Verse > Anthologies > Edmund Clarence Stedman, ed. > A Victorian Anthology, 1837–1895
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Edmund Clarence Stedman, ed. (1833–1908).  A Victorian Anthology, 1837–1895.  1895.
 
The Lay of the Laborer
 
Thomas Hood (1799–1845)
 
 
A SPADE! a rake! a hoe!
  A pickaxe, or a bill!
A hook to reap, or a scythe to mow,
  A flail, or what ye will,
And here ’s a ready hand        5
  To ply the needful tool,
And skill’d enough, by lessons rough,
  In Labor’s rugged school.
 
To hedge, or dig the ditch,
  To lop or fell the tree,        10
To lay the swarth on the sultry field,
  Or plough the stubborn lea;
The harvest stack to bind,
  The wheaten rick to thatch,
And never fear in my pouch to find        15
  The tinder or the match.
 
To a flaming barn or farm
  My fancies never roam;
The fire I yearn to kindle and burn
  Is on the hearth of Home;        20
Where children huddle and crouch
  Through dark long winter days,
Where starving children huddle and crouch,
  To see the cheerful rays
A-glowing on the haggard cheek,        25
  And not in the haggard’s blaze!
 
To Him who sends a drought
  To parch the fields forlorn,
The rain to flood the meadows with mud,
  The blight to blast the corn,        30
To Him I leave to guide
  The bolt in its crooked path,
To strike the miser’s rick, and show
  The skies blood-red with wrath.
 
A spade! a rake! a hoe!        35
  A pickaxe, or a bill!
A hook to reap, or a scythe to mow,
  A flail, or what ye will;
The corn to thrash, or the hedge to plash,
  The market-team to drive,        40
Or mend the fence by the cover side,
  And leave the game alive.
 
Ay, only give me work,
  And then you need not fear
That I shall snare his worship’s hare,        45
  Or kill his grace’s deer;
Break into his lordship’s house,
  To steal the plate so rich;
Or leave the yeoman that had a purse
  To welter in a ditch.        50
 
Wherever Nature needs,
  Wherever Labor calls,
No job I ’ll shirk of the hardest work,
  To shun the workhouse walls;
Where savage laws begrudge        55
  The pauper babe its breath,
And doom a wife to a widow’s life,
  Before her partner’s death.
 
My only claim is this,
  With labor stiff and stark,        60
By lawful turn my living to earn
  Between the light and dark;
My daily bread, and nightly bed,
  My bacon and drop of beer—
But all from the hand that holds the land,        65
  And none from the overseer!
 
No parish money, or loaf,
  No pauper badges for me,
A son of the soil, by right of toil
  Entitled to my fee.        70
No alms I ask, give me my task:
  Here are the arm, the leg,
The strength, the sinews of a Man,
  To work, and not to beg.
 
Still one of Adam’s heirs,        75
  Though doom’d by chance of birth
To dress so mean, and to eat the lean
  Instead of the fat of the earth;
To make such humble meals
  As honest labor can,        80
A bone and a crust, with a grace to God,
  And little thanks to man!
 
A spade! a rake! a hoe!
  A pickaxe, or a bill!
A hook to reap, or a scythe to mow,        85
  A flail, or what ye will;
Whatever the tool to ply,
  Here is a willing drudge,
With muscle and limb, and woe to him
  Who does their pay begrudge!        90
 
Who every weekly score
  Docks labor’s little mite,
Bestows on the poor at the temple-door,
  But robb’d them over night.
The very shilling he hop’d to save,        95
  As health and morals fail,
Shall visit me in the New Bastile,
  The Spital or the Gaol!
 

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