The Complaints of the Poor

And wherefore do the Poor complain?
The rich man asked of me, –
Come walk abroad with me, I said
And I will answer thee.

Twas evening and the frozen streets
Were cheerless to behold,
And we were wrapt and coated well,
And yet we were a-cold.

We met an old bare-headed man,
His locks were few and white,
I ask’d him what he did abroad
In that cold winter’s night:

‘Twas bitter keen indeed, he said,
But at home no fire had he,
And therefore, he had come abroad
To ask for charity.

We met a young bare-footed child,
And she begg’d loud and bold,
I ask’d her what she did abroad
When the wind it blew so cold;

She said her father was at home
And he lay sick a-bed,
And therefore was it she was sent
Abroad to beg for bread.

We saw a woman sitting down
Upon a stone to rest,
She had a baby at her back
And another at her breast;

I ask’d her why she loiter’d there
When the wind it was so chill;
She turn’d her head and bade the child
That scream’d behind be still.

She told us that her husband served
A soldier, far away,
And therefore to her parish she
Was begging back her way.

We met a girl; her dress was loose
And sunken was her eye,
Who with the wanton’s hollow voice
Address’d the passers by;

I ask’d her what there was in guilt
That could her heart allure
To shame, disease, and late remorse?
She answer’d, she was poor.

I turn’d me to the rich man then
For silently stood he,
You ask’d me why the Poor complain,
And these have answer’d thee.

Robert Southey

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