Like Ellen Johnston, Ethel Carnie was employed in the cotton mills from a young age. She composed her poems whilst working the loom.
Profoundly touching words about possession in her poem, here - aptly entitled, ‘Possesion’.
(More information about Carnie can be found on my main webpage - you're welcome and it's a pleasure, I'm sure)
There bloomed by my cottage door
A rose with a heart scented sweet
O so lovely and fair, that I plucked it one day;
Laid it over my own heart’s quick beat.
In a moment its petals were shed,
Just a tiny white mound at my feet.
There flew through my casement low
A linnet who richly could sing;
Sang so thrillingly sweet I could not let it go,
But must cage it, the glad, pretty thing,
But it died in the cage I had made,
Not a note to my chamber would it bring.
There came to my lonely soul
A friend I had waited for long;
And the deep chilly silence lay stricken and dead,
Pierced to death by our love and our song.
And I thought on the bird and the flower,
And my soul in its knowledge grew strong.
Go out when thou wilt, O friend –
Sing thy song, roam the world glad and free;
By the holding I lose, by the giving I gain,
And the gods cannot take thee from me;
For a song and a scent on the wind
Shall drift in through the doorway from thee.
Well, this one requires no introduction, does she.
Spin the cord strong.
Twist it well.
Let the driven shuttle fly
In and out the mildewed weft.
Let the brittle threads and dry
Mocking taunt the Weavers deft.
Let them struggle as they will,
Bended back and aching sight,
Till the engine crash the mill,
What’s corrupt, will ne’er weave right.
Gain and loss at last shall meet,
Blighted, frayed, ill-woven cloth
Shall be the merchant’s winding-sheet,
Proudest ermine bed the moth.
O’er the rifle, sword and gun
(Bright and pure beyond their mark),
Yet shall rise the People’s sun,
Red, defiant, o’er the Dark.
Fast – or slow,
Sure is tolled the Tyrant’s Wrong,
Weft and Warp of Long Ago.
Pile the walls strong,
Priest and scribe, and man-made God,
Diplomats and renegades,
Bishop’s mace, and tyrant-rod.
Blood-stained crowns, and war-field spades.
Merchants flinging up the Dice,
Gambling with the people’s Lack.
Prim hypocrisy all nice –
Hunger’s fear, and Prison’s Rack.
Charlatans who raving start
(Eye upon the cushioned throne)
From the people’s bleeding Heart.
Making ladders of Their Own.
Pignied idols raised on high,
Slaves look up, and they – look down,
Making blots upon the sky,
Minstrels, wire-pulled – for renown!
All their rods
Cannot break the True and Strong –
Hell shall breed its Undergods.
To all intents and purposes, Ellen Johnston (aka ‘The factory girl’) was one such like as lamented by the aforementioned middle-class poet Elizabeth Barrett-Browning. From a young age, Johnston worked in the textile factories of Scotland and the North of England. Throughout her relatively brief life, as a consequence of the rigours of factory labour, together with intermittent periods of unemployment which brought acute material deprivation, Johnston suffered from ill-health. She wrote the following poem during one of her most severe bouts of sickness. She believes she is at death’s door, and laments her life cut short. In her autobiography, Johnston describes how she was seduced and fell in love with a close male friend whom she trusted, only to be subsequently deserted by him when she fell pregnant. With no means of financial or emotional support, Johnston’s already precarious existence was made even more difficult. This man is possibly the person to whom the poem is addressed.
(Further information on Ellen Johnston's autobiography can be found in Chapter 2 of my research project, 'Working-Class Women's Autobiography').
Farewell, my loved one, fare thee well for ever;
I come, my love, to sing thee my last lay;
King Death, ere long, life’s silver links will sever,
And leave me slumbering in the silent clay.
My heart is fraught with many a secret sorrow –
With many a care the world will never know;
I sleep to dream of joy, then comes the morrow,
With hope deferred, wrapped in wreaths of snow.
I cannot longer live to look upon thee;
Still doubting, I may not hope thy heart to gain;
In sad despair, my love, I hasten from thee –
We part; oh, Heaven! Have I thus loved in vain?
Once I loved thee only as a daughter-
Ah! Thou wert more than a father unto me;
But now, the boundless depths of Leth’s water
Can never quench my boundless love for thee.
Yey, it's the poetry blog!
I suspect there will be very little to smile about. But, then, it's always been a terrible world, hasn't it? For some more than others.
The following is an extract from a poem by the Victorian poet, Elizabeth Barrett-Browning. She derived from a wealthy middle-class background. Tortured by ill-health, she was rendered house-bound for much of her life and spent her time writing verse. She sympathized with the plight of the working-class factory children, of whom she writes so touchingly here.
This temporarily veers from my usual focus on working-class women writers; but, at the end of the day, where would we be without the benevolent, altruistic, good-intentioned middle-class reformist. I will add the other verses shortly. It's long.
‘Do ye hear the children weeping, O my brothers!
Ere the sorrow comes with years?
They are leaning their young hearts against their mothers,
And that cannot stop their tears.
The young lambs are bleating in the meadows,
The young birds are chirping in the nest,
The young fawns are playing with the shadows,
The young flowers are blowing from the west;
But the young young children, O my brothers!
They are weeping bitterly!
They are weeping in the playtime of the others –
In the country of the free.
Do you question the young children in the sorrow,
Why their tears are falling so?
The old man may weep for his to-morrow
Which is lost in long ago.
The old tree is leafless in the forest –
The old year is ending in the frost;
The old wound, if stricken, is the sorest –
The old hope is hardest to be lost!
But the young young children, O my brothers!
Do ye ask them why they stand
Weeping sore before the bosoms of their mothers,
In our happy fatherland?..’.
They look up with their pale and sunken faaces,
And their looks are sad to see;
For the man’s grief untimely draws and presses
Down the cheeks of infancy.
“Your old earth,” they say, “is very dreary –
Our young feet,” they say, “are very weak!
Few paces have we taken, yet are weary –
Our grave-rest is very far to seek!
Ask the old why they weep, and not the children;
For the outside earth is cold –
And we young onesstand without, in our bewild’ring,
And the graves are for the old.
“True,” say the young children, “it may happen
That we die before our time!
Little Alice dies last year – the grave is shapen
Like a snowball, in the rime.
We look’d into the pit prepared to take her –
Was no room for any work in the close clay!
From the sleep wherein she lieth none will wake her,
Crying – ‘get up. little Alice, it is day!’
If you listen by that grave in sun and shower,
With your ear down, little Alice never cries;
Could we see her face, be sure we should not know her,
For the new smile which has grown within her eyes.
For merry go her moments, lull’d and still’d in
The shroud, by the kirk-chime!
It is good when it happens,” say the children,
“That we die before our time!”
Alas, the young children! They are seeking
Death in life, as best to have!
They are binding up their hearts away from breaking,
With a cerement from the grave.
Go out, children, from the mine and from the city –
Sing out, children, as the little thrushes do!
Pluck your handfuls of the meadow cowslips pretty –
Laugh aloud to feel your fingers let them through!
But the children say – “Are cowslips of the meadows
Like the weeds anear the mine?
Leave us quite in the dark of our coal-shadows,
From your pleasures fair and fine.
“For oh!” say the children, “we are weary –
And we cannot run or leap:
If we cared for any meadows, it were merely
To drop down in them and sleep.
Our knees tremble sorely in the stooping –
We fall upon our face, trying to go;
And underneath our heavy eyelids drooping,
The reddest flower would look as pale as snow.
For, all day, we drive the wheels of iron
In the factories, round and round.
Yesterday, I got the urge to read Animal Farm.
I needed something from this book.
I think it was this:
i) 'Man is the only creature that consumes without producing. He does not give milk, he does not lay eggs, he is too weak to pull the plough, he cannot run fast enough to catch rabbits. Yet he is lord of all the animals. He sets them to work, he gives back to them the bare minimum that will prevent them from starving, and the rest he keeps for himself.'
ii) 'Up there, comrades," he would say solemnly, pointing to the sky with his large beak– "up there, just on the other side of that dark cloud that you can see– there it lies, Sugarcandy Mountain, that happy country where we poor animals shall rest for ever from our labours!" He even claimed to have been there on one of his higher flights, and to have seen the everlasting fields of clover and the linseed cake and lump sugar growing on the hedges. Many of the animals believed him. Their lives now, they reasoned, were hungry and laborious; was it not right and just that a better world should exist somewhere else?'
iii) 'No one believes more firmly than Comrade Napoleon that all animals are equal. He would be only too happy to let you make your decisions for yourselves. But sometimes you might make the wrong decisions, comrades, and then where should we be?
iv) '...out from the door of the farmhouse came a long file of pigs, all walking on their hind legs...out came Napoleon himself, majestically upright, casting haughty glances from side to side, and with his dogs gamboling round him.
He carried a whip in his trotter...
The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which.'
v) 'All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.'
I am enthralled by this (famous) working-class woman writer and would happily do a dissertation about her. However, as far my current project is concerned it’s time to call it a day on her work.
But first, a few more memorable quotations from a novel of hers I’m reading at the moment:
i) ‘She packed Stella off home in a taxi, though not before interrogating her as to what she was doing with a six-inch crucifix wedged down her sock. She had spotted it when Stella was laid out on the sofa.
“It’s just a symbol.” Stella said.
“I’m not soft.” said Rose.
“I find it comforting.”
“You’re never a Catholic.”
“No,” admitted Stella, “but I’m thinking about it.”
“While you’re thinking,” Rose said, “it might be worth considering wearing a slightly smaller cross, on a chain round your neck, like normal folk.”’
ii) ‘While Vernon and Lily were serving breakfast she sneaked out and hid the crucifix behind a pile of Mr Harcourt’s empty cardboard boxes in the backyard. She hadn’t forgotten going to the pictures with Vernon to see The Song of Bernadette. He’d only agreed to go because Lily told him it was a musical and had walked out the moment Bernadette started sinking to her knees in the fields. Afterwards he’d sworn he would prefer to see any child of his six foot under rather than taken for a nun.’
BTW. I'm not being funny but I have an urge to read Animal Farm. Fortuitously, I happen to be in the library. Now, where is it?...hmmm all copies are out - popular book obvs.
Not long now – back to uni…
It’s going to be great infinitely recurring.
Now, where did I put my clever head? (my other one)
I’m a transient traveller in need of many (heads)
‘A bit of bad language may be good for one’s street cred, but possibly unappreciated in the hollowed halls of lerning. However, creative writing ought to be what it says on the tin – not exclusive or discriminatory, but fairly representative.
Let’s talk about patriarchy…nah, let’s not.
‘If you don’t belong in the world, change it so you do or create a new one.’ – righty o.
'Stella had believed herself in love with him. Now, when he allowed her so much of his time, she realised that what she had felt before was but a poor shade of the real thing. The very mention of his name caused her to tremble, and in his company she had the curious sensation that her feet and her nose had enlarged out of all proportion. When he spoke to her she could scarcely hear what he said for the thudding of her lovesick heart and the chattering of her teeth. Often he told her she ought to wear warmer clothing.' (p.79).
I have been doing a review of my reading and writing thus far. Over the past few months, I have collated a lot of great material to work with, both with my own autobiographical writing and with the autobiographies of other working-class women – there are a number of contemporary autobiographies and several older unpublished ones to add to my repertoire. I believe I have two prospective books in the making. Actually, I could do with some help to get to grips with all the material. I’m starting the creative writing course soon, so that should be productive.
I think it’s a good idea to draw a line in my autobiography where I went to University the first time round – as an undergraduate. Like I said, that way I’ve come full circle, which lends the opportunity to do all kinds of intellectualizing. Let’s call this Volume One.
I’ve obviously missed a lot out. But life-writing is necessarily selective, and we all have our reasons: some deliberate, others not so.
At this point, I think it would be fruitful to elaborate on what I’ve already written, and the issues it raises, and to fill in some of the gaps of my story.
I will continue to read other working-class women's autobiographies, and to post some of my favourite quotations. There is a continuation of working-class experience (and some notable differences, of course) and overall there is solidarity to be gained from reading about other working-class women's lives.
There is a poetry module on the creative writing course, so in anticipation of that I will seek out some working-class women's poetry to help get myself acclimatized. If I see any I particularly like; I will post it for your very own appreciation, dear reader.
I just love this
i) ‘The question we should ask ourselves is: ‘are we remotely interested in anything you say or do?’ And the answer to that my friend is blowin’ in the wind, the answer is blowin’ in the wind - your words generally waft upon me like a bad smell on the breeze.’
ii) 'she experienced such a choking sensation of jealousy - she thought it must be like parachuting from an aeroplane, in that she couldn't breathe and the world dropped away.' (p.58).
To cut a long story short: