BLITHE Summer is past, and the Autumnal blast
Through our draughts and our crevices choir,
And our bread is as dear as the cold is severe,
And we’ve scarce got a coal for the fire.
Our offspring shed tears when the milk-maid appears
But she feels no remorse for their cries;
‘Tis because we’re too poor to pay off the old score
Her dear papa has stopped the supplies.
Our clothing is thin, we are pierced through the skin
As we move on the crowd-scatter’d roads;
With our blankets in pawn we’re as cold as a stone,
As we sleep in our wretched abodes.
The fault is not ours, but the gold-gifted powers
Who live on the fruits of our toil;
Nor grant us a share of those victuals so dear
Which so lavishly leap from the soil;
To voluptuous drones, whose blood, sinews, and bones,
Are god-fashioned like those they enslave.
Shall the brave-hearted kneel to the proud for a meal?
Shall the soup-kitchen steam forth again?
Shall we wander forlorn down to Egypt for corn
When our granaries are loaded with grain?
Shall famine still frown on a land whose renown
Is for ever and ever enshrined
In all hearts where the sun has shed light from his throne?
Shall the poet, unshackled in mind,
Still for brighter days pant, while at hand-grips with want,
Like poor Job be cast down in the dust,
And still rail at his fate, while the pamper’d and great
Dare refuse him a crumb or a crust?
Britannia! thy sons have stood true to their guns,
Have amassed thee both treasure and fame;
Yet a few hostile ships now thy glory eclipse,
When thy tars can reduce them to flame.
Many a damsel has wept ere from virtue she stept
In the sin-haunt to live by her charms;
When no guardian was nigh, with a tear-moisten’d eye
Has she dropp’d in the libertine’s arms.
Many a kind heart has grieved for the poor and bereaved,
When no minist’ring aid it could lend;
Then away with your gold, ye licentious, for cold
Is the heart that ne’er felt for a friend.
Well nigh charged is the cloud that shall burst on the proud;
There’s a Nemesis sits ‘mid the gloom,
That in fullness of time shall unfold every crime –
Yea, and seal the monopolist’s doom.

Title:A Lay for the Poor

Author:John Baron

Publication:The Blackburn Times

Published in:Blackburn

Date:Nov 2nd, 1861

Keywords:class, inequality, poverty, war


This poem by the popular local poet John Baron in sympathy with those impoverished by the Cotton Famine begins by relating the domestic effects of economic hardship, focussing on the consequences of unpaid bills to suppliers and the rising prices of food. The poem switches between realist depictions of working-class suffering (including the pawning of domestic goods) and more metaphorical modes. Interestingly, a radical political note is stuck by the close of the poem, when it is suggested that the authorities’ lack of care for the poor will be revenged when the crisis blows over. – SR