Statue of Ebenezer Elliott in Weston Park, Sheffield
- Funded by public subscription after his death -
I have been interested in Yorkshire poet Ebenezer Elliott for quite a while now. He lived in a time of great social upheaval between 1781 and 1849. Whereas many poets of his era lived remote lives of leisure crafting their words like potters at wheels, Elliott was a champion of the poor and downtrodden. He was angered by social injustice and spoke up for change and the betterment of ordinary people's lives.
In the 1830's his fame grew - spreading to continental Europe and North America. I suspect he was seen by authorities as a dangerous man who had the ability to stir up social unrest. His most famous collected work is "Corn Law Rhymes" . The very title suggests his mission - to challenge unfairness and the suppression of the poor by the landed gentry. Ultimately, he was put out to grass on Hargate Hill near Great Houghton.
In "Footpaths", the poem I have chosen to share with you this evening, Elliott appears to be referring to the curtailment of historic freedoms. A man might work like a dog in the past but at least he could find solace in walking. His way was never blocked.
Throughout his life, Elliott himself found pleasure in walking and I understand there is a rock by a stream just west of Sheffield where he used to ponder and write after walking out of the city with its belching industrial chimneys and beehive-like activity. I have never seen that rock with the name "ELLIOTT" carved upon it but before too many days have passed I hope to find it. Maybe I will sit there and write a poem of my own. We'll see. Through the mists of time, here's "Footpaths:-
The poor man’s walk they take away,
The solace of his only day,
Where now, unseen, the flowers are blowing,
And, all unheard, the stream is flowing!
In solitude unbroken,
Where rill and river glide,
The lover’s elm, itself a grove,
Laments the absent voice of love;
How bless’d I oft sat there with Fanny,
When tiny Jem and little Annie
Were fairies at my side!
O dew-dropp’d rose! O woodbine!
They close the bowery way,
Where oft my father’s father stray’d,
And with the leaves and sunbeams play’d,
Or, like the river by the wild wood,
Ran with that river, in his childhood,
The gayest child of May!
Where little feet o’er bluebells,
Pursued the sun-bless’d bee,
No more the child-loved daisy hears
The voice of childhood’s hopes and fears;
Thrush! never more, by thy lone dwelling,
Where fountain’d vales thy tale are telling,
Will childhood startle thee?
The poor man’s path they take away,
His solace on the Sabbath day;
The sick heart’s dewy path of roses,
Where day’s eye lingers ere it closes!
by Ebenezer Elliott
from "Corn Law Rhymes" (1834)
I had never heard of Ebenezer Elliott. Thanks for bringing one of his poems to my attention. It reminded me of how glad I am that they have set aside land for forest preserves here so I can find a nice hike not too far from where I live. The land would have been filled with houses and buildings and roads if they hadn't set it aside!ReplyDelete
Some of our forebears had great vision.Delete
Elliot sounds like a rabid communist. Perhaps a month in gaol may have corrected his wrong thinking and attitude.ReplyDelete
He could have received far worse punishment - a one way boat ticket to Botany Bay.Delete
there were people who know what social just was and were not afraid to talk about it.ReplyDelete
The authorities have ways of silencing people.Delete
The only other Ebeneezer I have heard of had the surname Scrooge and he changed his ways. Thanks for telling us about Ebenezer Elliott.ReplyDelete
It is a wonder that you are not known as Ebenezer as you hunt bargains at car boot sales.Delete
I haven't heard of Ebenezer Elliot either, yet his fame seems to have spread far and wide during his lifetime.ReplyDelete
Excellent poem. I shall be interested to read yours, too YP.
First I must find the rock Carol. I have not been able to find out its precise location but I know roughly where it is. I believe the carved name is not as clear as it used to be.Delete
Like others above I hadn't heard of Ebenezer Elliott. I imagine poems like this helped campaigners keep English footpaths open. Dave and I still marvel at how easy it is to walk in this country, while so much of America is closed-off private property.ReplyDelete
I hope you find the rock and write that poem. Daydreaming on rocks is one of my favourite things to do. I have a big rock in my back yard garden which is reserved for just that purpose.ReplyDelete
Voices from the past and we are all still fighting for 'rights' whether rights of way or feeding the poor. Makes you think doesn't it?ReplyDelete