The Cry of The Children

The Cry of The Children

By Elizabeth Barrett Browning

“Pheu pheu, ti prosderkesthe m ommasin, tekna;”
[[Alas, alas, why do you gaze at me with your eyes, my children.]]—Medea.

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 weary—
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 children, “it may happen
That we die before our time !
Little Alice died last year her 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, the wretched 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 you 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 heads, 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, or under you, O wheels ! —
Still, all day, the iron wheels go onward,
As if Fate in each were stark ;
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,
While 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 ye 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, without its wisdom ;
They sink in the 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 think you see 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 shews your path ;
But the child’s sob curseth deeper in the silence
Than the strong man in his wrath!”

Summary of The Cry of The Children

  • Popularity of “The Cry of The Children”: Written by Elizabeth Barrett Browning and published in 1843, “The Cry of The Children” is a poem that quickly gained popularity and became a powerful voice in the movement against child labor in Victorian England. The poem was published in the same year when the Children’s Employment Commission was established. This development led to a series of reforms intended to improve the working conditions of children in factories and mines. Browning’s poem brought attention to the issue of child labor and called for immediate action to protect the young and vulnerable members of society. “The Cry of The Children” continues to be studied and celebrated today as a significant piece of Victorian literature and a powerful call for social justice.
  • “The Cry of The Children” As a Representative Victorian Social Problems. The poem “The Cry of The Children” is a representative work of Victorian literature and a poignant representation of the social injustices of the time. Through the use of vivid and emotive language, the poet powerfully expresses the suffering and oppression of child laborers in factories and mines and highlights the urgent need for social reforms. It also captures the prevalent social consciousness of the era and stands as a testament to the burgeoning Victorian concern for social justice and human rights. As such, “The Cry of The Children” represents an important milestone in the evolution of Victorian literature and the wider social and cultural movements of the time.
  • Major Themes in “The Cry of The Children”: The poem “The Cry of the Children” by Elizabeth Barrett Browning explores several themes, including the suffering of children, the impact of societal norms, and the idea of death as a release from suffering. The poet questions why the young children are weeping in a country that is supposed to be free while the young animals and flowers are free from suffering. The children’s tears are caused by the harsh working conditions, poverty, and social injustice they experience, which rob them of their childhood. They are forced to work in mines and factories, and they express their exhaustion and weariness in their inability to enjoy the simple pleasures of life.
    The poem also draws attention to the fact that the children have accepted death as a way to escape their suffering, and they see it as a relief from their misery. The poet urges adults to recognize the plight of the children and to take action to address the societal norms that perpetuate their suffering. The poem highlights the need for change and for adults to prioritize the well-being of children.

Analysis of Literary Devices Used in The Cry of The Children

Below are some of the literary devices employed by Elizabeth Barrett Browning to enhance the desired effects of the poem.

  1. Allusion: The poem includes an allusion to the play Medea, as it opens with the quote, “Pheu pheu, ti prosderkesthe m ommasin, tekna;” (line 1), which translates to “Alas, alas, why do you gaze at me with your eyes, my children,” a line from the play. This allusion is used to emphasize the despair and suffering of the children.
  2. Anaphora: The repetition of the phrase “The young” at the beginning of lines 5,6,7 and 8 and the repetition of the phrase “The old” at the beginning of lines 17, 18, 19, and 20 are examples of anaphora. This repetition emphasizes the tender age of the children and old age of the things around them.
  3. Antithesis: The contrast between the joy of the young lambs, birds, fawns, and flowers in stanza two (lines 5-8) and the weeping of the young children is an example of antithesis. This contrast emphasizes the sorrow and suffering of the children.
  4. Apostrophe: The poet addresses the children directly in stanzas two and three (lines 1-4 and 13-24) using apostrophes. This technique is used to emphasize the children’s suffering and to give them a voice.
  5. Assonance: The repetition of the vowel sound /e/ in the phrase “young heads against their mothers” (line 3) is an example of assonance. This technique creates a soft, melancholic tone, emphasizing the children’s sadness.
  6. Consonance: The repetition of the /f/ sound in the phrase “The old tree is leafless in the forest” (line 17) is an example of consonance. This technique creates the effect of differences in the age of the children and the surrounding objects.
  7. Hyperbole: The statement “Our young feet… are very weak” (line 30) is an example of hyperbole, an exaggeration used to emphasize the children’s exhaustion and weakness.
  8. Imagery: The imagery of the young lambs, birds, fawns, and flowers in stanza two (lines 5-8) creates a contrast with the sorrowful imagery of the weeping children in the same stanza (lines 9-12). This technique emphasizes the suffering of the children.
  9. Irony: The phrase “In the country of the free” in stanza two (line 12) is ironic, as the children are clearly not free. This irony emphasizes the disparity between the children’s suffering and the supposed freedom in their country.
  10. Metaphor: The phrase “Death in life” in stanza four (line 54) is a metaphor for the children’s suffering, emphasizing the death-like quality of their lives.
  11. Personification: The personification of the “man’s grief” in stanza three (line 27) emphasizes the overwhelming and oppressive nature of the grief that the children experience.
  12. Simile: The comparison of Alice’s grave to a snowball in the frost in stanza four (line 39) is a simile that emphasizes the cold and lifeless quality of death.

Analysis of Poetic Devices Used in The Cry of The Children

Poetic and literary devices are the same, but a few are used only in poetry. Here is an analysis of some of the poetic devices used in this poem.

  1. Diction: Diction refers to the choice of words used by the poet. Here, Elizabeth Barrett Browning used carefully chosen words to convey her message about the plight of children working in factories, showing poetic and formal diction.
  2. End Rhyme: End rhyme is the repetition of the same sound at the end of each line in a poem. In “The Cry of The Children,” Elizabeth Barrett Browning uses end rhyme to create a sense of unity and musicality in the poem. For example, in stanza one, the end rhymes are brothers/years and mothers/tears.
  3. Meter: Meter refers to the rhythm or pattern of stressed and unstressed syllables in a poem. In “The Cry of The Children,” Elizabeth Barrett Browning uses iambic tetrameter, which means each line contains four iambs (two syllables, with the first syllable unstressed and the second stressed).
  4. Rhyme Scheme: Rhyme scheme refers to the pattern of rhyming words in a poem. In “The Cry of The Children,” the rhyme scheme for each stanza is ABABCC. The final two lines form a rhyming couplet.
  5. Poem Type: “The Cry of The Children” is a lyric poem. It expresses the emotions and thoughts of the poet rather than telling a story or presenting a narrative.
  6. Stanza: The poem consists of 12 stanzas, each with six lines. The type of stanza used is a sestet.
  7. Tone: The tone of the poem is deeply sad and sympathetic. The poet is expressing her heart-wrenching grief at the suffering of the children who are forced to work in factories, mines, and other dangerous places. Therefore, the tone is also urgent, as the poet implores her readers to take action to end this suffering.

Quotes to be Used

When advocating for child rights, this quote can be used to emphasize the toll that child labor takes on children’s physical and emotional well-being. It highlights the exhaustion and lack of energy that child laborers experience, emphasizing the urgent need for policies and actions to protect children from such exploitation.

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
(Lines 16-18)