Is this a holy thing to see
In a rich and fruitful land,
Babes reduced to misery,
Fed with cold and usurous hand?
Is that trembling cry a song?
Can it be a song of joy?
And so many children poor?
It is a land of poverty!
And their sun does never shine,
And their fields are bleak and bare,
And their ways are filled with thorns:
It is eternal winter there.
For where’er the sun does shine,
And where’er the rain does fall,
Babes should never hunger there,
Nor poverty the mind appall.
This remarkable poem – called Holy Thursday – perfectly sums up austerity Britain today.
Which is rather surprising as it was written in 1794.
At the time William Blake wrote the poem, the nation was supposed to be ‘rich and fruitful’ and the economy was growing – just as we are told it is today by Cameron and Osborne and Clegg.
But just like today the prosperity was only being felt by a few people at the top – and while they feasted and gloried in their newly acquired riches, around them there was poverty and hunger and children were ‘reduced to misery’.
And when Blake wrote that children were being fed by ‘usurous’ hand – (‘usury‘ – the practice of lending money and charging the borrower interest, especially at an exorbitant or illegally high rate) he could have been talking about Wonga.
Perhaps Cameron and Osborne and Clegg should remember that the massive inequalities Blake wrote about in this poem led to the French and American revolutions – and led directly to the birth of socialism in a much more radicalised Britain.
This poem reminds us that a society which is as blind to inequality as ours is today, should be prepared to reap what it sows.
(A big thanks to writer and author Carol Hedges for reminding me about this poem)
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