(after The Masque of Anarchy, P. B. Shelley)
I saw Poverty walk the land,
She had a mean and grasping hand,
And a face as pale as water –
She looked just like a vicar’s daughter.
And everywhere she went I saw
Hunger, misery, enforced by Law.
She left some homeless, others broke,
Many suffered when she spoke,
Parents, children, cramped in rooms
Barely bigger than a graveyard’s tombs
Workers once proud, eager to graft,
Reduced to idleness, made outcasts
By a system that’s a mess,
Given a dole that grew less and less.
And she gave a sign of power,
A smokefilled, raging, burning tower
That stood blackened against the sky
And filled with dread each passerby
Who beheld the terrible sight
And recalled the summer night
When many died in smoke and flame –
You’d think that she would die of shame.
And she led a murderous crew,
Who seemed to know not what they do,
Who bickered with themselves and fought,
Incapable of reasoned thought,
Incapable of leadership,
Despite the press gang and the whip,
And were propped up by Orange Men,
Who had control of Number 10,
Despite the roiling Irish Sea,
Theirs the Magic Money Tree,
Who loved to walk her little garden,
To squeeze her heart and watch it harden.
And her lackeys stirred up hate
The denizens of the Fourth Estate –
Their lies the cause of pain and strife –
How they loved to twist the knife!
I saw Poverty, pale as Death,
Felt her freezing, awful breath,
A scythe held in her bony hand,
Saw her stalk this ruined land,
Scheming, desperate, sinister –
I dreamt she was Prime Minister.
And when I woke I feared it true
But we are many: they are few.
John O’Donoghue is the author of Brunch Poems (Waterloo Press, 2009); Fools & Mad (Waterloo Press, 2014); and Sectioned: A Life Interrupted (John Murray, 2009). Sectioned was awarded Mind Book of The Year 2010.