Honest Poverty by Charles Harpur

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While some for wealth, and some for birth,
Claim honor -- there is naught I see
More honorable on the earth
Than Honest Poverty.

What motive hath the millionaire
To cheat or steal -- or rather what
(To keep his dealings ever fair)
Strong motive hath he not?  

But when amid the hungry woes
Of Poverty's disastrous war,  
Shines honesty -- O then it shows
More glorious than a star!

But what if cowardice but keeps
The poor man's tempted will from vice?  
Ask they who sneer where Brotherhood weeps --
What call they cowardice?  

If he who needs yet dares not touch
Unrighteously his neighbour's store,
A coward is -- God keep him such
A coward evermore.

Let Wealth and Birth world-honored be,
But on a juster-nobler plan,
The hero of his God is he,
The Poor yet Honest Man!

First published in The Sydney Chronicle, 13 November 1847;
and later in 
The Poetical Works of Charles Harpur edited by Elizabeth Perkins, 1984.

This poem was published with the following author's note: There is no Poem I have written more opportune in its spirit than this one, or more calculated, if taken heartily, to operate wholesomely, by purging our individual sympathies of a great social disease.  A dishonest shame of honest poverty is the all-pervading ignobility of the times. Rather than be poor, men will readily become any thing they should not. Rather than be thought so, they will lie; rather than appear so, from their associations, they will abandon their own blood; rather than live so, they will swindle; and rather than die so, they will die damned. Fools! what fear they? Are they philosophers? Socrates was poor. Are they poets? Homer begged his bread, being blind; and   Burns died, as the mighty Wordsworth lives, an exciseman. And finally, are they Christians?   Their great and perfect-minded Master had not where to lay his head! Shame then upon this meanest of all the manifestations of cowardice! To give the sum of the whole question in a word: wealth in itself is only an honorable attribute when it is the uninherited fruit (and therefore the evidence) of industry, probity and skill; and poverty only dishonorable to any, when it manifestly proceeds from sloth and irrectitude.

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This page contains a single entry by Perry Middlemiss published on November 13, 2012 8:12 AM.

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