Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, THE COMPLAINTS OF POVERTY, SELECTION, by NICHOLAS JAMES

Poetry Explorer

Classic and Contemporary Poetry

First Line: May poverty, without offence, approach / the splendid equipage, the gilded coach
Last Line: Scares with the dungeon and the whipping-post.
Subject(s): Poverty

MAY poverty, without offence, approach
The splendid equipage, the gilded coach?
May it with freedom all its wants make known?
And will not wealth and pow'r assume a frown?
Chimeras all! What can the wretched fear,
Hapless confined to a detested here?
No lower can we sink, nor higher rise,
Unless you deign to aid our miseries.
We feel its sad effects in early youth,
The mind a stranger to instructive truth;
Hence vagrant lads pursue the mumping trade,
Or justice' limits impiously invade;
Hence silly girls, seduced, their virtue mourn,
And spend an age in infamy and scorn.
But should our tender years such fortune find
That humble education forms the mind,
If reason in our artless bosom sways,
And if we tread direct in virtue's ways,
Incessant labour waits our future days.
At morning's early dawn it bids us rise,
Nor ends our toil till light forsakes the skies;
Ill-clothed, we winter's freezing cold sustain,
And summer's parching heat augments our pain;
While the harsh master and penurious dame
With cruel hand contract the human frame.
Married, the wretch but multiplies his ills,
And others' mis'ry, sympathising, feels;
Still with each infant wretch his woes increase,
And happy if the wife permits him peace;
Too oft the theme of want her tongue employs,
Too oft she bans her inauspicious choice,
While, prudently, he shuns the wordy war,
And hears, retired, her thunder from afar.
When winter's rage upon the cottage falls,
And the wind rushes through the gaping walls,
When ninepence must their daily wants supply,
With hunger pinched and cold, the children cry;
The gathered sticks but little warmth afford,
And half-supplied the platter meets the board.
Returned at night, if wholesome viands fail,
He from the pipe extracts a smoky meal:
And when, to gather strength and still his woes,
He seeks his last redress in soft repose,
The tattered blanket, erst the fleas' retreat,
Denies his shiv'ring limbs sufficient heat;
Teased with the squalling babes' nocturnal cries,
He restless on the dusty pillow lies.
But when pale sickness wounds with direful blow,
Words but imperfectly his mis'ry show;
Unskilful how to treat the fierce disease,
Well-meaning ignorance curtails our days.
In a dark room and miserable bed
Together lie the living and the dead.
Oh shocking scene! Fate sweeps whole tribes away,
And frees the parish of th' reluctant pay!
Where's the physician now, whom heav'n ordains
Fate to arrest, and check corroding pains?
Or he's detained by those of high degree,
Or won't prescribe without a golden fee.
But should old age bring on its rev'rend hoar,
When strength decayed admits his toil no more,
He begs itinerant, with halting pace,
And, mournful, tells his melancholy case,
With meagre cheek and formidable beard,
A tattered dress of various rags prepared.
Base covetise, who wants the soul to give,
Directs the road where richer neighbours live;
And pride, unmindful of its parent dust,
Scares with the dungeon and the whipping-post.

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