Labor’s Greeting

Original Text: 
Carole Gerson, ed., "Marie Joussaye's "Labor's Greeting" (1901)." Canadian Poetry 53 (Fall/Winter 2003): 86-95.
To His Royal Highness, the Duke of Cornwall and York.
Canada, 1901
2But first in an nation of free men, our King is greater than all.
3This is the word of our message to the heir of the British throne,
4A greeting from loyal hearts and true in the Land of the Northern Zone.
5When the Queen of the North stands ready to welcome her future King,
6Make room in the ranks for Labor, let Toil her tribute bring.
7We know that only the statesman, the soldier, the scribe, the priest,
8The high and rich and mighty may sit at the Royal feast,
9But we claim this right for Labor, the right to grasp your hand,
10To look in your eyes and speak to you as man should speak to man.
11The right to tell of the struggle in the Land of the Northern Zone,
12Where honest Labor is ground in the dust, and Greed usurps the Throne.
14A charter was signed by a British King that made us free indeed;
15Crumbled to dust is the Royal hand that signed the great decree,
16Yet our Kings maintain unto this day that Britons shall be free;
17And we say to those who might make us slaves by the might of their gleaming gold,
18That the freedom given by God and King shall never be bought or sold.
19Long have we bowed 'neath the terrible yoke of Greed, Oppression, and Wrong,
21And sometimes we wondered if God was dead, or if He had refused to hear
22The prayers of the People; but God has heard and the hour is drawing near
23When Greed and Labor shall strive no more, for Greed shall be overthrown,
24And the Scales of Justice shall balance at last, and Labor shall have her own.
25It is barely a score of years ago in the history of our land,
27And cities sprang up like magic in the wake of the rushing train,
28And the master reaped the yellow gold as the husbandman the grain,
29Until, sated at last, he stepped aside to bask in the Royal grace
32Ever within our loyal hearts we will keep her memory green.
33God's eye alone is swift to see the blood on Mammon's hand,
34And our Queen was only human, she did not understand.
35She never knew of those free-born men slaving their lives away,
37The years went by and the deed of shame was enacted once again,
38Years of hopeless and grinding toil to thousands of working men:
39Thousands of paupers throughout the land but the world had no need to care
40So long as Mammon could point with pride to one more millionaire,
41Until, at last, it came his turn to bask in the Royal grace,
43Once more the shameful story as told in former years;
44But the toilers had grown weary of hunger, sweat, and tears.
45So they waited on the masters and told them in manly way
46They could not live on the paltry sum of ninety cents a day.
47And the masters ceased a moment from counting their golden store,
48Pondered awhile, and then agreed to give them ten cents more.
49"Little is better than nothing," 'tis a bitter truth, we have learned:
50For a time they bend to the yoke again, but their hearts within them burned
51As they thought of their little children, half clothed, half taught, half fed;
52Strong men toiling from morn till night, and their loved ones lacking bread;
53And they asked once more for a living wage, and another boon they craved:
54To be treated as British subjects and not as men enslaved.
55It was little enough to ask for, but it roused the masters' wrath,
56And they sought to sweep the Unions forever from their path.
57The laws of the King and People they calmly set aside
58And flooded alien labor through the country like a tide.
59They filled the land with refuse, the scum of all the earth,
60And paid them more than they refused to men of British birth.
61We swear we kept our good King's laws through all that bitter strife,
62When Labor grappled with her foes and struggled for her life;
63And Labor's strong arm conquered, and they tell us it is best,
65Yet one more truth stands out plain and clear when all is done and said--
66The masters fought for millions, and the strikers fought for bread.
67They hold the country by the throat, men tremble at their nod;
68The King's laws have been set aside, even as the laws of God;
69They have trampled on your father's laws, broken them one by one,
70And now they stand, with outstretched hand, to greet your father's son.
73Prince! We have told our story, do you wonder that we frown,
74To see our King do honor to the hand that holds us down?
75You will eat the bread and drink the wine bought with his ill-got gold,
77We read the future by the past; he will bask in the Royal grace,
78Living at ease, while we starve, and slave for the other in his place.
79Have we no heroes, no statesmen, no genius in all the land,
80That only the sons of Mammon shall sit at the King's right hand?
81Since we have sworn to give our lives to save the King and Crown,
82Why should the King heap favors in the hands that hold us down?
83Yet the favor of kings can not prevail against Labor's righteous ban
84Whom the King delights to honor, we will honor--if we can.
85Not that we grudge him his title; for such things we do not care.
87Some souls are noble, some are mean, as Nature hath decreed;
88If King and sword can mend her work, we wish the task God-speed.
89Yet an empty title bestowed by man must count as a trifling thing
90In the eyes of a free-born nation, where every man is a king.
91Prince! we are only the working-class, our ways and speech are plain.
92But the toil-marked hand we offer you is free from crimson stain.
93On the honest hand of Labor no Royal eye need frown;
94It has built up thrones and empires when Greed has pulled them down,
95And Labor's love and loyalty are offered with her hand,
96You will find no truer hearts than ours in all this goodly land.
98May Heaven's choicest blessings go with you all thro' life!
99And when you reach old England's shore a boon we ask of thee,
100Will you tell the King, your father, that his people o'er the sea
101Are proud to own as Sovereign an honest, upright man,
102And will serve the good King Edward with willing heart and hand!
103Prince, will you swear an oath with us, pledging both heart and hand,
104Standing erect with level glance, as man should speak to man?
105As you to your people are true and just, as you to your oath are true:
106True to our heritage and your trust, so we will be true to you.
107But another oath we have sworn to keep in the Land of the Northern Zone--
108Mammon shall rule no more in the land, and Labor shall have her own.
Written in behalf of the Wage-Earners, by MARIE JOUSSAYE


1] On the occasion of the visit to Canada of Prince George Frederick Ernest Albert, Duke of Cornwall and York--the future George V of Great Britain--and his wife and eventual queen-consort Mary of Teck. Back to Line
13] Magna Carta (1215), the first major concession by an English monarch, King John, on the limits of royal power: "No free man shall be seized or imprisoned, or stripped of his rights or possessions, or outlawed or exiled nor will we proceed with force against him except by the lawful judgement of his equals or by the law of the land. To no one will we sell, to no one deny or delay right or justice." Back to Line
20] Adopted from Psalm 13.1-2 of the Bible: "How long wilt thou forget me, O Lord? for ever? how long wilt thou hide thy face from me?
How long shall I take counsel in my soul, having sorrow in my heart daily? how long shall mine enemy be exalted over me?" Back to Line
26] The last spike of the Canadian Pacific Railway (1881-), whose 14,000-mile network extends today from the port of Vancouver to the port of Montreal, was driven at Craigellachie, B.C., on November 7, 1885. Back to Line
30] William Van Horne succeeded George Stephen as President of the CPR, and Stephen was made a Baron when he returned to England. Back to Line
31] Queen Victoria (1819-1901). Back to Line
36] Hourly wages for nine representative industries in the United States, 1901, varied from 17 cents (services) to 50 cents (finance), according to Michael L. Dolfman and Denis M. McSweeney, 100 Years of U.S. Consumer Spending: Data for the Nation, New York City, and Boston, Report 991 (Bureau of Labor Statistics, United States Department of Labor, 2006). Back to Line
42] Thomas George Shaughnessy replaced William Van Horne, previously knighted, as CPR President in 1899. Back to Line
64] Carole Gerson explains that CPR track maintenance workers went on strike June 17 to August 21, 1901, to obtain a collective agreement. They won a resolution of their dispute when a board of conciliation was set up. Back to Line
71] Sir Gilbert John Murray Kynynmond Elliot, 4th Earl of Minto, and Governor-General 1898-1904, who accompanied the royal couple to western Canada and the Klondike. Back to Line
72] Carole Gerson associates this line with the earl of Minto's affair with a young Ottawa débutante, Lola Powell, as discussed by Sandra Gwyn in The Private Capital: Ambition and Love in the Age of Macdonald and Laurier (Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1984). Back to Line
76] Carole Gerson notes that Thomas George Shaughnessy, the third CPR President, was knighted at Minto's instance in 1901. Back to Line
86] The Knights of Labor (1869-1949), a powerful trade union in the 1880s, established in Philadelphia. Back to Line
97] Mary of Teck, wife of George, future queen consort, and mother of Edward VI. Back to Line
Publication Start Year: 
Publication Notes: 
Marie Joussaye, "Labor’s Greeting," Vancouver Daily News Advertiser (1 October 1901); and Halifax Chronicle (21 October 1901).
RPO poem Editors: 
Ian Lancashire
RPO Edition: