The woman’s labour

Now here’s one I should have posted on International Women’s Day.

When Harvest comes, into the Field we go,
And help to reap the Wheat as well as you;
Or else we go the Ears of Corn to glean;
No Labour scorning, be it e’er so mean;
But in the Work we freely bear a Part,
And what we can, perform with all our Heart.
To get a Living we so willing are,
Our tender Babes unto the Field we bear,
And wrap them in our Cloaths to keep them warm,
While round about we gather up the Corn;
and often unto them our Course do bend,
To keep them save, that nothing them offend:
Our Children that are able bear a share,
In gleaning Corn, such is our frugal Care.
When Night comes on, unto our Home we go,
Our Corn we carry, and our Infant too;
Weary indeed! but ’tis not worth our while
Once to complain, or rest at ev’ry Sitle;
We must make haste, for when we home are come,
We find again our Work has just begun;
So many Things for our Attendance call,
Had we ten hands, we could employ them all.
Our Children put to Bed, with greatest Care
We all Things for your coming home prepare:
You sup, and go to Bed without Delay,
And rest yourselves till the ensuing Day;
While we, alas! but little Sleep can have
Because our froward Children cry and rave;
Yet, without fail, soon as Day-light doth spring,
We in the Field again our work begin,
and there, with all our Strength, our Toil renew,
Till titan’s golden Rays have dry’d the Dew;
Then home we go unto our Children dear,
Dress, feed, and bring them to the Field with Care.
Were this your Case, you justly might complain
That Day and Night you are secure from Pain;
Those mighty Troubles which perplex your Mind,
(thistles before, and Females come behind)
Would vanish soon, encumber’d thus with Care.
What you would have of us we do not know:
We oft take up the Corn that you do mow;
We cut the Peas, and always ready are
In every Work to take our proper Share;
And from the time that Harvest doth begin,
Until the Corn be cut and carry’d in,
Our Toil and Labour’s daily so extreme,
That we have hardly ever Time to Dream.

This extract was posted for Women’s History Month 1999 at Sunshine for Women – an example of a woman’s writing (quite a lot of early modern!) was put up every day for the month. Somehow I managed to miss it when I was looking for stuff on IWD.

You can find the full text of Collier’s poem here.

(Does anyone have a link for the text of the poem to which this was a response, Stephen Duck’s ‘The thresher’s labour’ (1730)? Or any more biographical information about Collier, for that matter?)

I remembered to look up ‘The thresher’s labour’ anyway. While it’s in many ways a great poem about the back-breaking nature of male agricultural labouring work for the ‘Master’, this is what Mary Collier was answering:

Homewards we move, but spent so much with Toil, [150]
We slowly walk, and rest at ev’ry Stile.
Our good expecting Wives, who think we stay,
Got to the Door, soon eye us in the Way.
Then from the Pot the Dumplin’s catch’d in haste,
And homely by its Side the Bacon plac’d.
Supper and Sleep by Morn new Strength supply;
And out we set again, our Work to try;
But not so early quite, nor quite so fast,
As, to our Cost, we did the Morning past.

Soon as the rising Sun has drank the Dew,
Another Scene is open to our View:
Our Master comes, and at his Heels a Throng
Of prattling Females, arm’d with Rake and Prong;

Prepar’d, whilst he is here, to make his Hay;
Or, if he turns his Back, prepar’d to play:
But here, or gone, sure of this Comfort still;
Here’s Company, so they may chat their Fill.
Ah! were their Hands so active as their Tongues,
How nimbly then would move the Rakes and Prongs!

The Grass again is spread upon the Ground, [170]
Till not a vacant Place is to be found;
And while the parching Sun-beams on it shine,
The Hay-makers have Time allow’d to dine.
That soon dispatch’d, they still sit on the Ground;
And the brisk Chat, renew’d, afresh goes round.
All talk at once; but seeming all to fear,
That what they speak, the rest will hardly hear
Till by degrees so high their Notes they strain,
A Stander by can nought distinguish plain.


And little Labour serves to make the Hay.
Fast as ’tis cut, so kindly shines the Sun, [200]
Turn’d once or twice, the pleasing Work is done.
Next Day the Cocks appear in equal Rows,
Which the glad Master in safe Ricks bestows.

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5 Responses to The woman’s labour

  1. Melinama says:

    Sharon, thanks for posting this! I used to write songs using lyrics from this period (for renaissance-fair-type gigs) and wish I had had this one. They are usually rather about the “sons of summer” of course…

  2. Brandon says:

    I haven’t been able to find a link to the poem itself, but I did find the following link to an article that discusses the poem and quotes selections from it (I think you can only access it if your university has a Project MUSE subscription, though). It also has biographical information:

    I also found a link to Jonathan Swift’s mocking poem about Duck:

    On Stephen Duck, the Thresher, and Favorite Poet”

  3. Sharon says:

    By the way, MUSE isn’t the only possible route to that journal online: our university’s access is through Literature Online. (We also have it through JSTOR, but that’s the archive up to about 2000 only.) The biographical summary for Collier: “Collier had no formal education; she learned to read at home and claims to have begun writing verses primarily to aid her memory. She eventually published two collections: The Woman’s Labour … To which are added The Three Wise Sentences, at her own expense in 1739, and Poems, on Several Occasions, by subscription in 1762. But she never escaped a life of hard labor, working as a laundress, brewer, domestic servant, field hand, and housekeeper until ill health forced her to retire to a garret at age seventy.” It looks well worth reading…

    Curious though that Duck’s poems don’t seem to have got online yet (well, not in open access forms; again, if you can get LiOn, it’s a different matter. I’m guessing his works would also be in ECCO, but we don’t have that one).

  4. Rebecca says:

    I’ve never been here before, but I just had to say: THANK YOU! I’m doing an essay on Collier (with ref’s to Duck), and I couldn’t access the journal through our Uni’s JSTOR…and here is the link, which is incredibly helpful. You’ve made a student’s day! :D

    Thanks again :)

  5. Sharon says:

    Two satisfied customers in one day!

    I’m getting a warm fuzzy glow.

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