This poem tells a story of two maids who meet up later in life, one who was “virtuous” and one who was “ruined” by apparently running off to town with a man. The irony is that the “virtuous” maid remained poor and had to work all her life, hardening her face and making her skin rough, while the “ruined” maid became well taken care of, living in luxury and remaining beautiful. It is also interesting as a social criticism of Victorian values that were restrictive of women and left them with little opportunity.
The Ruined Maid (1866)
“O ‘Melia, my dear, this does everything crown!
Who could have supposed I should meet you in Town?
And whence such fair garments, such prosperi-ty?” –
“O didn’t you know I’d been ruined?” said she.
– “You left us in tatters, without shoes or socks,
Tired of digging potatoes, and spudding up docks;
And now you’ve gay bracelets and bright feathers three!” –
“Yes: that’s how we dress when we’re ruined,” said she.
– “At home in the barton you said ‘thee’ and ‘thou,’
And ‘thik oon,’ and ‘theas oon,’ and ‘t’other’; but now
Your talking quite fits ‘ee for high compa-ny!” –
“Some polish is gained with one’s ruin,” said she.
– “Your hands were like paws then, your face blue and bleak,
But now I’m bewitched by your delicate cheek,
And your little gloves fit as on any la-dy!” –
“We never do work when we’re ruined,” said she.
– “You used to call home-life a hag-ridden dream,
And you’d sigh, and you’d sock; but at present you seem
To know not of megrims or melancho-ly!” –
“True. There’s an advantage in ruin,” said she.
– “I wish I had feathers, a fine sweeping gown,
And a delicate face, and could strut about Town!” –
“My dear–a raw country girl, such as you be,
Isn’t equal to that. You ain’t ruined,” said she.