Proverbial Thursday – Silesian Weavers

I find there to be profound wisdom in proverbs, sayings and quotes and I marvel at the way they are so succinct in communicating messages to the reader. Mostly anonymous, they come to us from past generations and from across cultures. They speak of the experiences of lives lived and lessons learned. Quotes, like proverbs, make us think more deeply about something.

A bad worker blames his tools – Australian Proverb

silesisan weavers woodcut
Wood engraving, c. 1850.

The year 1844 saw the famous “Weaver’s Revolt,” an event that led to the revolution of 1848/49. The revolt of the Silesian weavers, a response to the injustices of the low paying putting-out system, was violently suppressed by the Prussian military, and the situation of the weavers remained unchanged. Heinrich Heine (1795 – 1856), a famous Prussian poet wrote the poem, reproduced below, titled, “The Silesian Weavers. ” Proving to be his most famous work, it is highlighted, along with his portentous quote/s, this week on Proverbial Thursday, due in part because of the proximity of May day celebrations:

Heinrich Heine:

“Wherever they burn books they will also, in the end, burn human beings”. 

and this:

“We should forgive our enemies, but not before they are hanged”.


“The weavers worked for incredibly low wages, and as the industrial revolution gathered pace were gradually made unemployed in ever-increasing numbers. Their landlords also took most of their wages, to the point where they were effectively being treated as slave labor. As a result they rebelled against the state in 1844. The uprising was crushed but marked one of the first times that organized workers really attempted to improve their lot in life by working together. As a result, it still has a huge symbolic significance amongst socialist movements worldwide. The weavers inspired Heine to write the following poem which tells how the workers were  exploited and oppressed by the rich. Heine suggests that a day of reckoning can not be long postponed, and that sooner or later the rich will be forced to make amends. ”

The Silesian Weavers (1844)


In light-less eyes there are not tears.
They sit at the loom and gnash the gears.
Germany, we weave the cloth of the dead
Threefold be the curse we weave ’round your head
We’re weaving, we’re weaving.

A curse to the god to whom we knelt.
Through the winter’s cold, such hunger felt.
In the past we hoped, we waited, we cried
You’ve mocked us and poxed us and cast us aside
We’re weaving, we’re weaving.


A curse on the king of the empire,
Who would not quell our misery’s fire.
He took every penny we had to give
Then shot us like dogs with no right to live
We’re weaving, we’re weaving.

A curse on the cold, ruthless fatherland,
Where outrage and shame fester by your hand,
Where blossoms are trampled under your boot,
Where rot and decay are allowed to take root.
We’re weaving, we’re weaving.

The shuttle is flying, the weaving looms roar.
Day and night we weave with you at our door.
Old Germany, we weave the cloth of the dead.
Threefold be the curse we weave ’round your head.
We’re weaving, we’re weaving.


In the poem monarchy, religion and nationalism are dismissed as being of little comfort when your family is starving and your rights are crushed underfoot. Heine was familiar with Karl Marx and it was Marx’s colleague and friend, Friedrich Engels, who first translated the poem into English.

As a result of this poem, and the riots resulting in revolution, the king of Prussia was forced to allow his people a constitution. This theme was also treated in a naturalistic play called “Die Weber” by Gerhart Hauptman, inspired by the accounts of Wilhelm Wolff. When first preformed in 1983 in Berlin, the German authority banned it.


What do you make of Heine’s quote?

Have we really learned any lessons from the worker’s sacrifice? Is the clock winding back?

trickle down

Something to Ponder About this upcoming May Day


10 thoughts on “Proverbial Thursday – Silesian Weavers”

  1. A great post. How it must have been so grim working on those looms. One can still see similar scenes in Indonesia where young girls sit on weaving (Ikat) looms all day and still end up hungry. The tourists go home and gloat over the fact they bought beautiful works of silk, intricately woven wall hangings, and all for ‘a bargain.’ Fortunately, they are now also forming cooperatives where they are trying to improve wages and conditions.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I am glad to hear that prosects look better for the Indonesian girls, Gerard. I felt so conflicted some years back when I went into a tailor in a reputable shop in Thailand to order some clothes made and when I returned to have a final fitting and adjustment a child ran out and did all tge measuring and adjustment. I was shocked that I was inadvertently suporting child sweatshop labour! I really hope more tourists become aware of this and support the co operatives. Thanks for your comment.


  2. Have we really learnt our lesson. I think not.This story makes us feel uncomfortable which is probably why the German authorities banned that play. Repression of the lowest of low workers will never last long. Eventually dissent will lead to situations where unscrupulous leaders will rise and try to take over the land. We saw how that lead to WWI without going into too much detail.
    And yes, we have these situations still, in the 21st century. There are many sweatshops in the third world countries being exploited by the big fashion houses of the world. I now look at where the clothing is made before I think about buying anything. When I see Bangledash on the label I think of the sweatshops and people literally dying for very little pay.
    This was interesting.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you Raewyn, and I value your comment because I absolutely agree with what you said. For the most part, I shop ethically, I check labels and boycott certain products, but should I be more dogmatic about it? Probably yes. Because as long as there is a demand, for cheap clothing/items, people will be exploited in the Third World. Particularly H& M, and Nike have received bad publicity for exploitation of labor, yet it still continues. See also my comment above to Gerard. This countries have a right to development but why not ethically and environmentally conscious development? I wonder if it is because the greedy rich ‘corporates’ of the world are the ones who are focused on short term gain as opposed to long term benefits, and who will initially outlay the financial risk to set up industry in primarily agrarian based economies/areas? Or is it because others value and respect their way of life more and look elsewhere to establish industry. Australia used to have so many companies here, and almost all are now based in Asia, or the Third world areas. Their economies might need foreign investment but it could be far better if they would be more ‘moral and respectful’ in their practices. This should be fundamental “best practice”. Thanks for the link to the ethical fashion guide…. sounds like a good topic for another post. You and I should consult on that one!!


  3. Tak Amanda, jeg har lært så meget her. Lige hvad angår talemåder, så kan jeg godt være lidt bange for dem, fordi de desværre også godt kan bruges fremfor at give et præcist svar. For eksempel: “Der går ikke røg af en brand uden der har været ild i den” – nej, der går nogen gange røg af en brand uden der har været ild i den.


  4. Thought-provoking post, with interesting history and cultural history! So long ago, yet the greedy side of human nature does not learn the lesson. At least on a personal level, I like to make the effort to avoid the “big labels with the bad conscience”.
    I admire all the folk art you do!! “Peasant art” by definition encompasses the artistic drive of ordinary people for their own pleasure and beautification of their surroundings – a very healthy activity for mind and spirit.


    1. Thanks so much for your comment and a very big welcome to my blog, Hildegard! It is a shame that many more shoppers don’t use their purchasing power to pressure the large companies that exploit the disadvantaged people to change their business practices. They seemingly have no problems with child labour and working conditions that approximate slavery.
      Thank you also for your excellent description of peasant art. My jouney with folk art has proved to be so enriching in my life, and has brought with it many friends and experiences throughout the world and personally much joy! I shall go and check out your blog now.

      Liked by 1 person

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