12 May 2010

John Askham and Wellingborough, Northamptonshire

This plaque, on one of the two chapels in London Road cemetery, remembers one of the many forgotten working-class, autodidactic writers, John Askham (1825-94), the 'shoemaker poet' from Wellingborough, Northamptonshire. Askham's father, who had an amputated leg and suffered great pain through it, was a shoemaker, which is how his son learned the craft. John had very little education, and began working in his father's shoemaker's shop at the age of nine. By 25, he had started to write poetry, and ten years after that he began supplementing his shoemaking earnings by contributing to various newspapers and journals.

Askham's life was riddled by tragedy, such as the early death of his first wife, and the death of his daughter by his second wife at the age of eight, and this is reflected in some of his poems:

Work While it is Day

"Work while it is yet day, for the night cometh on when no man can work."

Work while the day is long,
While the right arm is strong,
While the life-blood is young,
Night cometh on.

Work while the sun is high,
In the bright smiling sky;
Swiftly life's minutes fly:
Night cometh on.

Strive with thy heart and soul;
Press to the distant goal;
Waste not the hours that roll:
Night cometh on.

Life is a season lent;
Moments are treasures sent;
See that they're wisely spent:
Night cometh on.

What thy hand finds to do,
That, with thy might, pursue,
With a brave heart and true:
Night cometh on.

What though we toil in pain,
'Twill not be all in vain;
Haste then the good to gain:
Night cometh on.

What though grief rack the breast?
Doth there not come a rest?
Let us then do our best:
Night cometh on.

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