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Poem by Thomas Hood


The Song of the Shirt


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

ďWork! work! work!
While the cock is crowing aloof!
      And workóworkówork,
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!

ďWorkóworkówork
Till the brain begins to swim;
      Workóworkówork
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!

ďOh, Men, with Sisters dear!
      Oh, Men, with Mothers and Wives!
It is not linen you're wearing out,
      But human creatures' lives!
            Stitchóstitchóstitch,
      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 ownó
      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!

ďWorkóworkówork!
      My Labour never flags;
And what are its wages? A bed of straw,
      A crust of breadóand rags.
That shatter'd roofóand this naked flooró
      A tableóa broken chairó
And a wall so blank, my shadow I thank
      For sometimes falling there!

ďWorkóworkówork!
From weary chime to chime,
      Workóworkówork!
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.

ďWorkóworkówork,
In the dull December light,
      And workóworkówork,
When the weather is warm and brightó
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 sweetó
      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!Ē

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



Thomas Hood


Thomas Hood's other poems:
  1. The Boy at the Nore
  2. The Two Peacocks of Bedfont
  3. Stanzas (Is there a bitter pang for love removed)
  4. Ode on a Distant Prospect of Clapham Academy
  5. The Two Swans


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