The Workhouse Clock
by Thomas Hood
There's a murmur in the air,
A 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, crippled, 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 poverty's lowest valley,
Furnished with shuttle and loom --
Poor slaves of Civilization's 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 smirched besides with vicious soil,
Clustering, mustering, all in a swarm.
Father, mother, and careful child,
Looking as if it had never smiled --
The seamstress, 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.
Stirred 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 Nature's 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 Whitechapel's 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 derived from hope and the skies,
Upturned to the workhouse clock!
O! that the parish powers,
Who regulate labor's 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 Nature's sun,
And takes its time from Heaven!
Source:The Poetical Works Of Thomas Hood
Boston: Crosby, Nichols, Lee and Company