Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, TOWARDS DEMOCRACY: PART 4. A LANCASHIRE MILL-HAND, by EDWARD CARPENTER



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TOWARDS DEMOCRACY: PART 4. A LANCASHIRE MILL-HAND, by             Poet's Biography
First Line: She died at the age of sixty-three
Last Line: For she lay in her chamber, dead.
Subject(s): Lancashire, England


SHE died at the age of sixty-three, mother of a family of four children,
and having during that time worked for fifty-three years in a Lancashire
cotton-mill!
You know the scene: the great oblong ugly factory, in five or six tiers,
all windows, alive with lights on a dark winter's morning, and again with the
same lights in the evening; and all day within, the thump and scream of the
machinery, and the thick smell of hot oil and cotton fluff, and the crowds of
drab-faced drab-dressed men and women and children—the
mill-hands—going to and fro or serving the machines;
And, outside, the sad smoke-laden sky, and rows of dingy streets, and waste
tracks where no grass grows, and tall chimneys belching dirt, and the same same
outlook for miles.
Here she had grown up a bright-eyed strenuous girl, to blushing maidenhood,
and had become a young woman, and in time married; and here she lived, and bore
her family, and died.

In those days—it happens even now—whole families, father, mother
and children, would go out (locking up the house behind them) to work in the
Mills; thus to earn perhaps a decent combined wage.
And in this instance it was so. But the mother worked hardest of all: her
one idea—her blind religion—being work: to bring up her children to
work—never to give in.
During the last twenty-four years of her life she never missed a single
work-morning being at the mill at 6 a.m.
Even before that, on each occasion of her confinement, she would only allow
herself three weeks off. When she returned to the mill she would leave the
new-born babe every morning at the house of a nursing woman on the way.
The youngest-born—and he it was who told it all—said he
remembered very well as a child being picked out of bed in the early dawn,
wrapped in a shawl, and carried through the streets, just as he was, to the
house of an old woman.
Here his mother would just pop him down, and hurry on to work.

At the last, after her half-century of toil, she was terribly broken with
bronchitis. Often, after going out at 5.30 a.m. into the cutting winds of
winter, the gas-lamps would reveal her leaning for a while, wheezing and
coughing, in the shelter of a doorway to get her breath and strength.
Nevertheless she never missed a single day, or even a quarter.
She never gave in till the very last.
Then one day at dinner-time she came home and went to bed.
But at 9 p.m. the youngest son going up found her dressed!—"O yes, the
house wanted tidying, and she would attend to it, as she was going to work in
the morning, and there was no one else to do so!"
But in the morning there was someone else, and the house was tidied
without her;
For she lay in her chamber, dead.





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