and he would be the same.
But I was sav’d, as well you know, by that fond angel there,
Who, in the guise of wedded wife, hath made my life more fair;
And smooth’d my rugged nature down by gentle words of love.
For her I dash’d aside the glass, and brav’d the scoff and ban
Of former mates and stood erect, no more a slave, but – Man.
Methinks the rulers of the State too oft but seldom know
The debt of gratitude which they to England’s daughter’ owe.
Come, daughter, come; and you, my bot, kneel down by me and pray
To Him the Father of us all, that each may never stray
From word of truth or path of right[;] but ever strive to be
A comfort and a hope to her who made life sweet to me.
Another kiss, and then good-bye! – the room is growing dark;
I see the gates of gold and pearl; hark to the music – hark!
Good-bye – good-bye! No more for me will sound the fact’ry bell;
The warp of Life at last is cut.God bless you all! – farewell!

Title:The Dying Workman.

Author:John Plummer

Publication:Preston Guardian

Published in:

Date:November 8th 1862

Keywords:domesticity, poverty, religion


John Plummer wrote and published many poems on the subject of working-class life during the Cotton Famine, some of which directly referenced the crisis, and others, like this one, which detailed the lives of the people associated with it. The use of the term ‘warp’ in the last line, and indeed ‘loom’ in the second stanza, suggests that the dying workman of the title worked in a textile mill. There is a valorisation of Victorian values of sobriety, domesticity, and hard work in the poem, as the speaker is shown to have escaped a former life of dissolution through meeting his wife, and thrown himself into his industrial role, despite being effectively nothing but a ‘slave’. Poems such as this could be seen as contributing to discourse surrounding the plight of the ‘deserving poor’ in relation to charity and relief. – SR