Union Songs

The Song of the Famine

Author not known©1847

Want! Want! Want!
Under the harvest moon;
Want! Want! Want!
Thro' the dark December's gloom;
To face the fasting day
Upon the frozen flag!
And fasting turn away
To cower beneath a rag.

Food! Food! Food!
Beware before you spurn,
Ere the cravings of the famishing
To loathing madness turn;
For hunger is a fearful spell,
And fearful work is done,
Where the key to many a reeking crime,
Is the curse of living on!

For horrid instincts cleave
Unto the starving life,
And the crumbs they grudge from plenty's feast
But lengthen out the strife --
But lengthen out the pest
Upon the foetid air,
Alike within the country hut
And the city's crowded lair.

Home! Home! Home!
A dreary, fireless hole --
A miry floor and a dripping roof,
And a little straw -- its whole.
Only the ashes that smolder not,
Their blaze was long ago,
And the empty space for kettle and pot,
Where once they stood in a row!

Only the naked coffin of deal,
And the little body within,
It cannot shut it out from my sight,
So hunger-bitten and thin;
I hear the small weak moan --
The stare of the hungry eye,
Though my heart was full of a strange, strange joy
The moment I saw it die.

I had food for it e'er yesterday,
But the hard crust came too late --
It lay dry between the dying lips,
And I loathed it -- yet I eat.
Three children lie by a cold stark corpse
In the room that's over head --
Or sense to bury the dead!

And oh! but hunger's a cruel heart,
I shudder at my own,
As I wake my child at a tearless wake,
All lightness and alone!
I think of the grave that waits,
And waits but the dawn of day,
And a wish is rife in my weary heart --
I strive and strive, but it won't depart --
I cannot put it away.

Food! food! food!
For the hopeless days begun;
Thanks God there's one the less to feel!
I thank God it is my son!
And oh! the dainty winding-sheet,
And oh! the shallow grave!
Yet your mother envies you the same
Of all the alms they gave!

Death! death! death!
In land, and alley, and street,
Each hand is skinny that holds the bier,
And totters each bearer's feet;
The livid faces mock their woe.
And the eyes refuse a tear,
For Famine's gnawing at every heart,
And tramples on love and fear!

Cold! cold! cold!
In the snow, and frost, and sleet,
Cowering over a fireless hearth,
Or perishing in the street.
Under the country hedge,
On the cabin's miry floor,
In hunger, sickness, and nakedness,
It's oh! God help the poor.

It's oh! if the wealthy knew
A tithe of the bitter dole
That coils and coils round the bursting heart
Like a fiend, to tempt the soul!
Hunger, and thirst, and nakedness,
Sorrow, and sickness and cold
It's hard to bear when the blood is young,
And hard when the blood is old.

Death! death! death!
Inside of the workhouse bound,
Where maybe a bed to die upon,
And a winding-sheet is found.
For many a corpse lies stiff and stark --
The living not far away --
Without strength to scare the hateful things
That batten upon their prey.

Sick! sick! sick!
With an aching, swimming brain
And the fierceness of the fever-thirst,
And the maddening famine pain.


The Song of the Famine from the Dublin University Magazine. July 1847

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