Wednesday, May 18, 2005

It's only words

Sometimes the unfairness of it all is overwhelming. I don't know what it was that got me thinking this time. Maybe the 700 lost lives inUzbekistan or maybe the reports of the latest atrocities in Iraq or maybe something else. When it happens phrases like; pale at the heart with dread; the public will say, 'How sad.' and even God does not see the hypocrisy and the shame of it all, come into my mind. The words are from a poem by Joe Corrie, a Scotsman who started working in the pits at the age of 14 to help support his family, which I first read in the Penguin Book of Socialist Verse in the early 1970s. These phrases have stayed with me and often reflect how I feel when the media goes into overdrive over the latest disaster or the other.

I wonder! Is the media only pandering to our tendency to rubberneck like human vultures who wants to witness another's distress or are we just gaping for the sake of gaping without taking any particular pleasure from it? It's similar to the behaviour we exhibit at road accidents. What are all the people who slow down thinking? Are they checking to see whether anyone needs urgent first-aid while waiting for the ambulance? Are they driving slower because they perceive the accident site as a hazard? Are they rubbernecking or just simply gaping? If we can understand this behaviour then maybe we can understand the way the media responds in reporting the misfortunes of others in faraway parts of the world. Maybe ....

Anyway, I'd like to share the poem.

- Joe Corrie (1894-1968)
Women are waiting tonight on the pit-bank,
Pale at the heart with dread,
Watching the dead-still wheels
That loom in the mirky sky,
The silent wheels of Fate,
Which is the system under which they slave.
They stand together in groups,
As sheep shelter in storm,
Silent, passive, dumb.
For in the caverns under their feet,
The coffin seams of coal
'Twixt the rock and the rock,
The gas has burst into flame,
And has scattered the hail of Death.
Cold the night is, and dark,
And the rain falls in a mist.
Their shawls and their rags are sodden,
And their thin, starved cheeks are blue,
But they will not go home to their fires,
Tho' the news has been broken to them
That a miracle is their only hope.
They will wait and watch till the dawn,
Till the wheels begin to revolve,
And the men whom they loved so well,
The strong, kind, loving men,
Are brought up in canvas sheets,
To be identified by a watch,
Or a button,
Or, perhaps, only a wish.
And three days from now,
They will be buried together,
In one big hole in the earth.
And the King will send his sympathy,
And the Member of Parliament will be there,
Who voted that the military be used
When last these miners came on strike
To win a living wage.
His shining black hat will glisten over a sorrowful face,
And his elegantly shod feet will go slowly behind the bier.
And the director of the company will be there,
Who had vowed many a time
That he would make the miner eat grass.
And the parson, who sits on the Parish Council,
Starving the children and saving the rates,
Will pray in a mournful voice,
And tear the very hearts of the bereaved.
He will emphasize in godly phrase,
The danger of the mine,
And the bravery and valour of the minor.
And the Press
That has spilled oceans of ink
Poisoning the public against the 'destroyers of industry',
Will tell the sad tale,
And the public will say, 'How sad.'
But a week today all will be forgotten,
And the Member of Parliament,
The coalowner,
The parson,
The Press,
And the public,
Will keep storing up their venom and their hatred,
For the next big miners' strike.
Women are waiting tonight at the pit-bank,
But even God does not see
The hypocrisy and the shame of it all.


Blogger Zinnia Cyclamen said...

Top poem. Thank you.

7:56 PM  
Anonymous zeno said...

This is an amazing poem. I come from a mining village and had an old uncle who went down the pit at 12.

I am going to post the poem and link to you...


4:06 AM  
Anonymous mary said...

Powerful, moving poetry and yes, indeed it could be any of us "common folk" standing there and it could be any tragedy wrought out of human greed. Thank you for introducing this to us.

10:24 AM  

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