‘Tis hard to bear our spirits up
When Want stands at the door,
And when the monster enters in
To smite the honest poor;
When those we love – our little ones,
Are crying out for bread,
‘Tis hard, alas! ‘tis hard, we know,
To lift the drooping head.
‘Tis hard – when we have able hands
And willing hearts to toil,
To tend the loom, the spindle wheel,
Or till the fruitful soil –
That man, “our lordly fallow-worm,
Should our petition spurn,
Unmindful, though our weeping wives
And helpless offsprings mourn.”
‘Twas hard to bear our spirits up
From shrinking in despair,
When, to avoid a pauper’s brand,
We sold our “old arm chair;”
When to obtain our children bread,
The Bible passed away,
That mother with her blessing gave
Upon our bridal day.
O ye who’re nursed in luxury’s lap,
Who live in regal state,
Remember now the suffering poor,
Whose toil have made you great!
And [as] ye bear the Christian name,
Its fruits, oh! let us see,
Your Master then to you will say,
“Ye did it unto me.”
Alas! that man should lift his hand,
To take his brother’s breath,
And spread o’er this fair, fruitful earth,
Want, Misery, and Death;
O Thou! who hast through fire and cloud,
Thy people often led,
O hear our prayers, we Thee implore,
And give our children bread!

Title:The Voice of Want

Author:David Little

Publication:The Blackburn Times

Published in:Blackburn

Date:August 16th 1862

Keywords:charity, class, pawn, poverty, unemployment


This poem detailing the effects of poverty on ordinary people reveals several aspects of its subject including the shame of reliance on charity and the dehumanising element of a life in thrall to hunger. There is an obvious but slightly disguised reference to the international cause of this regional misery when the final stanza castigates those who ‘take his brother’s breath’. The idea of brother fighting brother was a common trope during the American Civil War and had particular religious relevance in relation to the story of Cain and Abel. – SR