Dec 28th 1861 – A Sorry Christmas
Title:A Sorry Christmas
Publication:The Bolton Chronicle
Date:Dec 28th 1861
Made up of one forty-line stanza, this piece catalogues the pain and misery of Christmas during the Lancashire Cotton Famine. The form is the favored medium for an epic. With heroic couplets sporadically interspersed throughout and a lack of stanza breaks, the form alludes to the ongoing desolation of their ‘sorry Christmas’. The poem begins satirically, with the speaker making fun of the extravagant Christmas rituals. Words such as ‘wonted’, ‘sere’ and ‘hoary’ indicate the outdatedness of such formalities, advocating a desire from the people to move forward to try and find new ways to confront the difficulties of the Cotton Famine. The negative religious imagery and the rhetorical questions such as ‘And if good will to all, what to our brother?’ emphasizes the irony of the vast inequality caused by the economic policies; representing the people of Lancashire as brothers suggests a sense of devotedness and community yet those in charge are neglecting them. The use of the rhetorical questions alludes to the speaker’s confusion. Despite Christmas usually being a time of joy and celebration, the use of martial imagery such as ‘deeper red’, ‘weapons’ and ‘war cloud’ suggests that the poet is deliberately referencing not just the military bravery of the people but the heroism of those in the face of the Lancashire Cotton Famine. The poems progression and form depicts a gradual but instantaneous mounting cry of distress and desperation as it begins with the seemingly harmless customs of lifting the ‘wassail – cup’ and singing ‘carols’ to the blood shed war imagery. The poem indeed ends with the need for reconciliation, contrasting the cacophonous ‘b’ consonants in the last rhyming couplet with the sibilance of the last line in ‘show’, ‘disarm’d’ and ‘clasping’. The call for peace is clearer than ever.
Georgina Bolam, University of Exeter