AN APPEAL FOR THE MODEST POOR
Title:An Appeal for the Modest Poor
Publication:The Blackburn Times
Date:July 5th 1862
Keywords:charity, domesticity, gender, poverty
Written in Blackburn in 1861 at the beginning of the Lancashire cotton famine, ‘An appeal for the modest poor’ highlights the nobility and suffering of the working classes in an attempt to recruit the support of the wealthy.
The poem takes the form of eight octets, all of which end with a heroic couplet. A consistent adherence to an ABABCCDD rhyme scheme is also manifest, perhaps in allusion to the medieval ottava rima form. This is often through monosyllabic masculine rhyme, creating momentum and a sense of measure and simplicity within the poem. Iambs dominate the metrical composition of the piece- the entire verse is written in iambic pentameter, except for the stunted fifth and sixth line of each stanza, which appear as iambic dimeter. Although in the closing stanza the poem claims to be a “simple lay”, both its formal elements and thematic content limit the extent to which it can be considered as truly representative of this medieval poetic form.
Through these stanzas the anonymous poet plunges the reader into the domestic realities of desperate poverty. The poet not only laments the material losses suffered by the poor, who “cluster sadly round the foodless hearth” and are forced to sell their “household treasures one by one”, but also the spiritual and emotional degradation suffered by the masses, whose “homely heartiness and genial mirth” has been “quench’d” by hardship. However, these images of depravation are juxtaposed with the “industrial pride” of the poor, who, at a time of such financial uncertainty, “hide their woes” from their family and peers. In doing so, the poet perhaps attempts to elicit the reader’s respect for the stoicism of the needy, hoping thus to win their sympathy and support.
- Hannah Stevenson, University of Exeter.