Neither Work Nor Wages, Or, The Cotton Famine
Title:Neither Work Nor Wages, or, The Cotton Famine
Publication:The Bolton Chronicle
Date:12th July 1862
One of several poems with the words ‘cotton famine’ in the title, this poem consists of rhyming couplets in iambic tetrameter, and remains very consistently within this rhythm and metre. The stanzas decrease in length from twenty-eight to sixteen to eight lines long, and this has the effect of intensifying the register of the piece towards its conclusion. The language is formal in tone, beginning with the archaism ‘hast thou’, and there are some examples of ‘poetic syntax’, where the word order is shifted to maintain the rhythm and rhyme (‘The engines hush’d, and closed the mill’).
The overarching purpose of this poem is to attract sympathy and to appeal for charity, but within this there is a general focus on domesticity and an insistence that this poverty is undeserved and unavoidable. In a sense this middle-class woman, the wife of a doctor, is speaking on behalf of the working-class, claiming that they are too proud to ask for help themselves. The last stanza, rather typical of much Victorian poetry of its type, refers to God (or Christ) without explicitly stating this, an example of the rhetorical or poetic practice of ‘periphrasis’.