Rhyme and Reform

Victorian Working-Class Poets Elizabeth Barrett Brownings "The Cry of the Children"

VI: “The Collier’s Wean”

This poem was published in Glasgow’s The Commonwealth newspaper on 5th September 1857, signed “Davie, Darngaber, Aug, 1857”. “Davie” was the pseudonym of miner David Wingate. Born in 1828, he had worked as a miner in the south of Glasgow since he was nine years old. In the 1850s, he began to publish poems in the local Glasgow and Lanarkshire press. But unlike the majority of local Victorian poets, he succeeded in bringing his poems to the attention of Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine, where they were reprinted and positively reviewed. It was unusual for such a high-status periodical to champion a working-class writer, and not surprisingly it brought significant attention to Wingate, who was lauded as a rare instance of a poet emerging from the mining industry and from heavily industrialized Lanarkshire. Wingate made the most of his opportunities, using the profits from his poems to retrain as a manager and continuing to publish poems and stories throughout his life.

Wanlockhead lead mine, Scotland, courtesy of Kirstie Blair

Wingate’s own life story meant that readers could have viewed “The Collier’s Wean” as autobiographical. Its opening reference to the popular song “Castles in the Air” (by Edinburgh poet James Ballantine) is bitterly ironic, since Ballantine’s poem is about a contented child gazing into a warm fire and daydreaming, luxuries that the collier child cannot imagine.

This link will take you to the Dictionary of the Scots Language if some of the words in the following poem are unfamiliar.


“The Collier’s Wean”

He’s up at early mornin’, howe’er the win’ may blaw,
Lang before the sun comes roun’, tae chase the stars awa’;
And ’mang a thousan’ dangers, unken’d in sweet daylicht,
He’ll toil until the stars again keek through the chilly nicht.
See the poor wee callan’! ’Neath the cauld clear moon!
His knees out through his trousers, and his taes out through his shoon,
Wading through the freezin’ snaw, thinking owre again
How happy every wean maun be that’s no a collier’s wean!
**
O! ye wha row in Fortune’s lap, why at the callan sneer?
Oft sorrow’s no sae deep as his command a pitying tear:
And lichter wrangs than he endures your sympathy hae won,
Although he is a collier’s, mind, he’s still a Briton’s son.
And ye wha mak and mend our laws, tak pity on the bairn,
Oh! keep him langer frae the pit, and gie him time tae learn;
Sae shall we lift him frae the mire ’mang which he lang has lain,
And win a blessin’ frae the heart o’ every collier’s wean.

UStrathclyde

erik_swanson • August 19, 2018


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