Poem introduction

These new recordings have been commissioned by Pendle Radicals, in partnership with the Finding Ethel project, and made possible by the National Lottery Heritage Fund. Pendle Radicals is a part of the Pendle Hill Landscape Partnership.

Who Are The Great

      Who are the truly great? 

Are they the gifted ones 

Who leave recorded on the scroll of fame 

The letters of an almost worshipped name? 

The sculptor, who cuts from the solid square 

Of marble white a figure that is fair; 

The painter, who makes the rough canvas gleam 

With heather-mantled hill and crystal stream; 

And the composer who compiles such notes 

As on the ear like seraph music floats - 

     Are these the truly great? 


     Who are the truly great? 

Are they the warriors brave 

Who lay siege to great cities and fair towns, 

Who stain with human blood the grassy downs, 

Who crush down pity as they boldly fight 

To add a city to an Empire’s might; 

Who, when the wreath of smoke has rolled away, 

Look upon heaps of bleeding brother-clay, 

Then plunge with fury once more at the foe, 

To victory or death, with a wild glow – 

     Are these the truly great? 


     Who are the truly great? 

I saw upon a street 

The other – a great hulking rascal – fought 

A smaller lad, when, quick as thought, 

Another boy stepped in and laid him low, 

Saying, “Yer oughter fight yer size, yer know.” 

The rags upon him clothed a hero grand! 

He had no cultured language at command – 

     But he was truly great. 


     They are the truly great 

Who oppose might with right; 

Though two miles from the threshold of their home 

Their name is never heard; though all unknown 

Save to their kindred and a few dear friends, 

Their life proceeds unto its journey ends; 

Though back into the sea of time they pass, 

Leaving no flower or ruffle on its glass, 

Like the poor herb that sways upon the wind, 

Unnoticed by the masses of mankind, 

     They are the truly great. 

from Rhymes from the Factory (Blackburn: R Denham and Co, 1907), © Ethel Carnie Holdsworth 1907, used by permission of the copyright holder Helen Brown.

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Books by Ethel Carnie Holdsworth