Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Scarce the Poor Man Can Buy a Morsel

Scarce the Poor Man Can Buy a Morsel
a poem by William Forrest (still active 1581)

The poor man to toil for two pence the day,
some while three-half-pence, or else a penny:
having wife, children and house rent to pay;
meat, cloth and fuel with the same to buy,
and much other things that be necessary,
with many a hungry meal sustaining:
Alas! maketh not this a doleful complaining?

The world is changed from that it hath been,
not to the better but to the worse far:
more for a penny we have before seen
than now for four pence, who list to compare.
This sueth the game called making or mar.
Unto the rich it maketh a great deal,
but much it marreth to the Common weal . . .

A rent to raise from twenty to fifty,
Of pounds, I mean, or shillings whether:
fining for the same unreasonably,
six times the rent; add this together,
must not the same great dearth bring hither?
for if the farmer pay fourfold double rent,
he must his ware neadys sell after that stent.

So for that ox, which hath been the like sold
for forty shillings, now taketh he five pound:
yea, seven is more, I have heard it so told;
he cannot else live, so dear is his ground;
sheep, though they never so plenty abound,
such price they bear, which shame is here to tell,
that scarce the poor man can buy a morsel.

Twopence (in beef) he cannot have served,
neither in mutton, the price is so high:
under a goat he can have none carved:
so goeth he and his to bed hungrily,
and riseth again with bellies empty;
which turneth to tawny their white English skin,
like to the swarthy coloured Fflawndrekyn.

Where they were valiant, strong, sturdy and stout
to shoot, to wrestle, to do any man’s feat,
to match all nations dwelling here about,
as hitherto manly they hold the chief seat;
if they be pinched and weaned from meat,
I wis, O king, they in penury thus penned
shall not be able thy realm to defend.

Our English nature cannot live by roots,
by water, herbs, or such beggary baggage,
that may well serve for vile outlandish coots;
give English men meat after their old usage,
beef, mutton, veal to cheer their courage;
and then I dare to this bill set my hand:
they shall defend this our noble England.
c/o A Radical Reader: The Struggle for Change in England 1381–1914 (ed., Christopher Hampton)

NB The price of basic foods rose by more than 110 per cent between 1500 and 1550

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