WHEN the sun sleeps down under the foam,
And I sit in my own little home,
(The happiest under the stars!)
Too complacent with Fortune to quarrel,
Which, if it denies me Fame’s laurel,
Also spares me its stripes and its scars: ---
I think of the outcasts outlying;
I think of the misery crying
For sympathy, solace, and aid;
Of beauty distorted and faded;
Of bodies and souls so degraded,
That hell could not deeper degrade.
I think of the horrible hovels
Where outlaw’d humanity grovels ---
Where hiding from Justice their foe,
Defrauder, thief, reprobate, harlot,
Young criminal, greyheaded varlet
Have made common cause in their woe.
Some, slain by propensities evil;
Some, snared by the wiles of the devil;
Some, shapen and nurtured in crime
By dissolute fathers and mothers ---
A curse to themselves and to others ---
A blot on their country and time.
And some, by the tempter o’ertaken,
Enticed, seduced, and forsaken,
Till, stung by society’s frown,
The decoyed have become the decoyers,
The destroyed are in form the destroyers,
And falling, drag how many down!
‘Mid the din of ferocity direful,
And curses, malignant and ireful,
And shrieks – but never a tear,
And such black blasphemies uttered
As the Angel of Judgement, that fluttered
O’er Sodom, might shudder to hear, ---
Famished, demented, despairing,
Resolute, reckless, and daring ---
They rot in their pestilent holes;
While our Christian religion is going,
By every wind that is blowing,
To realms wide apart as the poles.
Till forth from their haunts and their alleys
This legion of Ishmaels sallies,
And wreaketh its enmity blind,
In robbery, outrage, and murder! ---
Then England hath straightaway bestirr’d her
The hideous monster to bind.
And Justice upriseth and smites them;
The dungeon and gallows requites them;
And blood atoneth for blood;
Then the crusade as suddenly closes,
And Law foldeth her arms and supposes
She surely hath done all she could.
While the sores in her body still foster,
Society lays down to rest her;
While the enemy lurks on her coast
She sits at her ease; of her purity,
Sanity, health, and security,
Making her arrogant boast.
What! Health? While the cancer within you
Is sapping nerve, muscle and sinew,
Dare you say the nation is SOUND?
(Mens sana in corpore sano!)
Security? – while the volcano
Is rumbling under the ground?
Fools! – while ye are lopping the shoots
The upas is spreading its roots;
Your laws are but written in sand;
Your punitive systems are failing;
No longer assailed but assailing
The lawless swarm over the land.
With ponderous gyves we have bound them;
Into the dirt we have ground them;
Made utterly loathsome their lives;
In the depths of despair we have drown’d them,
We have made them far worse than we found them,
And then we have loosened their gyves.
In Character’s perilous crisis,
To teach them a thousand new vices,
We herd them with monsters in crime;
Then, kindly commuting the sentence,
We turn them adrift – for repentance,
Or – deeper to sink in the slime.
Oh! can we do nothing to raise them
From the dominant passion that slays them?
Oh! were it not blessed to win
Some prey from the clutch of the spoiler! –
Some soul that is stopping to soil her
White wing in the purlieus of sin?
We smite down the souls that are falling,
And crush them with rigor appalling;
While we pamper the arrant old knave;
We have looked on at human undoing,
And helped to accomplish its ruin ---
Oh! can we do nothing to SAVE?
Blackburn, Dec. 24th, 1862.

Title:Lament for the Castaways

Author:W. A. Abram

Publication:The Blackburn Times

Published in:Blackburn

Date:December 27, 1862

Keywords:poverty, religion


Though written in highly metaphorical language with biblical references this poem by local writer W. A. Abram interestingly identifies a causal link between poverty and crime, opting for sympathy and understanding over condemnation. The link to the Cotton Famine may be oblique but there is an apocalyptic tone to the piece which suggests that the crisis might be at the forefront of the poet’s mind. The winter of 1862-63 was the very worst period of the crisis, when the full effects of mass unemployment were felt before relief efforts had caught up with the scale of events. – SR