Louisa Lawson’s ‘The Hour is Come‘ details the suffering of an unnamed woman, principally told through a series of questions about her state of health, her legacy, and her motivations. The poem is a simple but powerful exploration of the treatment of women, especially those that resist the lives that had been laid out for them without their consent.
The Hour is Come Louisa Lawson How did she fight? She fought well. How did she light? Ah, she fell. Why did she fall? God, who knows all, Only can tell. Those she was fighting for — they Surely would go to her? Nay! What of her pain! Their's is the gain. Ever the way. Will they not help her to rise If there is death in her eyes? Can you not see? She made them free. What if she dies ? Can we not help her? Oh, no! In her good fight it is so That all who work never must shirk Suff'ring and woe. But she'll not ever lie down – On her head, in the dust, is a crown Jewelled and bright, under whose light She'll rise alone.
‘The Hour is Come‘ is a celebration of the strength of one woman who was able to stand and fight for her beliefs even when others did not support her.
The poem begins with the first of many questions about the life and tribulations of the unnamed woman, who appears to have been in some kind of battle, either literal or metaphorical. As the stanzas continue, there are fleeting details revealed about the woman who appears to be some kind of savior but has been rejected by those she helped. Ultimately, the woman is not offered help and the poem concludes with the claim that she will have to stand alone, as one suspects she always did.
Louisa Lawson was born in New South Wales in 1848 and went on to become a pivotal figure in the campaign for female suffrage in the area. In fact, when suffrage was granted to women in 1902, she was referred to as the “Mother of Suffrage in New South Wales” when she was introduced to members of Parliament. ‘The Hour is Come‘ is taken from Lawson’s 1905 collection, The Lonely Crossing and Other Poems which was the only collection published before her eventual death in 1920.
How did she fight? She fought well.
How did she light? Ah, she fell.
Why did she fall? God, who knows all,
Only can tell.
The poem establishes a pattern of asking and answering questions from the opening line, although it is not clear whether they are always asked of or by the same people. They all appear to be concerned by the plight of a single woman, who has been in some kind of conflict. The pattern mirrors the interrogatory manner women are often treated by members of the public and media when they challenge conventions.
The use of anaphora creates an overwhelming effect to represent the many obstacles the woman, and Lawson, had to overcome in order to achieve their goals. In Lawson’s case, this was female suffrage and that context can certainly be applied to the unnamed woman in the poem too. The notion that only God can explain the woman’s collapse is hyperbolic and displays the willingness of those in power, particularly men, to avoid taking responsibility for the plight of women by suggesting it is beyond their power to intervene.
Those she was fighting for — they
Surely would go to her? Nay!
What of her pain! Their’s is the gain.
Ever the way.
The second stanza begins by vaguely identifying a group that the woman was fighting for but continues the poem’s theme of ambiguity by referring to them only as “those.” This ambiguity might suggest that the context was simply obvious to the speakers, implying the woman was well known or it might be intended to be derogatory. Both these readings strengthen the connection between the unnamed woman and the author’s own battle for women’s rights.
The speakers then juxtapose the woman’s suffering with the success she appears to have brought to the group she fought for. Perhaps ironically, the woman seems not to have enjoyed any of the success herself and the people she defended are unwilling to risk the successes she provided by helping her in her vulnerable state.
Will they not help her to rise
If there is death in her eyes?
Can you not see? She made them free.
What if she dies ?
The longer the poem continues, the more the ambivalence of the speakers becomes obvious. If indeed the speakers are male, it could be another critique of male authority as the speakers criticise others for not helping the woman while doing nothing to help her themselves. The metaphor in the second line helps emphasize the severity of the woman’s plight, thereby ensuring the idle observers are even more culpable. The third line features a hyperbolic claim which reinforces the connection with the author’s fight for suffrage as the right to vote is regarded as an integral part of freedom in many democratic nations.
Can we not help her? Oh, no!
In her good fight it is so
That all who work never must shirk
Suff’ring and woe.
The first line of stanza four is the first time either of the figures ponders whether or not they can help, which reminds the reader of their cruelty and their willingness to pass judgment without helping those in need. The use of the exclamative “no!” immediately reinforces this cruelty. They go on to suggest that work and suffering are forever entwined and that one cannot exist without the other. This pessimistic view shows their narrow-mindedness. Finally, the use of the oxymoronic “good fight” showcases the fact that some struggles are worth going through if it means they can break negative cycles of oppression like Lawson’s did.
But she’ll not ever lie down –
On her head, in the dust, is a crown
Jewelled and bright, under whose light
She’ll rise alone.
The final stanza focuses on the woman herself and her enormous commitment to the struggle, whatever it might be. This is demonstrated through the use of hyperbole in the first line, which suggests that, even if she might physically have fallen, her ideals will never waver. The metaphorical crown in the second line clearly associates her struggle with that of Christ as they were both let down and betrayed by those they sought to defend and whose rights they wished to uphold.
This biblical connection is strengthened by the reference to light as it suggests God is on her side due to the positive connotations of light in the Bible. Finally, the ambiguous final line conflates her rising from the ground with the resurrection of Jesus Christ and suggests her ideas and principles will live on in perpetuity like his.
The poem is written in quatrains with an AABA rhyme scheme. The poem also features lots of internal rhymes, the effect of which is to create a sense of being overwhelmed. These feelings could have been intended to represent the overwhelming odds that were stacked against the woman, Lawson, and many others when they set out to fight for their rights.
The title is ambiguous, like much of the poem, as it is not clear what is about to take place, only that something is. The title, therefore, imbues the poem with a sense of urgency as, whatever change is about to unfold, it is imminent. Finally, the slightly archaic formulation harks back to scripture, thereby elevating the woman’s struggle with that of Christ.
The message is that people should not abandon those who stand up for them, even if defending that person or their ideas puts everything they have gained at risk. It also functions as a critique of male authority and judgment, especially when they feel that they have an innate right to that authority.
In spite of her excellent and respected poetry, Lawson is perhaps best known for her work in the fight for female suffrage. She edited Australia’s first female-run journal, The Dawn for seventeen years and was the mother of celebrated poet and author Henry Lawson
Readers who enjoyed ‘The Hour is Come‘ might want to explore similar poetry. For example:
- ‘The Road‘ by Nancy Fotheringham Cato – A fellow Australian poet who describes a thrilling, high-speed journey while contemplating life.
- ‘The Rights of Women‘ by Anna Lætitia Barbauld – A proto-feminist poem that explores the power of women who do not conform.
- ‘Legacy‘ by Rupi Kaur – A poem that recalls the struggles of a feminine past.