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Song of the Shirt - a poem by Thomas Hood


With fingers weary and worn, 
With eyelids heavy and red, 
A woman sat, in unwomanly rags, 
Plying her needle and thread
Stitch! stitch! stitch! 
In poverty, hunger, and dirt, 
And still with a voice of dolorous pitch 
She sang the "Song of the Shirt."

"Work! work! work! 
While the cock is crowing aloof! 
And work  work  work, 
Till the stars shine through the roof! 
It's Oh! to be a slave 
Along with the barbarous Turk, 
Where woman has never a soul to save, 
If this is Christian work!

"Work  work  work 
Till the brain begins to swim; 
Work  work  work 
Till the eyes are heavy and dim! 
Seam, and gusset, and band, 
Band, and gusset, and seam, 
Till over the buttons I fall asleep, 
And sew them on in a dream!

"Oh, Men, with Sisters dear! 
Oh, Men, with Mothers and Wives! 
It is not linen you're wearing out, 
But human creatures' lives! 
Stitch  stitch  stitch, 
In poverty, hunger, and dirt, 
Sewing at once with a double thread, 
A Shroud as well as a Shirt.

But why do I talk of Death? 
That Phantom of grisly bone, 
I hardly fear its terrible shape, 
It seems so like my own 
It seems so like my own, 
Because of the fasts I keep; 
Oh, God! that bread should be so dear, 
And flesh and blood so cheap!

"Work  work  work! 
My Labour never flags; 
And what are its wages? A bed of straw, 
A crust of bread  and rags. 
That shatter'd roof  and this naked floor 
A table  a broken chair 
And a wall so blank, my shadow I thank 
For sometimes falling there!

"Work  work  work! 
From weary chime to chime, 
Work  work  work! 
As prisoners work for crime! 
Band, and gusset, and seam, 
Seam, and gusset, and band, 
Till the heart is sick, and the brain benumb'd, 
As well as the weary hand.

"Work  work  work, 
In the dull December light, 
And work  work  work, 
When the weather is warm and bright 
While underneath the eaves 
The brooding swallows cling 
As if to show me their sunny backs 
And twit me with the spring.

Oh! but to breathe the breath 
Of the cowslip and primrose sweet 
With the sky above my head, 
And the grass beneath my feet 
For only one short hour 
To feel as I used to feel, 
Before I knew the woes of want 
And the walk that costs a meal!

Oh! but for one short hour! 
A respite however brief! 
No blessed leisure for Love or Hope, 
But only time for Grief! 
A little weeping would ease my heart, 
But in their briny bed 
My tears must stop, for every drop 
Hinders needle and thread!"

With fingers weary and worn, 
With eyelids heavy and red, 
A woman sat in unwomanly rags, 
Plying her needle and thread 
Stitch! stitch! stitch! 
In poverty, hunger, and dirt, 
And still with a voice of dolorous pitch, 
Would that its tone could reach the Rich! 
She sang this "Song of the Shirt!"


Song of the Shirt - a poem by Thomas Hood

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