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The Complaints of the Poor

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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.

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The Complaints of the Poor

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  • Unlike most of the English Romantics, who wrote predominantly either in verse or in prose, Robert Southey—like his friend and brother-in-law Samuel Taylor Coleridge and, to some extent, Walter Scott—was both poet and prose writer and one as fully as the other. Of his fellow Romantics he was perhaps the most versatile, as well as one of the most prolific. As poet—and eventually poet laureate—he produced epics, romances, and metrical tales, ballads, plays, monodramas, odes, eclogues, sonnets, and miscellaneous lyrics. His prose works include histories, biographies, essays, reviews, translations, travelogues, semifictional journalism, polemical dialogues, and a farraginous work of fiction, autobiography, anecdote, and omnium-gatherum that defies classification. His bent was inherently encyclopedic; and, while his writings lack both moral profundity (as distinct from moral fervor) and “natural magic,” they compensate by their vigor and abundance for their dearth of genius. Coleridge rightly called him the complete man of letters.
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