A Mother’s Wail.
An Episode Of Lancashire Distress, By John Plummer.
Title:A Mother's Wail
Publication:The Bolton Chronicle
Date:24th May 1862
This poem, though written by a man, is in the voice of a grieving mother. It consists of four twelve line stanzas, the first of each being the triad exclamation ‘Dead – dead – dead!’ The rhyme scheme is quite unusual, with the first and third lines being the only ones unrhymed in each stanza – ABCBDEDEFGFG. After initial exclamations, the stanzas largely settle into alternating seven- and nine-syllable lines, and the metre is mostly iambic.
Although the poem concerns starvation and grief it touches on the subject of sexual morality in the first stanza, even suggesting that the daughter is better off dead than having succumbed to temptation in order to survive. These kinds of issues are not uncommon in Cotton Famine poetry, but interestingly we have yet to find such a poem which we can prove was actually written by a woman. The line containing the italicised phrase ‘I’m only a woman’ indicates Plummer’s earnestness in his attempt to inhabit the voice of his subject, but is also deeply chauvinistic in its attitude.