LORD! how the people suffer day by day
A ling’ring death, through lack of honest bread,
Are yet are gentle on their starving way,
By faith in future good and justice led:
They still but ask
Toils daily task ---
Endurance nerves their hearts in patient band
To wait the troubles in the “Promised Land.”
They cluster sadly round the foodless hearth,
With bodies wasted by Fate’s stern decree;
Their homely heartiness and genial mirth
Are quenchd by Famine’s sister --- Misery
The baby brood
Lack natures food,
And parent’s pine in silence for their young,
Whose early sorrows find a wailing tongue.
The stalwart man is bow’d with hope deferr’d,
The maiden’s cheek is flush’d with truthful scorn;
He hangs upon the facts that have occurr’d,
She braves, the tempter who would blight her morn:
He blanch’d with fears,
She strongly bears;
And angels of the poor, with magic wand,
Give sleep and guard their souls with trusty hand.
The cottage rents are now in long arrears,
The household treasures one by one are sold;
Mothers relieve themselves with floods of tears,
And fathers suffer, though they seem more bold;
And beggars lean
In troops are seen
Where lately walk’d well fed, industrial pride,
The future of our nation’s rising tide.
What glint of promise for the stricken poor
As summer wanes can we in sorrow give?
What can we do but open Fortunes store,
That these, our brothers, through these times may live
In this great hive,
Content to strive,
If only touch’d with that the [mite[] allies
With choicest human blessings – sympathies.
Shall winter, with its chilly Northern blast,
Find half our people dying through the train
Of suffering – certain while the gloom shall last,
While from the wealthy cometh no refrain?
It must not be,
For honesty
Inscribes its watchword for the noble poor
Who mate[?] with want and seek not workhouse door.
When dawning promise brightens into morn,
And doubt gives place to labor’s strong desire,
And father’s hall with joy glad Plenty’s horn,
And youths from gloom to higher thoughts aspire, --
This famine span
Shall guerdon man,
And thoughts of good will always rise to [bless]
The hands that help’d their helpless wretchedness.
Let “pauper’d menials” of the rich and great,
Who waste the trifles from a generous board,
Mark here the troubles that on parents wait,
And by a saving prudence serve the Lord.
Pleading for those
Who hide their woes,
This simple lay proclaims the suffering state
Of those who in famine, watch and wait.
Blackburn, July 2, 1862.

Title:An Appeal for the Modest Poor


Publication:The Blackburn Times

Published in:Blackburn

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.