British humorist and poet, the son of Thomas Hood, bookseller, was born in London on the 23rd of May 1799. He was a poet of an unusual order of brilliance and invention. He was skilled in almost every form of poetic writing, being equally at home with romantic sonnets and love poems, poignant social poems like The Song of the Shirt, punning ballads, witty parodies and epigrams, sentimental songs and comic ditties for the music hall. He was also skilled in the creation of brilliantly sustained narrative satires and highly original humorous monologues.
Hood’s most widely known work during his lifetime was a poem titled “The Song of the Shirt”, which was a lament for a poor London seamstress who had been compelled to sell shirts that she had made, the proceeds of which lawfully belonged to her employer, in order to feed her malnourished and ailing child. Hood’s poem appeared in one of the very first editions of Punch in 1843 and quickly became a public sensation, being turned into a popular song and inspiring social activists in defense of the countless laboring women who lived in abject poverty despite their constant industriousness. Below are two verses of “The Song of the Shirt”:
WITH fingers weary and worn,
With eyelids heavy and red,
A woman sat, in unwomanly rags,
Plying her needle and thread–
Stitch! stitch! stitch!
In poverty, hunger, and dirt,
And still with a voice of dolorous pitch
She sang the “Song of the Shirt.”