INTO THE WILDERNESS.
[WHAT THE STARVING SCHOLAR SAID TO HIS BRIDE.]
WIFE, we have waited and prayed; we have struggled hard; we have failed;
Let us not try to disguise it, as we too often have tried;
So, love, I must carry thee hence, where thou hast wasted and paled, -
Hence to some home in the wilderness, where we our sorrows may hide.
What have we to do with the City? – the City polished and bland
To the strong man who fights and subdues it; to the heirling whose fortune is fair;
The City – that never to penury lendeth a helping hand : -
That chilleth Want’s suppliant soul with its cold and contemptuous stare.
We have clung to its skirts too abjectly; - it spurns us; it asts us out;
The gorged Epicurean denies us a morsel of meat;
Its vestments of purple and scarlet our outworn habiliments flout; -
Let us render it scorn for scorn; let us shake off its dust from our feet.
Because its Master is Mammon, it worships the man who succeeds;
‘Tis the cardinal law of its life that the man who fails is a fool
Yet I see one man fail through forgetting himself in his generous deeds;
And one prosper because he’s a tyrant; another, because he’s a tool.
Why should I war with its maxims! – they may be grounded in truth,
Or they may be the basest and blackest device of the Father of Lies;
But if it must be that I sink – unfriended, unsuccour’d – in sooth
What matters it whether the oracles call me foolish or wise!
But I’m weary: I long to go forth to some region secluded and strange,
Where no hideous social disparity slumbering envy disturbs;
Where through Earth’s unsequestered domains we may fearlessly range,
And, secure from “the proud man’s contumely,” eat our “dinner of herbs.”
Little care I for wealth’s trappings, its luxury, prestige, or power;
I know that to serve is the doom of the mass; to govern, the lot of the few;
I ask nothing nobler than toil for my duty, and love for my dower –
Content that my life should be made up of work, self-denial – and YOU!
But to starve in this comfortless garret, to creep to it nightly by stealth,
Afraid to encounter the friends who daily grow fewer and fewer;
And to lie down and perish forlorn ‘mid the tokens of fabulous wealth. –
Oh! torment of Tantalus! this I cannot, I cannot endure.
And – misery keenest of all! – to see thee, love, cling to my side,
Thy delicate beauty eclipsed by these garments faded and old;
Stripped of each personal trinket so dear to womanly pride –
Sold – to satisfy nature’s imperious necessities sold.
Thou, who at the altar so naively, so bravely beside me did’st stand,
With boundless belief in my genius and fortunes! Oh! vision of bliss! –
When , growing more bold in your trust, I, too saw my future expand
Into some wondrous achievement - oh! God! – and now it has come to this!
Sweet! can you forgive me? – you can! – your arms encircle my neck,
And your tears – but not of regret – flow down and mingle with mine;
And I bless God that one precious jewel remains from the terrible wreck,
One gem that shall light up my darkest existence with glory divine.
For Nature is kinder than Man – she will yield us the little we seek;
The avenues unto her favour no barriers of privilege fence.
Like the sea on an island of granite, our surging sympathies break
On the stormy heart of the City. – Let us arise, and go hence!
Blackburn, January, 1863. W.A. ABRAM.
Title:Into the Wilderness [What the Starving Scholar Said to His Bride]
Author:W. A. Abram
Publication:The Blackburn Times
Date:January 10th 1863
Keywords:domestic, hunger, poverty
This highly metaphorical and mythological poem uses the conceit of a scholar’s address to his bride as they flee a city in poverty to address issues of social extremes through an intellectual voice. The move into the countryside mirrors similar migrations by in Lancashire people in the early 1860s who found no work to be had in mill towns, and though this poem mythologises its subject it tracks the same human concerns which many readers of this newspaper would have been familiar with in the face of the effects of the Cotton Famine. – SR