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Martin Farquhar Tupper

(July 17, 1810 - November 1889 / London)

A Dozen Ballads About White Slavery. V. The Workwoman


'The Song of the Shirt,'- O heart-stirring hymn
How sternly and terribly true
The portrait of misery, ghastly and grim,
That Bard of Humanity drew:
Go, read it once more, none other may paint
So touching a picture as this,-
For he that imagined it now is a saint
At rest in a mansion of bliss!

Yet, precept on precept, a line upon line,
And effort again and again,
This, friends, is a duty of yours and of mine,
If we wouldn't labour in vain;
And he that would combat White-Slavery-sin
Must hit its most hideous blot,
To tell how poor womanhood, sickly and thin,
Is treated the worst of the lot!

This binder of boots, that stitcher of slops,
These knitters by night and by day,
Are slaves to the tyrants that rule in the shops,
Who grind them for pittance of pay;
And often the delicate daughters of taste,
With needle and need for their goads,
Hard-driven by Fashion with murderous haste,
Like packhorses die on the roads!

O Belle of the ball-room, how little you know
Of the
pain
that has made you so fair;
O bride of Belgravia, hunger and woe
Have drest you so charmingly there!
O buyer of bargains, most cruelly cheap,
Consider what sorrow must lurk
In toil without respite, that strangers may reap
The fruit of such profitless work!

Come, Queen of the Fashions, so gracefully calm,
And yet with heart throbbing within,
Vouchsafe, as you can, some Imperial Balm
To cure this old system of sin;
Your ladylike milliners,- leave them awhile,
And seek out their want-stricken slaves;
'Twere better your Majesty wasted a smile
On poor honest girls, than on knaves.

And, gentle Society, bargain-befool'd,
Ah, think what embroideries cost!
Remember, when self-exultation has cool'd,
Your gain by some other is lost!
It is gambling unfairly,- where virtue and health
And labour those workwomen give,
While all that you stake is an atom of wealth,
Too little for 'Live, and let live!'

Submitted: Wednesday, September 22, 2010

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