Hum, whirl, click, click, clatter,
Rolling, rumbling, moving matter;
Whizzing, hissing, hitting, missing,
Pushing, pulling, turning, twisting.
Buzz, bang, going, coming,
Standing, creeping, walking, running,
Piecing, breaking, starting, stopping,
Picking, mixing, fixing, copping
Push, rush, cleaning, oiling,
Slipping, sweating, screaming, toiling;
Fetching, taking, spoiling, making,
Saucing, swearing, bagging, bating.
Here, there, this way, that way,
Bad-end, nar-here, fur-on, up-there;
Break-it-out, wind-it-off, hurry piece-up,
Get-em-up, quick, or a’st ha’ to stop.
Steam, dust, flyings choking,
Stripping, grinding, brushing, joking;
Full time, short time, no time – so that
Enough’s in a mill without Surat!
Bolton, Sept, 1864.

Title:The Cotton Mill


Publication:The Bolton Chronicle

Published in:Bolton

Date:September 24th 1864

Keywords:cotton, factory, work


This extraordinary poem, by an anonymous machine operator, with its onomatopoeic effects and rhythms echoed from heavy industry captures concisely the atmosphere of the working mill. It moves from the sounds of the machines to the behaviour of the human operators, and the seamless transition of the shift of subject serves to conflate the inanimate and the animate in the reader’s mind. The mention of Surat cotton, the short fibre Indian cotton which was brought in to replace American cotton during the Civil War, places this as an extraordinarily unusual Cotton Famine poem in terms of its poetic form. – SR