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Poem by Thomas Hood

The Workhouse Clock


Theres a murmur in the air,
And noise in every street 
The murmur of many tongues,
The noise of numerous feet 
While round the Workhouse door
The Laboring Classes flock,
For why? the Overseer of the Poor
Is setting the Workhouse Clock.

Who does not hear the tramp
Of thousands speeding along
Of either sex and various stamp,
Sickly, cripple, or strong,
Walking, limping, creeping
From court and alley, and lane,
But all in one direction sweeping
Like rivers that seek the main?

Who does not see them sally
From mill, and garret, and room,
In lane, and court and alley,
From homes in povertys lowest valley,
Furnished with shuttle and loom 
Poor slaves of Civilizations galley 
And in the road and footways rally,
As if for the Day of Doom?
Some, of hardly human form,
Stunted, crooked, and crippled by toil;
Dingy with smoke and dust and oil,
And smirchd besides with vicious soil,
Clustering, mustering, all in a swarm.
Father, mother, and careful child,
Looking as if it had never smiled 
The Sempstress, lean, and weary, and wan,
With only the ghosts of garments on 
The Weaver, her sallow neighbor,
The grim and sooty Artisan;
Every soul  child, woman, or man,
Who lives  or dies  by labor.

Stirrd by an overwhelming zeal,
And social impulse, a terrible throng!
Leaving shuttle, and needle, and wheel,
Furnace, and grindstone, spindle, and reel,
Thread, and yarn, and iron, and steel 
Yea, rest and the yet untasted meal 
Gushing, rushing, crushing along,
A very torrent of Man!
Urged by the sighs of sorrow and wrong,
Grown at last to a hurricane strong,
Stop its course who can!
Stop who can its onward course
And irresistible moral force;
O vain and idle dream!
For surely as men are all akin,
Whether of fair or sable skin,
According to Natures scheme,
That Human Movement contains within
A Blood-Power stronger than Steam.

Onward, onward, with hasty feet,
They swarm and westward still 
Masses born to drink and eat,
But starving amidst Whitechapels meat,
And famishing down Cornhill!
Through the Poultry  but still unfed 
Christian Charity, hang your head!
Hungry  passing the Street of Bread;
Thirsty  the street of Milk;
Ragged  beside the Ludgate Mart,
So gorgeous, through Mechanic-Art,
With cotton, and wool, and silk!

At last, before that door
That bears so many a knock
Ere ever it opens to Sick or Poor,
Like sheep they huddle and flock 
And would that all the Good and Wise
Could see the Million of hollow eyes,
With a gleam derivd from Hope and the skies,
Upturnd to the Workhouse Clock!

Oh that the Parish Powers,
Who regulate Labors hours,
The daily amount of human trial,
Weariness, pain, and self-denial,
Would turn from the artificial dial
That striketh ten or eleven,
And go, for once, by that older one
That stands in the light of Natures sun,
And takes its time from Heaven!

Thomas Hood

Thomas Hood's other poems:
  1. Written in Keats' Endymion
  2. Ode on a Distant Prospect of Clapham Academy
  3. The Two Peacocks of Bedfont
  4. The Poet's Portion
  5. Song (The stars are with the voyager)

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