Working-Class Poems and Autobiographies
Janet Hamilton, "Oor Location"

1. How would you characterize Hamilton's language? From what point of view is the poem declaimed?

2. What aspects of her neighborhood's physical setting and the morality of its inhabitants irritate her? What does she see as the root of the problem? Is there a progression to the poem's thoughts?

3. What social/economic changes may have exacerbated the noise, pollution and crowding of her home town?

4. What can you tell about the poem's literary context, provenance and audience from its allusions? Is the effect of the poem aided by the use of regional speech forms?

5. Are aspects of the poem humorous? Does the humor detract from or reinforce its serious points? What seems its final tone?

“Auld Mither Scotland”

Why do you think the poet personifies Scotland as an old mother? What effect does this have on the poem?

What does the poet claim are Scotland’s attractive features?

What has been lost in contemporary Scotland, however?

What is wrong with Scotland’s relationship to England, according to the poet? (What historic event linking the two countries did some 19th century Scottish people still resent?)

Is she correct in assessing Scotland’s place in the British empire?

What is added to the poem by the use of Lallands (Scottish language locutions)?

What is symbolic about the delay in the building of a monument to William Wallace?

What seem to be the poets’ religious ideals? Why doesn’t she wish organs to be played in churches? Who were the Covenanters, and where had they worshipped?

Is this an anti-colonial poem? Would it have any relevance today?

Janet Hamilton, “To Working Women,” 1878 (though first published 1859)

Who is Hamilton’s audience? How are her concerns different from those of middle-class women essayists of the period?

Why does she address working-class women in particular rather than potential middle-class patrons? (believes in independence and self-help)

What does she want working women to do?

What does she identify as some consequences of female ignorance? Its dangers?

How would you describe the style and tone of the essay?

What is the effect of her use of biblical metaphors and language? (elevates, gives a moral cast to her arguments?)

What does Hamilton believe has thus far hindered female progress? What attitudes have men revealed, and how must these change for both women and men to progress together?

Ellen Johnston, "The Last Sark"

1. From what point of view is the poem spoken? Why do you think Johnston chose this speaker to present the poem's theme?

2. What account does the poem give of the sources of poverty?

3. What is the progression of thought from stanza to stanza?

4. How does the poem's language complement its subject?

Do you think this is a well-crafted poem to convey its theme?

Short Poems: Elizabeth Campbell, Jane Stevenson, Marion Bernstein

1. What seems unusual about Elizabeth Campbell's point of view toward war? (in her case, the Crimean War, in which her son served) Would most Britons have supported the Crimean War? (cmp. “The Charge of the Light Brigade,” by Alfred Tennyson)

2. Can you tell anything about her class status from the poem itself? What in her life experiences might have prompted thoughts on this subject?

3. The author of "Dog, who is thy master," probably had only a year or two of schooling. What seems unusual for its period about her poem and its use of poetic language?

4. Why might the theme of a wandering dog have appealled to a peasant poet of mid-nineteenth-century Scotland?

5. What evils are satirized by "Wanted in Glasgow"? What expectations and hopes does the poem reflect?

6. Is the poem's form appropriate for its content?

Mary McPherson, "Farewell to the New Christmas"

1. What aspects of Highland culture are conveyed by this poem? What do we learn about the speaker's life and opinions?

2. Which aspects of the poem seem associated with ritual or symbolism? Why do you think the author chose to write about a Christmas celebration?

3. Why does the speaker feel a sense of loss? What resolution is achieved at the end of the poem?

4. What common features do you see in these poems? Are there some which seem to stand out by virtue of unusual traits? Do any of these poems seem to convey a political message?

Memoirs: What is striking about Campbell's memoir? What facts does she tell us about her early life? Her sensibility? Why does she tell us about the moth? The concern with the distance to mountains?

What do we know about her later life? Her husband and children? Why do you think the narrative trails off quickly in describing her adulthood?

In Johnston's "Autobiography," what does the poet wish us to know about her childhood? What were some traumatic events in her early life? Do you think these occurences were uncommon for persons of her social class at the time?

What are the important events which have structured her life? What does she seem to want most? What does her narrative seem to reveal about her character? About the circumstances of a factory worker who wished to write poetry?

"To The Wicked Who Would Do Me Harm"

What was the purpose of this poem? To what circumstances may it have been intended to apply? What seem its principles of organization? What are some of its unusual qualities?

Samuel Laycock, “Bowton’s Yard” (Lancashire Songs, 1866)

What seems to be the poet’s purpose in describing Bowton’s Yard? What is added to the poem by its language?

For each stanza, what is the poet describing? At what level of income are most of the inhabitants?

What is the effect of the poet’s self-inclusion? Where does he place himself on the social scale?

What are some instances of humor?

How does the poet portray the owner of the yard? Is he its most applauded resident? What seems indicated by the fact that he shares the same physical space as his tenants?

“What, Another Cracked Poet?”

What  is added to the poem by its language?

What is the poem’s form? (dramatic monologue with internal auditor)

Which elements of this poem may be autobiographical? (having to sell his own poems, not receiving payment, etc.)

What are some of its humorous elements?

What  are some implications of the poem’s last line? (the auditor doesn’t throw the poem in the fire but instead preserves it)