Isabella Valancy Crawford
A Hungry Day - Poem by Isabella Valancy Crawford
I MIND him well, he was a quare ould chap,
Come like meself from swate ould Erin's sod;
He hired me wanst to help his harvest in-
The crops was fine that summer, praised be God!
He found us, Rosie, Mickie, an' meself,
Just landed in the emigration shed;
Meself was tyin' on their bits of clothes;
Their mother-rest her tender sowl!-was dead.
It's not meself can say of what she died:
But 'twas the year the praties felt the rain,
An' rotted in the soil; an' just to dhraw
The breath of life was one long hungry pain.
If we wor haythens in a furrin land,
Not in a country grand in Christian pride,
Faith, then a man might have the face to say
'Twas of stharvation me poor Sheila died.
But whin the parish docthor come at last,
Whin death was like a sun-burst in her eyes-
They looked straight into Heaven-an' her ears
Wor deaf to the poor children's hungry cries,
He touched the bones stretched on the mouldy sthraw:
'She's gone!' he says, and drew a solemn frown;
'I fear, my man, she's dead.' 'Of what?' says I.
He coughed, and says, 'She's let her system down!'
'An' that's God's truth!' says I, an' felt about
To touch her dawney hand, for all looked dark;
An' in me hunger-bleached, shmall-beatin' heart,
I felt the kindlin' of a burnin'spark.
'O by me sowl, that is the holy truth!
There's Rosie's cheek has kept a dimple still,
An' Mickie's eyes are bright-the craythur there
Died that the weeny ones might eat their fill.'
An' whin they spread the daisies thick an' white
Above her head that wanst lay on me breast,
I had no tears, but took the childher's hands,
An' says, 'We'll lave the mother to her rest.'
An' och! the sod was green that summer's day,
An' rainbows crossed the low hills, blue an' fair;
But black an' foul the blighted furrows stretched,
An' sent their cruel poison through the air.
An' all was quiet-on the sunny sides
Of hedge an' ditch the stharvin' craythurs lay,
An' thim as lacked the rint from empty walls
Of little cabins wapin' turned away.
God's curse lay heavy on the poor ould sod,
An' whin upon her increase His right hand
Fell with'ringly, there samed no bit of blue
For Hope to shine through on the sthricken land.
No facthory chimblys shmoked agin the sky.
No mines yawned on the hills so full an' rich;
A man whose praties failed had nought to do
But fold his hands an' die down in a ditch.
A flame rose up widin me feeble heart,
Whin, passin' through me cabin's hingeless dure,
I saw the mark of Sheila's coffin in
The grey dust on the empty earthen flure.
I lifted Rosie's face betwixt me hands;
Says I, 'Me girleen, you an' Mick an' me
Must lave the green ould sod an' look for food
In thim strange countries far beyant the sea.'
An' so it chanced, whin landed on the sthreet,
Ould Dolan, rowlin' a quare ould shay
Came there to hire a man to save his wheat,
An' hired meself and Mickie by the day.
'An' bring the girleen, Pat,' he says, an' looked
At Rosie, lanin' up agin me knee;
'The wife will be right plaised to see the child,
The weeney shamrock from beyant the sea.
'We've got a tidy place, the saints be praised!
As nice a farm as ever brogan trod.
A hundered acres-us as never owned
Land big enough to make a lark a sod.'
'Bedad,' says I, 'I heerd them over there
Tell how the goold was lyin' in the sthreet,
An' guineas in the very mud that sthuck
To the ould brogans on a poor man's feet.'
'Begorra, Pat,' says Dolan, 'may ould Nick
Fly off wid thim rapscallions, schaming rogues,
An' sind thim thrampin' purgatory's flure
Wid red hot guineas in their polished brogues!'
'Och, thin,' says I, 'meself agrees to that!'
Ould Dolan smiled wid eyes so bright an' grey;
Says he, 'Kape up yer heart; I never kew
Since I come out a single hungry day.
'But thin I left the crowded city sthreets-
Th'are men galore to toil in thim an' die;
Meself wint wid me axe to cut a home
In the green woods beneath the clear, swate sky.
'I did that same; an' God be praised this day!
Plenty sits smilin' by me own dear dure;
An' in them years I never wanst have seen
A famished child creep tremblin' on me flure.'
I listened to ould Dolan's honest words:
That's twenty years ago this very spring,
An' Mick is married, an' me Rosie wears
A swateheart's little shinin' goulden ring.
'Twould make yer heart lape just to take a look
At the green fields upon me own big farm;
An' God be praised! all men may have the same
That owns an axe an' has a strong right arm!
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