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Martin Farquhar Tupper

(July 17, 1810 - November 1889 / London)

A Dozen Ballads About White Slavery. VIII. The Coalpit Gnome


O cheerful Christmas hearth!
Bright with the blazing coals,
And echoing clear with children's mirth,
Goodwill tow'rds men and peace upon earth,
And blessing to bodies and souls:
Ah, Christmas hearth! a gloomier light
Streams from those thy coals so bright
While sternly before my musing sight
This dark hearse-reverie rolls!

The coalpit! - come with me
Deep down the perilous shaft -
And, how many objects sad to see,
Pale abject girls and boys there be
Doom'd to this deadly craft:
Ah, blazing coals! what labour and pain
From earth's hard bowels have torn you amain,
By women and men that have sweated like rain,
And babes that have never laught!

The laden gang creeps on,
Women with browbound packs,
Up sultry galleries, one by one,
Headlong dragging ton by ton
These coals upon their backs!
And children, aching with ague and cramp,
Wearily watching the blue-flamed lamp,
Lest death steal by on the breath of the damp,
If those tired eyes relax.

And blows from merciless men,
And dread of the pick or the knife,
And nameless wrongs beyond mortal ken
Deepen the dark of their noisome den,
With terrors, and oaths, and strife:
O hard is the fate of this human gnome,
The woman, or child, with never a home,
Save under the coalpit's Tartarus dome,
The home of a miner's life!

Good Ashley! thine is the eye
To pity and help such a slave;
Priest and Levite, both pass by,
But this Samaritan still draws nigh,
His generous hands still save!
And yet, how much remains to be done;
For though in a Blue-book the battle be won,
- They still drag coal-corves, ton by ton,
White slaves from cradle to grave!

Submitted: Wednesday, September 22, 2010
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