Elliott by John Greenleaf Whittier
Ebenezer Elliott was to the artisans of England what Burns was to the peasantry of Scotland. His Corn-law Rhymes contributed not a little to that overwhelming tide of popular opinion and feeling which resulted in the repeal of the tax on bread. Well has the eloquent author of The Reforms and Reformers of Great Britain said of him, “Not corn-law repealers alone, but all Britons who moisten their scanty bread with the sweat of the brow, are largely indebted to his inspiring lay, for the mighty bound which the laboring mind of England has taken in our day.”
Hands off! thou tithe-fat plunderer! play
No trick of priestcraft here!
Back, puny lordling! darest thou lay
A hand on Elliott’s bier?
Alive, your rank and pomp, as dust,
Beneath his feet he trod.
He knew the locust swarm that cursed
The harvest-fields of God.
On these pale lips, the smothered thought
Which England’s millions feel,
A fierce and fearful splendor caught,
As from his forge the steel.
Strong-armed as Thor, a shower of fire
His smitten anvil flung;
God’s curse, Earth’s wrong, dumb Hunger’s ire,
He gave them all a tongue!
Then let the poor man’s horny hands
Bear up the mighty dead,
And labor’s swart and stalwart bands
Behind as mourners tread.
Leave cant and craft their baptized bounds,
Leave rank its minster floor;
Give England’s green and daisied grounds
The poet of the poor!
Lay down upon his Sheaf’s green verge
That brave old heart of oak,
With fitting dirge from sounding forge,
And pall of furnace smoke!
Where whirls the stone its dizzy rounds,
And axe and sledge are swung,
And, timing to their stormy sounds,
His stormy lays are sung.
There let the peasant’s step be heard,
The grinder chant his rhyme,
Nor patron’s praise nor dainty word
Befits the man or time.
No soft lament nor dreamer’s sigh
For him whose words were bread;
The Runic rhyme and spell whereby
The foodless poor were fed!
Pile up the tombs of rank and pride,
O England, as thou wilt!
With pomp to nameless worth denied,
Emblazon titled guilt!
No part or lot in these we claim;
But, o’er the sounding wave,
A common right to Elliott’s name,
A freehold in his grave!