OVER THE HILL TO THE POOR HOUSE
Over the hill to the poor-house Iâ€™m trudginâ€™ my weary wayâ€”
I, a woman of seventy, and only a trifle grayâ€”
I, who am smart anâ€™ chipper, for all the years Iâ€™ve told,
As many another woman thatâ€™s only half as old.
Over the hill to the poor-houseâ€”I canâ€™t quite make it clear!
Over the hill to the poor-houseâ€”it seems so horrid queer!
Many a step Iâ€™ve taken a-toilinâ€™ to and fro,
But this is a sort of journey I never thought to go.
What is the use of heapinâ€™ on me a pauperâ€™s shame?
Am I lazy or crazy? Am I blind or lame?
True, I am not so supple, nor yet so awful stout:
But charity ainâ€™t no favor, if one can live without.
I am willinâ€™ and anxious anâ€™ ready any day
To work for a decent livinâ€™, anâ€™ pay my honest way;
For I can earn my victuals, anâ€™ more too, Iâ€™ll be bound,
If any body only is willinâ€™ to have me round.
Once I was young anâ€™ hanâ€™someâ€”I was, upon my soulâ€”
Once my cheeks was roses, my eyes as black as coal;
An I canâ€™t remember, in them days, of hearinâ€™ people say,
For any kind of reason, that I was in their way.
â€˜Tainâ€™t no use of boastinâ€™, or talkinâ€™ over free,
But many a house anâ€™ home was open then to me
Many a hanâ€™some offer I had from likely men,
And nobody ever hinted that I was a burden then.
An when to John I was married, sure he was good and smart,
But he and all the neighbors would own I done my part;
For life was all before me, anâ€™ I was young anâ€™ strong,
And I worked the best that I could in tryinâ€™ to get along.
An so we worked together; and life was hard, but gay,
With now and then a baby for to cheer us on our way;
Till we had half a dozen, anâ€™ all growed clean anâ€™ neat,
Anâ€™ went to school like other, anâ€™ had enough to eat.
So we worked for the childâ€™rn, and raised â€˜em every one;
Worked for â€˜em summer and winter, just as we ought to â€™ve done;
Only perhaps we humored â€˜em, which some good folks condemn.
But every coupleâ€™s childâ€™rnâ€™s a heap the best to them.
Strange how much we think of our blessed little ones!â€”
Iâ€™d have died for my daughters, Iâ€™d have died for my sons;
And God he made that rule of love; but when weâ€™re old and gray,
Iâ€™ve noticed it sometimes somehow fails to work the other way.
Strange, another thing: when our boys anâ€™ girls was grown,
An when, exceptinâ€™ Charley, theyâ€™d left us there alone;
When John he nearer anâ€™ nearer come, anâ€™ dearer seemed to be,
The Lord of Hosts he come one day anâ€™ took him away from me.
Still I was bound to struggle, anâ€™ never to cringe or fallâ€”
Still I worked for Charley, for Charley was now my all;
And Charley was pretty good to me, with scarce a word or frown,
Till at last he went a-courtinâ€™, and brought a wife from town.
She was somewhat dressy, anâ€™ hadnâ€™t a pleasant smileâ€”
She was quite conceity, and carried a heap oâ€™ style;
But if ever I tried to be friends, I did with her, I know;
But she was hard and proud, anâ€™ I couldnâ€™t make it go.
She had an edication, anâ€™ that was good for her;
But when she twitted me on mine, â€˜twas carryinâ€™ things too fur;
An’ IL told her once, ‘fore company (an’it almost made her sick),
That I never swallowed a grammar,or ‘et ‘rithmetic.
So â€˜twas only a few days before the thing was doneâ€”
They was a family of themselves, and I another one;
And a very little cottage one family will do,
But I never have seen a house that was big enough for two.
Anâ€™ I never could speak to suit her, never could please her eye,
Anâ€™ it made me independent, and then I didnâ€™t try;
But I was terribly staggered, anâ€™ felt it like a blow,
When Charley turned agâ€™in me, anâ€™ told me I could go.
I went to live with Susan, but Susanâ€™s house was small,
And she was always a-hintinâ€™ how snug it was for us all;
And what with her husbandâ€™s sister, and what with childâ€™rn three,
â€˜Twas easy to discover that there wasnâ€™t room for me.
Anâ€™ then I went to Thomas, the oldest son Iâ€™ve got,
For Thomasâ€™s buildingsâ€™d cover the half of an acre lot;
But all the childâ€™rn was on meâ€”I couldnâ€™t stand their sauceâ€”
And Thomas said I neednâ€™t think I was cominâ€™ there to boss.
Anâ€™ then I wrote to Rebecca, my girl who lives out West,
And to Isaac, not far from herâ€”some twenty miles at best;
And one ofâ€™em saidâ€™twas too warm there for any one so old,
And tâ€™other had an opinion the climate was too cold.
So they have shirked and slighted me,an’ shifted me about-
So they have well-nigh soured me,an’ wore my old heart out;
But still I’ve borne up pretty well, an’ wasn’t much put down,
Till Charley went to the poor-master, an’ put me on the town.
Over the hill to the poor-house–my chil’rn dear, good-by!
Many a night I’ve watched you when only God was nigh;
And God ‘ll judge between us; but I will al’ays pray
That you shall never suffer the half I do to-day.
Will Carleton wrote this poem in 1872, when he was still a reporter in Hillsdale. According to county history, poems such as this cemented his fame, and he went on to write and lecture across the country.