Repetition and Hidden Meanings in “Song of the Shirt”

In “Song of the Shirt,” by Thomas Hood, what effect does the repetition of the first and last stanzas lend to the meaning of the poem? On one hand, it could be exemplifying the popular viewpoint held by many of the English upper class that the plight of poor laborers was self-perpetuating. Just as the repeated description of the “weary and worn” seamstress affords the poem a cyclical feel, it was common in ninteenth-century England to regard the poverty of the working class as a cycle fueled by laziness and depraved morality−best to be ignored as any economic assistance would only encourage the corrupt mindset.

It is more likely, however, that Hood repeats this stanza to emphasize his frustration that those in power continuously stifled reform that would have brought about greatly needed economic relief for the working classes. Although “Song of the Shirt” is a poem, it exudes journalistic style as it seeks expose and raise awareness of the poverty raging throughout the country. Perhaps the image that resonates with this cause the most comes when the seamstress laments: “But why do I talk of Death? That phantom of grisly bone; I hardly fear his terrible shape, it seems so like my own.” How can the wealthy look upon such horrid conditions and feel no sense of responsibility to foster change? Hood’s repetition of the first and last stanza can be interpreted as a desperate plea for them to discover morality.

15 thoughts on “Repetition and Hidden Meanings in “Song of the Shirt”

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