Georg Weerth’s The Song of Hunger

Georg Weerth Pic

Georg Weerth: 19th century Communist poet and journalist

I found this piece of poetry by the 19th century German writer, Georg Weerth, in an anthology of 19th century German prose and poetry dealing with the 19th century revolutionary period. This was the age when German Liberals campaigned for a united, democratic Germany, and Socialist and working class movements arose to protest against the poverty and starvation they experience in the new, industrial society.

Weerth himself was the son of a Prussian official, a Generalsuperintendent. After studying to be a merchant, he became a radical journalist, member of the Communist League and friend of Marx and Engels. In 1843 his close friendship with Engels took him to Bradford in Yorkshire, where Engels’ father had mills. The Song of Hunter was written during this period in England, during which time he met the Chartist leaders. His own literary style used simple, colloquial speech, and was influenced by Chartist working class literature. He was imprisoned by the German authorities in 1949, and was exiled in 1950. He then made a series of business trips to Spain, the West Indies and South America before dying in Havana in 1856.

The Song of Hunger describes, day by day, a week of mounting starvation culminating in an attack on the monarchy itself. It describes the terrible poverty of so many of the working class in mid-19th century Germany and England. It’s also highly relevant to contemporary Britain, where 38,000 people a year may have been killed due to poverty and starvation through benefit sanctions and cuts to the welfare system.

The Song of Hunger

Honoured lord and king,
Do you know the bad story?
On Monday we ate little
And on Tuesday we ate nothing.

And on Wednesday we had to starve,
And Thursday we suffered famine,
And O, on Friday we
Nearly died the death of hunger.

So let us bake on Saturday,
Bread, fine, carefully,
But we will on Sunday seize,
And eat you up, O King!

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