Almost 15 years ago I studied an anthology of poetry past and present for my English Literature GCSE exam. One of the poems was written in the 17th Century by the English poet William King (who was pleasingly born in London!) I loved it at the time because of the humour and how a poor woman turns the tables of control on a rich gentleman. And so when I started using long woven wraps to carry my daughter I remembered how poem refers to using fabric in a cross to bind a baby to the adult….. sounds familiar?
It fascinates me that long lengths of fabric were used in this country as baby carriers and that carrying or being close to an adult’s body was known to soothe the baby so that it did not cry. And that this was so widespread that even an educated male poet knew about them and why and how they worked, but that in a few generations our culture managed to completely loose this knowledge and skill. Luckily it’s coming back again!
Anyway, here’s the poem – enjoy!
The Beggar Woman
by William King (1663-1712)
A Gentleman in Hunting rode astray,
More out of choice, then that he lost his way,
He let his Company the Hare pursue,
For he himself had other Game in view.
A Beggar by her Trade; yet not so mean,
But that her Cheeks were fresh and Linen clean.
‘Mistress’, qouoth he, ‘and what if we two shou’d
Retire a little way into the Wood.’
She needed not much Courtship to be kind,
He ambles on before, she trots behind;
For little Boby to her Shoulders bound,
Hinders the gentle Dame from ridding Ground,
He often ask’d her to expose, but she
Still fear’d the coming of his Company.
Says she ‘I know an unfrequented place,
To the left Hand, where we our time may pass,
And the mean while your Horse may find some Grass.’
Thither they come and both the Horse secure,
Then thinks the Squire I have the matter sure.
She’s ask’d to sit, but then Excuse is made,
Sitting, says she ”s not usual in my Trade;
Should you be rude, and then should throw me down,
I might perhaps break more Backs than my own.’
He smiling cries; ‘come, I’ll the Knot untie,
And if you mean the Child’s we’ll lay it by.’
Says she, ‘that can’t be done, for then ’twill cry.
I’d not have us, but chiefly for your sake,
Discover’d by the hideous Noise ‘twou’d make.
Use is another Nature, and ‘twou’d lack
More then the Breast, its Custom to the Back.’
Then says the Gentleman, ‘I shou’d be loth
To come so far and disoblige ye both:
Were the Child ty’d to me d’ye think ‘twou’d do?’
‘Mighty well, Sir! Oh, Lord! if ty’d to you!’
With Speed incredible to work she goes,
And from her Shoulders soon the Burthen throws.
Then mounts the Infant with a gentle Toss
Upon her generous Friend, and like a Cross,
The Sheet she with a dextrous Motion winds,
Till a firm Knot the wand’ring Fabrick binds.
The Gentleman had scarce got time to know
What she was doing; she about to go,
Cries, ‘Sir, good buy ben’t angry that we part,
I trust the Child to ye with all my Heart,
But e’er you get another ‘ti’n't amiss
To try a Year or two how you’ll keep this.’
Oh, and I’ve found a great image that would really fit this page, if I can get the rights to use it! It’s here: http://www.heritage-images.com/Preview/PreviewPage.aspx?id=1239265