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Song of the Shirt, poem

Poem: Song of the Shirt
Verse: Thomas Hood(1)

Year: 1843
Country: England


With fingers weary and worn,
With eyelids heavy and red,
A woman sat in unwomanly rags,
Plying her needle and thread.
Stitch stitch stitch!
In poverty, hunger, and dirt,
And still with a voice of dolorous pitch,
She sang the, "Song of the Shirt."

Work work work!,
While the cock is crowing aloof;
And work work work,
Till the stars shine through the roof!
It's oh to be a slave,
Along with the barbarous Turk,
Where woman has never a soul to save,
If this is Christian work!
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Work work work!
Till the brain begins to swim;
Work work work!
Till the eyes are heavy and dim,
Seam, and gusset, and band,
Band, and gusset, and seam,
Till over the buttons I fall asleep,
And sew them on in a dream!

"O men with Sisters dear!
O men with Mothers and Wives!
It is not linen you're wearing out,
But human creatures' lives!
Stitch stitch stitch,
In poverty, hunger, and dirt,
Sewing at once, with a double thread,
A Shroud as well as a Shirt!
This song was originally posted on protestsonglyrics.net
But why do I talk of Death?
That phantom of grisly bone,
I hardly fear his terrible shape,
It seems so like my own,
It seems so like my own,
Because of the fasts I keep;
O God ! that bread should be so dear,
And flesh and blood so cheap!

Work work work!
My labour never flags;
And what are its wages? A bed of straw,
A crust of bread and rags.
That shattered roof, and this naked floor,
A table, a broken chair,
And a wall so blank, my shadow I thank,
For sometimes falling there.

Work work work!
From weary chime to chime,
Work work work!
As prisoners work for crime.
Band, and gusset, and seam,
Seam, and gusset, and band,
Till the heart is sick, and the brain benumbed,
As well as the weary hand.

Work work work!
In the dull December light,
And work work work!
When the weather is warm and bright,
While underneath the eaves
The brooding swallows cling,
As if to show me their sunny backs
And twit me with the spring.

Oh! but to breathe the breath
Of the cowslip and primrose sweet
With the sky above my head,
And the grass beneath my feet;
For only one short hour
To feel as I used to feel
Before I knew the woes of want
And the walk that costs a meal!

Oh! but for one short hour!
A respite, however brief!
No blessed leisure for Love or Hope,
But only time for grief!
A little weeping would ease my heart,
But in their briny bed
My tears must stop, for every drop
Hinders needle and thread.

With fingers weary and worn,
With eyelids heavy and red,
A woman sat in unwomanly rags,
Plying her needle and thread.
Stitch stitch stitch!
In poverty, hunger, and dirt,
And still with a voice of dolorous pitch,
Would that its tone could reach the rich!
She sang this "Song of the Shirt."


Notes:

1 - Thomas Hood (1799 - 1845), Thomas Hood: poet, social thinker, comedian, a 1947 thesis by Ernest Warner Mooney Jr, for the University of Richmond. (A 3.7 megabyte Adobe pdf file.)

2 - This poem was written in about Mrs. Biddell, a widow and seamstress working at home for less than she could survive on leading to her being sent to a workhouse over her unpaid debts.