Australian Folk Songs

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The Lay of the Labourer (1845)


A spade ! a rake ! a hoe !
A pickaxe or a bill !
A hook to reap or a scythe to mow,
A flail, or what ye will--
And here's the ready hand
To ply the needful land,
And skill'd enough, by lessons rough,
In Labor's rugged school.

To hedge, or dig the ditch,
To lop or fell the tree,
To lay the swarth on the sultry field,
Or plough the stubborn lea ;
The harvest stack to bind.
The wheaten rick to thatch,
And never fear in my pouch to find
The tinder or the match.

To a flaming barn or farm
My fancies never roam ;
The field I yearn to kindle and burn
Is on tihe hearth of Home ;
Where children huddle and crouch
Through long dark winter days,
Where starving children huddle and crouch
To see the cheerful rays,
A-glowing on the haggard cheek,
And not in the haggard's blaze !

To Him who sends a drought
To parch the fields forlorn,
The rain to flood the medows with mud.
The blight to blast the corn,
To Him I leave to guide
The bolt in its crooked path,
To strike the miser's rick and show
The skies blood-red with wrath.

A spade ! a rake ! a hoe !
A pickaxe, or a bill !
A hook to reap, or a scythe to mow,
A flail, or what ye will--
The corn to thrash, or the hedge to plash,
The market-team to drive.
` Or mend the fence by the cover side,
And leave the game alive.

Ay, only give me work,
And then you need not fear
That I shall snare his Worship's hare,
Or kill his Grace's deer ;
Break into his lordship's house,
To steal the plate so rich ;
Or leave the yeoman that had a purse,
To welter in a ditch.

Wherever Nature needs,
Wherever Labor calls,
No job I'll shirk of the hardest work,
To shun the workhouse walls ;
Where savage laws begrudge
The pauper babe its breath,
And doom a wife to widow's life,
Before her partner's death.

My only claim is this
With labour stiff and stark,
By lawful turn, my living to earn,
Between the light and dark ;
My daily bread, and nightly bed,
My bacon and drop of beer--
But all from the hand that holds the land,
And none from the overseer !

No parish money, or loaf,
No pauper badges for me,
A son of the soil, by right or toil,
Entitled to my fee,
No alms I ask, give me my task ;
Here are the arms, the leg,
The strength, the sinews of a Man,
To work, and not to beg.

Still one of Adam's heirs,
Though doom'd by chance of birth
To dress so mean, and to eat the lean,
Instead of the fat of the earth ;
To make such humble meals
As honest labour can,
A bone and a crust, with a grace to God;
And little thanks to man !

A spade ! a rake ! a hoe !
A pickaxe, or a bill !
A hook to reap, or a scythe to mow ;
A flail or what ye will--
Whatever the tool to ply,
Here is a willing drudge,
With muscle and limb, and woe to him
Who does their pay begrudge !

Who every weekly score
Docks labour's little mite,
Bestows only the poor at the temple door
But robb'd them over night.
The very shilling he hoped to save,
As health and mortals fail,
Shall visit me in the New Bastile,
The Spital; or the Gaol !


From the Adelaide Newspaper the South Australian 21 Mar 1845 p. 4.

Thomas Hood's most published poem in Australia was undoubtedly his Song of the Shirt, the Lay of the Labourer wasn't far behind.


australian traditional songs . . . a selection by mark gregory