The Song of the Shirt,” by the minor English poet Thomas Hood (1799-1845), was prompted by a London news report about the arrest of a seamstress for pawning articles belonging to her employer. Paid by the piece, she could earn at the maximum seven shillings a week, on which she was expected to support herself and two young children.
Till the brain begins to swim; Work—work—work
Till the eyes are heavy and dim! Seam, and gusset, and band, Band, and gusset, and seam,
Till over the buttons I fall asleep And sew them on in a dream!
0! Men, with Sisters dear!
0! Men! with Mothers and Wives!
It is not linen you’re wearing out, But human creatures’ lives! Stitch—stitch–stitch
In poverty hunger, and dirt,
Sewing at once, with a double thread
A Shroud as well as a Shirt.