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The Festival of Industry or, The County Fair by Will Carlton - a Poem

By Will Carleton

Indian Corn Ears, Prodigal of Yield

THEY brought the best and sleekest of their flocks—
The milkiest cow, the squarest-shouldered ox;
The bull, with mimic thunder in his cry,
And lightning in each eager, wicked eye;
The sheep that had the heaviest garments worn,
The cock that crowed the loudest in the morn;
The mule, unconscious hypocrite and knave,
The horse, proud high-born Asiatic slave;
The playful calf, with eyes precocious-bright,
The hog—grim quadrupedal appetite;
The Indian corn-ears, prodigal of yield,
The golden pumpkin, nugget of the field;
The Golden Pumpkin, The Nugget of the Field
The merriest-eyed potatoes, nursed in gloom,
Just resurrected from their cradle-tomb;
Rich apples, mellow-cheeked, sufficient all
To 've tempted Eve to fall—to make them fall;
The grapes, whose picking served strong vines to prune,
The peach—rich alto of the orchard's tune;
The Peach—Rich Alto of the Orchard's Tune

The very best the farmers' land had grown,
They brought to this menagerie of their own.
But listen! from among the scattered herds
Came to my hearing these equestrian words:



dot We are the pets of men—
dot The pampered pets of men!
There is naught for us too gentle and good!
In the graceful days of our babyhood;
We frisk and caper in childish glee—,
Oh, none so pretty and proud as we!
They cheer and cherish us in our play—
Oh, none so smilingly sweet as they!
And when a little our lives have grown,
Each has a table and room his own,
A waiter to fill his bill of fare,
A barber to clean and comb his hair.
dot Yes, we are the pets of men!
dot The pampered pets of men!
They show us, gayly dressed and proud,
To the eager eyes of the clamorous crowd;
They champion us in the rattling race,
They praise our beauty and cheer our pace;
They keep for us our family trees—
They trumpet our names beyond the seas;
They hang our portraits on their walls,
And paint and garnish and gild our stalls.
dot Yes, we are the pets of men—
dot The pampered pets of men!


dot We are the slaves of men—
dot The menial slaves of men!
They lash us over the dusty roads,
They bend us down with murderous loads;
They fling vile insults on our track,
And know that we can not answer back;
In winds of Winter, or Summer sun,
The tread of our toil is never done;
And when we are weak, and old, and lame,
And labor-stiffened, and bowed with shame,
And hard of hearing, and blind of eye
They drive us out in the world to die.
dot Yes, we are the slaves of men—
dot The slaves of selfish men!
They draft us into their bloody spites,
They spur us, bleeding, into their fights;
They poison our souls with their senseless ire,
And curse us into a storm of fire.
And when to death we are bowed and bent,
And take the ball that for them, was meant,
Alone they leave us to groan and bleed,
And dash their spurs in another steed!
dot Yes, we are the slaves of men—
dot The slaves of brutish men!


The grim mechanic waved a hardened hand—
Behold! on every side his trophies stand:
The new-made plow, with curving iron beam,
The thresher, with its snowy plume of steam;
The cultivator, striped, gay, and proud,
With new ideas and dental wealth endowed;
The windmill, now once more at work for men,
Like some old help discharged and hired again;
The patent churns, whose recommends would seem
To promise butter, almost without cream;
Sewing-machines, of several-woman power,
And destitute of gossip, sweet or sour.
The loud piano raised its voice on high,
And sung, tile constant chorus, Who Will buy?
The patent washer strove to clinch the creed
That cleanliness and laziness agreed;
The reaper, resting idly on its wheel,
Held forth a murderous arm of iron and steel,
And seemed to think 'twas waiting over-long
Before it might begin its rattling song:


My grandfather was right little and old,
dot And crooked and worn was he;
But his teeth were good, and his heart was bold,
And he swam the waves of a sea of gold,
dot But he couldn't keep up with me—me—me—
dot Couldn't keep up with me.
Then hie! away to the golden plain!
We will crash and dash through glistening grain,
And gather the wealth of earth and sun,
And the world will eat when our work is done!

My father he was bent and lean,
dot But a wide-spread hand had he;
And his fingers they were long and clean,
And lie swung his broadsword bright and keen,
dot But he never could fight with me—me—me—
dot Never could fight with me!
Then hie! away where the sunlight sleeps,
And the wide-floored earth a granary keeps;
We will capture its bushels, one by one,
And the world will eat when our work is done!
As I Clatter and Clash Along

The grain-stalk bows his bristling head,
dot As I clatter and clash along,
The stubble it bends beneath my tread,
The stacker's yellow tent is spread,
dot And the hills throw back my song—my song—
dot The hills throw back my song!
Then hie! where the food of nations glows,
And the yellow tide of the harvest flows,
As we dash and crash and glide and run;
And the world will eat when our work is done!


Edge deftly with me into "Floral Hall,"
Where toil's handwriting, on each crowded wall,
Weighs Industry in balance, o'er and o'er,
And finds the greater part not out-of-door.
The bread loaf, in an unobtrusive place,
Displays its cheerful, honest featured face,
A coin of triumph, from the mintage struck,
Of chemistry, skill, faithfulness, and luck.
What statesman, moulding laws, can understand
The far-eyed cunning of a housewife's hand?
What queen her subjects with more anxious eyes
Can watch, than she her "emptyings," as they rise?
Mother and Children in Kitchen

What conquest gives what warrior more delight
Than she has, when her baking comes out right?
(Ah me! we oft know not, till over-late,
What things are truly small, and what are great!
'Tis sometimes hard to tell, in God's vast sky,
What's actually low, and what is high!)
Here rests, not over-free from pain and ache,
Bread's proud, rich, city-nurtured cousin, Cake:
Gay-plumaged as his sisters are, the pies—
Food chiefly for the palate and the eyes.
These canned fruits, like the four-and-twenty birds
Imprisoned in the nursery ballad's words,
Will be expected, when at last released,
To sing sweet taste-songs for some Winter feast.
Proudly displayed, rich trophies there are found
Of the fierce needle's thread-strewn battle-ground:
This is a bed-quilt—its credentials show—
Stitched by a grandame, centuries ago;
That is embroidery, made this very year,
By some unteened miss, who is lurking near.
The picture family is abroad to-day,
Dressed tip in every gaze-enticing way:
Here an oil-painting pleads for truthful art,
Wrought by some local genius with his heart;
He sighs to see his soul misunderstood,
And hear them call the picture pr'tty good."
Work on, poor boy, with courage that endures:
Stars have burst forth from blacker clouds than yours.
Feel with your own heart-think with your own mind,
And make the canvas speak the thoughts they find!
The eyes may not be very far away
That will, on some glad, unexpected day,
Bring other eyes within your strange control,
And lift your name along-side of your soul.
This is the town photographer's display
Who shows his showiest patrons here to-day.
He places in his pillory of frames
The faces of the town's most talked-of names:
The mayor, with his eyebrows stiffly arched,
And collar unconditionally starched,
Shows, through this careful chemical design,
His last majority, in every line.
His wife hangs in an advantageous place,
With new-discovered beauties in her face,
From the sun-artist's thrifty, cunning trade:
Photography, you are a flatt'ring jade!
Some of their subjects dangling here are found—
A settlement of faces clusters round—
A kind of kingdom, as it were, in sport:
The mayor holding photographic court.
Each one in half-fictitious splendor's dressed,
And each is doing his pictorial best.
The artist, grinning down a look of gall,
Worked for these baby-pictures most of all;
Dear, dear! how low he had to bow and scrape,
To keep his infant popinjays in shape,
And hold the sinless villain's glance in check,
To save his shadow enterprise from wreck!
To keep this little wandering Arab-eye
He made himself a miscellaneous guy;
He was this petty tyrant's vassal true,
His portrait-painter, and court-jester, too;
And, that a first-class picture might be done,
Made himself into a ridiculous one;
Said "Hooty-tooty," and that sort of thing,
And made the rattle-box insanely sing.
But, passing from these posy-sprinkled bowers
(For children's features are the facial flowers),
Come with me, where white hands have thickly strown
The horticultural house-pets they have grown.
What are but weeds beneath a southern sky,
Are here, as house-plants, rated precious-high;
As villains go to uncongenial climes,
But, being less known, have better social times.
(So our old Mullein, here of deference scant,
Struts round in England as "The Velvet Plant;"
And "Cactus"—Thistle when in south-land met—
Is here a prickly flower, to keep and pet.)
But woman's wand-like nature can, indeed,
Make beauty spring from e'en a common weed;
How much more, when, around some flower-gem rare
She throws the setting of her tender care!
Sweet window-gardeners! with dainty arts
Tracing the floral language of your hearts,
Making The Home, with these gay-liveried slaves,
A bloom-fed island 'mid the winter-waves;
In which the frost-bit caller can commune
With bright hours stolen from some day in June.
'Tis your sweet, cultured taste that bids us call
This niche of labor's temple "Floral Hall."


The people stood about on every side,
And keenly these familiar wonders eyed,
Each minute seeking some new ocular prize;
But, as they gazed about, their greedy eyes
On nothing queerer than mankind could fall,
And so they watched each other most of all.
There was the thrifty farmer: quickly he
Had seen about all that he wished to see,
And knew, while up and down condemned to roam,
How much more he should feel at home, at home.
The farmer's wife, with smiles of rural grace
O'erflowing from her soul into her face,
Screamed loud as each acquaintance hove in view,
And gave the cordial cry, "How dew you dew?"
The farmer's boy bore vigor in his tread,
And in his hands a block of gingerbread;
The farmer's girl was, somewhat prone to flirt,
Watched by her mother, lest she come to hurt;
Whose words had full as much effect as when,
Around some pond, an anxious-eyed old hen
To draw away her gosling-children strives,
And take them from their life, to save their lives.
The doctors, lawyers, merchants, and that kind,
Looked round, their old-time customers to find,
Or shun—and smiling 'mid the verbal din,
Dilated on their country origin.
A writer for the Agricultural Press,
Who farmed (on foolscap) with complete success,
Who raised great crops of produce in a wink,
And tilled large farms with paper, pen, and ink—
Who, sitting in-door, at a regular price,
Gave large amounts of good out-door advice,
And, as his contribution to the Fair,
Had brought himself and an oration there—
Arose, in somewhat over-conscious strength,
And gave his views at any amount of length.
As when the sun at morning upward crowds
His kingly path through thickly gathered clouds,
Sometimes, behold! these vapor-birds have flown,
Driven by his rays, and left him there alone,
So from this luminary, fancy-fired,
The saddened audience gradually retired;
Though still stayed where they were when he began,
Three children, and a very deaf old man.
And even these showed signs of weakening,
When the sad poet rose, and with a fling
Of paper that a ragman might rejoice,
Remarked, in timidly defiant voice:
"Spirits of earth-dead agriculturists!
If the ghost ear to rhythmic nonsense lists
(And if I have a hearing, that must be,
For I'm not jostled by mortality)—
Spirits, if you should deem attention due
To one who soon must starve his way to you
(A process that this rich world, by-the-way,
Is aiding quietly, from day to day,
Seeming to think the poet's proper place
Is 'mongst his own—ahem!—angelic race),
Oh list to me, said spirits, here declare
My contribution to the County Fair
To be a drop of rhythm from off my pen,
Which I denominate


dot Who are the laboring men?
dot We are the laboring men:
We, the muscle of tribes and lands,
With sun-trod faces and horn-gloved hands;
With well patched garments, stained and coarse—
With untrained voices, heavy and hoarse;
Who brave the death of the noontide heats—
Who mow the meadows and pave the streets;
Who push the plow by the smooth faced sod,
Or climb the crags with a well filled hod.
dot Yes—we are the laboring men—
dot The genuine laboring men!
And each, somewhere in the stormy sky,
Has a sweet love-star, be it low or high;
For pride have we to do and dare,
And a heart have we—to cherish and care;
And power have we: for lose our brawn,
And where were your flourishing cities gone?
Or bind our hands or fetter our feet,
And what would the gaunt world find to eat?
dot Ay, where were your gentry then?
dot For we are the laboring men!
dot Who are the laboring men?
dot We are the laboring men:
We who stand in the ranks of trade,
And count the tallies that toil has made;
Who guard the coffers of wealth untold,
And ford the streams of glistening gold;
Who send the train in its breathless trips,
And rear the buildings, and sail the ships
And though our coats be a trifle fine,
And though our diamonds flash and shine,
dot Yes—we are the laboring men—
dot The genuine laboring men!
We bolt the gates of the angry seas;
We keep the nation's granary keys;
The routes of trade we have built and planned
Are veins of life to a hungry land.
And power have we in our peaceful strife,
For a nation's trade is a nation's life;
And take the sails of our commerce in,
Where were your "artisans' pails of tin?
dot Ay, where were your "laborers" then?
dot For we are the laboring men!

dot Who are the laboring men?
dot We are the laboring men:
We of the iron and water-way,
Whom fire and steam, and tide obey;
Who stab the sea with a prow of oak—
Who blot the sky with a cloud of smoke;
Who bend the breezes unto our wills,
And feed the looms and hurry the mills;
Who oft have the lives of a thousand known,
In the hissing valves that hold our own!
dot Yes, we are the laboring men
dot The genuine laboring men!
And though a coat may a button lack,
And though a face be sooty and black,
And though the words be heavy of flow,
And new-called thoughts come tardy and slow,
And though rough words in a speech may blend,
A heart's a heart, and a friend's a friend!
And power have we: but for our skill,
The wave would drown, and the sea would kill;
dot And where were your gentry then?
dot Ay, we are the laboring men!

dot Who are the laboring men?
dot We are the laboring men:
We of the mental toil and strain,
Who stall the body and lash the brain;
Who wield our pen when the world's asleep,
And plead with mortals to laugh or weep;
Who bind the wound and plead the cause,
Who preach the sermons and make the laws;
Who man the stage for the listening throng,
And fight the devils of Shame and Wrong.
dot Yes, we are the laboring men—
dot The genuine laboring men!
And though our hands be small and white,
And though our flesh be tender and light,
And though our muscle be soft and low,
Our red-blood-sluices are swift of flow!
We've power to kindle Passion's fire
With the flame of rage and fell desire;
Or quell, with soothing words and arts,
To throbs of grief, the leaping hearts.
dot And who shall question, then,
dot That we are the laboring men?

dot Who are NOT the laboring men?
dot They're not the laboring men:
They who creep in dens and lanes,
To rob their betters of honest gains;
The rich that stoop to devour the poor;
The tramps that beg from door to door;
The rogues who love a darkened sky,
And steal and rob, and cheat and lie;
The loafing wights and senseless bloats
Who drain their pockets to wet their throats!
dot They're not the laboring men—
dot The genuine laboring men!
And all true hearts that the price would give
For honest joy and a right to live,
And every soul to truth alive,
Willing to thrive and let others thrive,
Should rise with a true and steady hand,
And mark these foes with a villain-brand;
And shame them into the ranks of toil,
Or crush them under their kindred soil,
dot Away from the laboring men—
dot The genuine laboring men!


Before the reading of this rhyme had ceased,
A crowd near by that gradually increased,
Had gathered round a tramp, old, bent, and gray,
Who somehow through the gates had made his way.
For human pity rather than for pelf:
This clanless gypsy, wandering by himself.
No face and brow more wrinkles could have worn;
His clothes were most spectacularly torn;
But something in his general effect
Drew from the throng a rough, unkempt respect;
For crushed old age, in heart-enlightened lands,
Carries a pathos with it that commands.
He had been talking to the one most near:
Those standing by were not averse to hear,
And soon about him formed a massive ring;
His audience swelled like valley-streams in spring.
Crowds gather crowds by wondrous swift degrees;
One comes to see what 'tis another sees.
For curiosity has ever shown
A greedy-grasping avarice of its own,
And few there are in this world, high or low,
Who do not like to know what others know.
He, with no oratorical display,
Spoke to the farmers in their own rough way,
And they looked at him as some prophet cast
Out of the dusty cobwebs of the past,
With nineteenth century rags about him hung,
And current lack of grammar on his tongue.
He was a prophet; for he clear could see
The past—dead father of what is to be;
He who what has been faithfully can tell,
May prophesy the future pretty well.
With half defiant and half modest air,
His sad eyes flashing, and his silver hair
Tinged by the sun's last rays of autumn-gold—
This is the story that the old man told:


If experience has gold in it (as discerning folks agree),
Then there's quite a little fortune stowed away somewhere in me,
And I deal it out regardless of a regular stated price,
In rough-done-up prize packages of common-sense advice;
The people they can take it, or run round it, as they please;
But the best thing they'll find in it is some words like unto these:

Worm or beetle—drought or tempest—on a farmer's land may fall;
But for first-class ruination, trust a mortgage 'gainst them all.

On my weddin'-day my father touched me kindly on the arm,
And handed me the papers for an eighty acre farm,
With the stock an' tools an' buildin's for an independent start;
Saying "Here's a wedding present from my muscle and my heart;
And, except the admonitions you have taken from my tongue,
And, the reasonable lickin's that you had when you was young,
And your food and clothes and schoolin'(not so much as I could wish,
For I had a number eatin' from a some'at scanty dish),
And the honest love you captured when you first sat on my knee,
This is all I have to give you—so expect no more from me."

People'd said I couldn't marry the sweet girl I tried to court,
Till we smilingly submitted a minority report;
Then they laid their theories over, with a quickness queer to see,
And said they knew we'd marry, but we never could agree;
But we did not frame and hang up all the neighbors had to say,
But ran our little heaven in our own peculiar way;
We started off quite jolly, wondrous full of health and cheer,
And a general understanding that the road was pretty clear.

So we lived and toiled and prospered; and the little family party
That came on from heaven to visit us were bright, and hale, and hearty;
And to-day we might ha' been there, had I only just have known
How to lay my road down solid, and let well enough alone.
But I soon commenced a-kicking in the traces, I confess;
There was too much land that joined me that I didn't yet possess.
When once he gets land-hungry, strange how ravenous one can be!
'Twasn't long before I wanted all the ground that I could see.
So I bought another eighty (not foreboding any harm),
And for that and some down-money put a mortgage on my farm.
Then I bought another forty—hired some cash to fix up new—
And to buy a covered carriage, and of course the mortgage grew.
Now my wife was square against this, 'tis but right that you should know
(Though I'm very far from saying that I think it's always so);
But she went in hearty with me, working hard from day to day.
For we knew that life was business, now we had that debt to pay.
We worked through spring and winter—through summer and through fall—
But that mortgage worked the hardest and the steadiest of us all;
It worked on nights and Sundays—it worked each holiday—
It settled down among us, and it never went away.
Whatever we kept from it seemed a'most as bad as theft;
It watched us every minute, and it ruled us right and left.
The rust and blight were with us sometimes, and sometimes not;
The dark-browed, scowling mortgage was forever on the spot.
The weevil and the cut-worm, they went as well as came;
The mortgage staid forever, eating hearty all the same.
It nailed up every window—stood guard at every door—
And happiness and sunshine made their home with us no more.
Till with failing crops and sickness we got stalled upon the grade,
And there came a dark day on us when the interest wasn't paid;
And there came a sharp foreclosure, and I kind o' lost my hold,
And grew weary and discouraged, and the farm was cheaply sold.
The children left and scattered when they hardly yet were grown;
My wife she pined an' perished, an' I found myself alone.
What she died of was "a mystery," an' the doctors never knew;
But I knew she died of mortgage—just as well 's I wanted to.
If to trace a hidden sorrow were within the doctors' art.
They'd ha' found a mortgage lying on that woman's broken heart.

Two different kinds of people the devil most assails:
One is the man who conquers—the other he who fails.
But still I think the last kind are soonest to give up,
And to hide their sorry faces behind the shameful cup;
Like some old king or other, whose name I've somehow lost,
They straightway tear their eyes out, just when they need 'em most.
When once I had discovered that the debt I could not pay,
I tried to liquidate it in a rather common way:
I used to meet in private a fellow-financier,
And we would drink ourselves worth ten thousand dollars clear;
As easy a way to prosper as ever has been found;
But one's a heap sight poorer when he gets back to the ground.

Of course I ought to ha' braced up, an' worked on all the same;
I ain't a-tryin' to shirk out, or cover up from blame;
But still I think men often, it safely may be said,
Are driven to temptations in place of being led;
And if that tyrant mortgage hadn't cracked its whip at me,
I shouldn't have constituted the ruin that you see.
For though I've never stolen or defaulted, please to know,
Yet, socially considered, I am pretty middlin' low.

I am helpless an' forsaken—I am childless an' alone;
I haven't a single dollar that it's fair to call my own;
My old age knows no comfort, my heart is scant o' cheer.
The children they run from me as soon as I come near.
The women shrink and tremble—their alms are fear-bestowed—
The dogs howl curses at me, and hunt me down the road.
The Dogs Howl Curses At Me, And Hung Me Down The Road

My home is where night finds me; my friends are few and cold;
Oh, little is there in this world for one who's poor and old!
But I'm wealthy in experience, all put up in good advice,
To take or not to take it—with no difference in the price;
You may have it, an' thrive on it, or run round it, as you please,
But I generally give it wrapped in some such words as these:

Worm or beetle—drought or tempest—on a farmer's land may fall;
But for first-class ruination, trust a mortgage 'gainst them all.

Contact the Michigan Historical Museum.

Updated 08/05/2010

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