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Lay for the Day
11th March

1811: stocking-makers in Nottingham destroy 63 of the frames on which a new method of manufacture is based. Traditionally, stockings were knitted to shape, but factory owners had simplified the process so that the material was knitted straight, then cut out and seamed together. This cheaper, inferior hose undercut the traditional craftspeople, forcing them out of their independent livelihoods and into the factories.
One Ned Ludlam, an apprentice in Leicester, broke a frame in a fit of temper and, it seems, gave his name to a movement. The protesters signed their letters and proclamations “Ned Ludd” or “King Ludd”. Lud was a legendary king of Britain, supposedly commemorated in the part of London called Ludgate – and perhaps in the name London itself. So the frame-breakers, or Luddites as they came to be called, may have taken the ancient king's name in remembrance of ancient British liberties.
In March 1812, the poet Byron, making his maiden speech in the House of Lords, oppposed a Bill to make frame-breaking, which was punishable by transportation, into a hanging offence. “I have been in some of the most oppressed provinces in Turkey,” he said, “but never under the most despotic of infidel governments did I behold such squalid wretchedness as I have seen since my return to the very heart of a Christian country.” Despite his eloquence, their lordships voted to hang Luddites.


Envoi

The thing is finished and the maker
stands off to look, to listen,
and likes finding it there,
likes the fact that it’s now a fact,
coming back up close to touch
and even – why not? – to sniff it again.

The parts are all orderly,
the passage from one to the next
lively and rhythmically sound;
the difficult parts, where resistance grew,
have been brought to completion,
hold their own, are perhaps the best.

The maker, though, is less than most
obtuse to the ghost it gives off,
the ideal image escaped again
during the labour of building its home;
having after a while, perhaps in the very presence
of this fact among facts, to begin afresh.

For this was a motion, originally, of spirit
that is now a thing, finished,
and the spirit is restless, resident
hopefully here but demanding already
a new home also, to suit a changing form,
a different visitant trailing familiar incense.

So this goes off to join its species,
all of them born of the one matrix,
whether language or canvas or stone
or the air-altering instruments of music,
and the maker sits down again alone,
taking up tools to redeem the loss.

So soon in satisfaction comes a sorrow
such as has been in the world since God
saw the soul of Adam leave Adam,
who made all things that are made
come apart, unlasting,
resolving in the end to reunite them.

John Gibbens
from Becoming Light
 

The Lay Reader: an archive of the poetic calendar



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