Oh! sad is the tale of the Babes forlorn;
- Brother and sister – pretty and good –
Who wept and wandered from night till morn;
Starving to death in Blackberry Wood.
Cruel was he who lured them there;
To be lost for ever in trackless ways;
Who left them to sink in lone despair,
Mid the dark gloom of the Forest maze.
The Autumn gusts, with piercing sound,
Wailed about their mossy beds;
With only the boughs to curtain them round;
And only the clouds to cover their heads.
They strove to live on the poor, wild fruit;
– The hip, the haw, the nut, the sloe –
But these were lost in Autumn’s frost;
And Hunger came with its bitterest woe.
Terror was all over them – dark and grim –
They shrieked aloud in hopeless dread;
They knelt on the sod with trembling limb,
Praying for drink, and crying for bread.
Whiteness fell on the Boy’s red cheek;
A shadow dimmed the Girl’s blue eye;
Their steps were faint – their hearts were weak;
And the little one first lay down to die.
The brave Boy knelt by his sister dear;
With his arm about her neck entwined.
Long, long had he sought, and tenderly brough,
The last few berries that he could find.
But she leaned her head on his sobbing breast;
And slept there – never to wake again;
And the brother soon shared the sister’s rest,
Free from Sorrow, Cold, and Pain.
No father or mother was there near,
To mourn above their lifeless forms.
The dewy grass was their lonely bier:
And their nightly watchers – the bright glow-worms.
But the Redbreasts came with a funeral dirge,
Whistling a long and plaintive ditty;
And each carried a leaf with a twitter of grief,
And spread it above them with mournful pity.
And they say that young hearts ever will grieve
For the Brother and Sister – pretty and good –
Who side by side, in their beauty died:
Starved to death in the Blackberry Wood.
- Bow Bells. ELIZA COOK.

Title:The Children in the Wood

Author:Eliza Cook

Publication:The Bolton Chronicle

Published in:Bolton

Date:August 6th, 1864

Keywords:hunger, poverty


With its themes of starvation and child mortality this poem by the popular writer Eliza Cook would have resonated strongly within this publication context. The text is based loosely on the Babes in the Wood fairytale but plays particularly on fears of children abandoned or even gone feral in the context of Victorian poverty. For a poem in relation to the Cotton Famine (in this case the French ‘Cotton Crisis’) which has similar themes of infant abandonment see ‘Les Ovriers de Rouen’. – SR