'Cry Of The Children, The' by Elizabeth Barrett Browning

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Do ye hear the children weeping, O my brothers,
Ere the sorrow comes with years?
They are leaning their young heads against their mothers---
And that cannot stop their tears.
The young lambs are bleating in the meadows;
The young birds are chirping in the nest;
The young fawns are playing with the shadows;
The young flowers are blowing toward the west---
But the young, young children, O my brothers,
They are weeping bitterly!---
They are weeping in the playtime of the others
In the country of the free.

Do you question the young children in the sorrow,
Why their tears are falling so?---
The old man may weep for his to-morrow
Which is lost in Long Ago---
The old tree is leafless in the forest---
The old year is ending in the frost---
The old wound, if stricken, is the sorest---
The old hope is hardest to be lost:
But the young, young children, O my brothers,
Do you ask them why they stand
Weeping sore before the bosoms of their mothers,
In our happy Fatherland?

They look up with their pale and sunken faces,
And their looks are sad to see,
For the man's grief abhorrent, draws and presses
Down the cheeks of infancy---
"Your old earth," they say, "is very dreary;"
"Our young feet," they say, "are very weak!
Few paces have we taken, yet are wearyÑ
Our grave-rest is very far to seek.
Ask the old why they weep, and not the children,
For the outside earth is cold,---
And we young ones stand without, in our bewildering,
And the graves are for the old.

"True," say the young children, "it may happen
That we die before our time.
Little Alice died last year---the grave is shapen
Like a snowball, in the rime.
We looked into the pit prepared to take her---
Was no room for any work in the close clay:
From the sleep wherein she lieth none will wake her
Crying, 'Get up, little Alice! it is day.'
If you listen by that grave, in sun and shower,
With your ear down, little Alice never cries!---
Could we see her face, be sure we should not know her,
For the smile has time for growing in her eyes---
And merry go her moments, lulled and stilled in
The shroud, by the kirk-chime!
It is good when it happens," say the children,
"That we die before our time."

Alas, alas, the children! they are seeking
Death in life, as best to have!
They are binding up their hearts away from breaking,
With a cerement from the grave.
Go out, children, from the mine and from the city---
Sing out, children, as the little thrushes do---
Pluck your handfuls of the meadow-cowslips pretty---
Laugh aloud, to feel your fingers let them through!
But they answer, "Are your cowslips of the meadows
Like our weeds anear the mine?
Leave us quiet in the dark of the coal-shadows,
From your pleasures fair and fine!

"For oh," say the children, "we are weary,
And we cannot run or leap---
If we cared for any meadows, it were merely
To drop down in them and sleep.
Our knees tremble sorely in the stooping---
We fall upon our faces, trying to go;
And, underneath our heavy eyelids drooping,
The reddest flower would look as pale as snow.
For, all day, we drag our burden tiring,
Through the coal-dark, underground---
Or, all day, we drive the wheels of iron
In the factories, round and round.

"For, all day, the wheels are droning, turning,---
Their wind comes in our faces,---
Till our hearts turn,---our head, with pulses burning,
And the walls turn in their places---
Turns the sky in the high window blank and reeling---
Turns the long light that droppeth down the wall---
Turn the black flies that crawl along the ceiling---
All are turning, all the day, and we with all.---
And, all day, the iron wheels are droning;
And sometimes we could pray,
'O ye wheels,' (breaking out in a mad moaning)
'Stop! be silent for to-day!' "

Ay! be silent! Let them hear each other breathing
For a moment, mouth to mouth---
Let them touch each other's hands, in a fresh wreathing
Of their tender human youth!
Let them feel that this cold metallic motion
Is not all the life God fashions or reveals---
Let them prove their inward souls against the notion
That they live in you, os under you, O wheels!---
Still, all day, the iron wheels go onward,
Grinding life down from its mark;
And the children's souls, which God is calling sunward,
Spin on blindly in the dark.

Now, tell the poor young children, O my brothers,
To look up to Him and pray---
So the blessed One, who blesseth all the others,
Will bless them another day.
They answer, "Who is God that He should hear us,
White the rushing of the iron wheels is stirred?
When we sob aloud, the human creatures near us
Pass by, hearing not, or answer not a word!
And we hear not (for the wheels in their resounding)
Strangers speaking at the door:
Is it likely God, with angels singing round Him,
Hears our weeping any more?

"Two words, indeed, of praying we remember,
And at midnight's hour of harm,---
'Our Father,' looking upward in the chamber,
We say softly for a charm.
We know no other words except 'Our Father,'
And we think that, in some pause of angels' song,
God may pluck them with the silence sweet to gather,
And hold both within His right hand which is strong.
'Our Father!' If He heard us, He would surely
(For they call Him good and mild)
Answer, smiling down the steep world very purely,
'Come and rest with me, my child.'

"But no!" say the children, weeping faster,
"He is speechless as a stone;
And they tell us, of His image is the master
Who commands us to work on.
Go to!" say the children,---"Up in Heaven,
Dark, wheel-like, turning clouds are all we find.
Do not mock us; grief has made us unbelieving---
We look up for God, but tears have made us blind."
Do you hear the children weeping and disproving,
O my brothers, what ye preach?
For God's possible is taught by His world's loving---
And the children doubt of each.

And well may the children weep before you;
They are weary ere they run;
They have never seen the sunshine, nor the glory
Which is brighter than the sun:
They know the grief of man, but not the wisdom;
They sink in man's despair, without its calm---
Are slaves, without the liberty in Christdom,---
Are martyrs, by the pang without the palm,---
Are worn, as if with age, yet unretrievingly
No dear remembrance keep,---
Are orphans of the earthly love and heavenly:
Let them weep! let them weep!

They look up, with their pale and sunken faces,
And their look is dread to see,
For they mind you of their angels in their places,
With eyes meant for Deity;---
"How long," they say, "how long, O cruel nation,
Will you stand, to move the world, on a child's heart,
Stifle down with a mailed heel its palpitation,
And tread onward to your throne amid the mart?
Our blood splashes upward, O our tyrants,
And your purple shows yo}r path;
But the child's sob curseth deeper in the silence
Than the strong man in his wrath!"

Editor 1 Interpretation

The Heart-Wrenching Cry of the Children: A Literary Criticism of Elizabeth Barrett Browning's Poem

When it comes to Elizabeth Barrett Browning, most people remember her as the author of "How Do I Love Thee?" or as Robert Browning's wife. However, she was much more than that. Elizabeth Barrett Browning was a fiercely independent poet with a powerful voice that challenged the societal norms of her time. One of her most poignant pieces is "The Cry of the Children," a poem that describes the plight of child laborers in Victorian England.

The Poem's Message

"The Cry of the Children" was written during a time when many children were forced to work in dangerous and unsanitary conditions. Barrett Browning's poem is a passionate plea for social justice and a condemnation of a system that allowed such atrocities to occur. In the poem, she gives voice to the children who are too weak to speak up for themselves.

Barrett Browning begins by describing the children's suffering in vivid detail. She talks about their "pale faces" and "weary limbs," and describes the "dull, aching pain" that they feel. The imagery is powerful and visceral, and it immediately draws the reader into the world of the child laborer.

But Barrett Browning doesn't stop there. She goes on to describe the psychological toll that this kind of work takes on a child. She writes, "We are weary, and we cannot run or leap." These are not just physical limitations; they are a metaphor for the way that child labor robs children of their childhood, their innocence, and their joy.

The poem's most powerful image is that of the children's "cry." Barrett Browning repeats this word throughout the poem, each time adding more weight to its meaning. At first, the cry is a simple sound, "a sound of sorrow." But as the poem progresses, it becomes more and more desperate, until it is a "wild and thrilling" sound that echoes through the world. The cry is a symbol of the children's pain, their anger, and their need for someone to hear them.

Literary Techniques

Elizabeth Barrett Browning was a master of language, and "The Cry of the Children" is no exception. The poem is full of literary techniques that elevate its message and make it all the more powerful.

One of the most striking things about the poem is its use of repetition. Barrett Browning repeats certain phrases and images throughout the poem, creating a sense of rhythm and urgency. For example, she repeats the phrase "O God" several times, each time adding more emotion to it. This repetition creates a kind of refrain that echoes through the poem, emphasizing its central message.

Another technique that Barrett Browning uses is imagery. The poem is full of vivid descriptions that paint a picture of the children's suffering. For example, she writes, "We tread on serpents, dens of lions tread." This image is powerful because it evokes both danger and fear. The children are not just working in difficult conditions; they are working in a place that is actively trying to harm them.

Finally, the poem's structure is also noteworthy. Barrett Browning uses a series of rhetorical questions throughout the poem, each one asking the reader to consider the plight of the child laborer. For example, she asks, "Do ye hear the children weeping, O my brothers?" This question is not just a request for empathy; it is a challenge to the reader to take action.

Historical Context

To fully appreciate "The Cry of the Children," it is important to understand the historical context in which it was written. Victorian England was a time of great social upheaval, and child labor was just one of many issues that people were grappling with.

At the time, there were few laws protecting children from exploitation in the workplace. Many children were forced to work long hours in dangerous conditions, often for very little pay. This was especially true in the coal mines and factories, where children as young as five or six were put to work.

Barrett Browning was not the only writer to address this issue. Charles Dickens, for example, wrote extensively about child labor in his novels. But what sets "The Cry of the Children" apart is its raw emotion and powerful imagery. Barrett Browning was not just describing a social problem; she was bearing witness to the suffering of these children and demanding that something be done about it.


In "The Cry of the Children," Elizabeth Barrett Browning gives voice to the voiceless. She takes a social problem that was largely ignored by the establishment and brings it to the forefront of public consciousness. Her use of language and imagery is masterful, and her message is as relevant today as it was in Victorian England.

As we read this poem, we are reminded that there is still much work to be done to protect the rights of children around the world. We cannot turn a blind eye to their suffering; we must listen to their cries and take action to ensure that they have a better future. "The Cry of the Children" is a powerful reminder that we have the power to make a difference if we choose to act.

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

The Cry of the Children: A Heart-Wrenching Poem by Elizabeth Barrett Browning

Elizabeth Barrett Browning, one of the most prominent poets of the Victorian era, wrote a heart-wrenching poem titled "The Cry of the Children." This poem is a powerful critique of the industrial revolution and the exploitation of children in the factories. The poem is a call to action, urging the readers to take notice of the plight of the children and to work towards their emancipation.

The poem is structured in three parts, each with a different tone and message. The first part is a description of the children's suffering, the second part is a plea for help, and the third part is a call to action. The poem is written in the form of a dramatic monologue, with the speaker being a child worker in a factory.

The first part of the poem is a vivid description of the children's suffering. The speaker describes the harsh conditions in the factory, the long hours of work, and the physical and emotional abuse they endure. The children are depicted as being exhausted, hungry, and sick. The speaker describes the children's faces as being "pale with hunger and work" and their eyes as being "heavy with pain." The imagery used in this part of the poem is powerful and evocative, creating a vivid picture of the children's suffering.

The second part of the poem is a plea for help. The speaker asks the reader to listen to the children's cries and to take notice of their suffering. The speaker implores the reader to "hear the voice of the little ones" and to "look on the tears of the child." The tone of this part of the poem is one of desperation and hopelessness. The speaker seems to have lost all hope and is begging for someone to help them.

The third part of the poem is a call to action. The speaker urges the reader to take action and to work towards the emancipation of the children. The speaker asks the reader to "rise up" and to "strike with the hand of fire." The tone of this part of the poem is one of anger and determination. The speaker is no longer pleading for help but is demanding action.

The poem is a powerful critique of the industrial revolution and the exploitation of children in the factories. Elizabeth Barrett Browning was a strong advocate for social justice and used her poetry to raise awareness of the issues of her time. The poem is a call to action, urging the readers to take notice of the plight of the children and to work towards their emancipation.

The poem is also a reflection of the Victorian era's attitude towards children. Children were seen as a source of cheap labor and were often exploited in the factories. The poem highlights the cruelty and inhumanity of this practice and calls for a change in the way society views and treats children.

The poem's structure and language are also significant. The use of a dramatic monologue allows the reader to hear the voice of the child worker and to empathize with their suffering. The language used in the poem is simple and direct, making it accessible to a wide audience. The use of repetition, such as the repetition of the phrase "O, weep for the voiceless" in the third part of the poem, adds to the poem's emotional impact.

In conclusion, "The Cry of the Children" is a powerful and moving poem that highlights the exploitation of children in the factories during the industrial revolution. Elizabeth Barrett Browning's use of language and structure creates a vivid picture of the children's suffering and calls for action to be taken to end their exploitation. The poem is a testament to the power of poetry to raise awareness of social issues and to inspire change.

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