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Edmund Clarence Stedman, ed. (1833–1908). A Victorian Anthology, 1837–1895. 1895.

Thomas Hood 1799–1845

The Lay of the Laborer


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

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,

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

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;

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,

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,

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!

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,

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,

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.

Wherever Nature needs,

Wherever Labor calls,

No job I ’ll shirk of the hardest work,

To shun the workhouse walls;

Where savage laws begrudge

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,

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,

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.

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,

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,

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,

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!

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,

As health and morals fail,

Shall visit me in the New Bastile,

The Spital or the Gaol!