One of my favourite poems written by Victorian Yorkshire writer John Hartley from his book, Yorksher Puddin’
Who’d be a slave, when Freedom smiling stands,
To strike the shackles from his fettered hands?
Who’d be a slave, and cringe, and bow the knee,
And kiss the hand that steals his liberty?
Behold the bird that flits from bough to bough;
What though at times the wintry blasts may blow –
Happier it feels, half frozen in its nest,
Than caged, though fed and fondled and caressed.
’Tis said, ‘on Briton’s shore no slave shall dwell,’
But have you heard not the harsh clanging bell,
Or the discordant whistles’ yelling voice,
That says, ‘Work slave, or starve! That is your choice!’
And have you never seen the aged and the grey,
Panting along its summons to obey;
Whilst little children run scarce half awake,
Sobbing as tho’ their little hearts would break
And stalwart men, with features stern and grave,
That seem to say, “I scorn to be a slave.”
He is no slave – he is a Briton free,
A noble sample of humanity.
This may be liberty – the ass, the horse,
Wear out their lives in routine none the worse,
They only toil all day – then eat and sleep,
They have no wife or children dear to keep.
Better, far better, is the tattered lout,
Who, tho’ all so-called luxuries without,
Can stand upon the hill-side in the morn,,
And watch the shadows flee as day is born,
Tho’ with a frugal meal his fast he breaks,
And from the spring his crystal draught he takes,
Better, far better, seems that man to me,
For he owns Heaven’s best gift – his liberty.