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Poem by Isabella Valancy Crawford

A Hungry Day

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, prais'd be God!
He found us, Rosie, Mickie, an' meself,
    Just landed in the emigration shed,
Meself was tyin' on there bits of clothes,
    Their mother (rest her tender sowl!) was dead.

It's not meself can say of what she died;
    But t'was the year the praties felt the rain,
And rotted in the soil; an' just to dhraw
    The breath of life was one long hungry pain.
If we were 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 my poor Shylie 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 childer'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 my hunger-bleached, shmall-beatin' heart,
    I felt the kindlin' of a burning 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 brightthe craythur there
    Died that the weeny ones might eat there fill."

An' whin they spread the daisies thick and white,
    Above her head that wanst lay on my breast,
I had no tears, but took the childhers' hands,
    An' says, "We'll lave the mother to her rest,"
An' och! the sod was green that summers 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 quieton the sunny sides
    Of hedge an' ditch the stharvin' craythurs lay,
An' thim as lack'd 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 yawn'd 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 Shylie'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, when landed on the streets,
    Ould Dolan, rowlin' a quare ould shay,
Came there to hire a roan to save his whate,
    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 hundred acresus as never owned
    Land big enough to make a lark a sod!"

"Bedad," sez 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 heartI never knew
    Since I come out a single hungry day!"

"But thin I left the crowded city sthreets,
    There 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 prais'd 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 marriedan' 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 prais'd! all men may have the same
    That owns an axe! an' has a strong right arm!

Isabella Valancy Crawford

Isabella Valancy Crawford's other poems:
  1. Bouche-Mignonne
  2. An Interregnum
  3. Said the Wind
  4. His Sweetheart
  5. Late Loved - Well Loved

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