During Blake's lifetime there were annual parades on Holy Thursday of poor children from London's charity schools. His poem was a protest at the existence of dire poverty in the 'rich and fruitful land' of Britain and also sounded a satirical note against the annual display of charity. Both the title and the words resonated strongly for me in the run-up to Easter 1999, when thousands of families fled the violence in Kosovo in terror and the world looked on in anguish as a beautiful country became war-torn. A recording by Rudsambee company of singers is available on their album bottled at source (RUBEECD003).
Is this a holy thing to see, In a rich and fruitful land, Babes reduced to misery, Fed with cold and usurous hand? Is that trembling cry a song? Can it be a song of joy? And so many children poor? It is a land of poverty! And their sun does never shine. And their fields are bleak and bare. And their ways are fill'd with thorns. It is eternal winter there. For where-e'er the sun does shine, And where-e'er the rain does fall: Babes can never hunger there, ['Babe' in the original] Nor poverty the mind appall. William Blake
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