Elizabeth Barrett Browning

(6 March 1806 – 29 June 1861 / Durham / England)

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The Cry Of The Children


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!'

Submitted: Tuesday, December 31, 2002
Edited: Thursday, October 04, 2012

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  • Bronze Star - 6,144 Points Frank Avon (10/4/2014 11:50:00 PM)

    Hardly the sort of poetry Elizabeth Barrett is known for, but much more important. A social protest of an earlier age, powerful in its repetitive detail. Such protests, thank God, eventually proved effective. (Report) Reply

  • Gold Star - 14,487 Points Gangadharan Nair Pulingat (10/4/2014 4:17:00 AM)

    Child rights are to be given proper attention which the present world gives importance. The poem having such feeling the deprived children and their plight and crying wonderfully created in such a great poem and by the great poetess. (Report) Reply

  • Veteran Poet - 2,840 Points Dr. A.celestine Raj Manohar Md (10/4/2012 7:39:00 PM)

    A long, emotive poem that truly brings out poignantly, the sad plight of children who are generally weak and crying because the world of adults has never ever bothered to really think about their real wants and rights in this earthly life. Also, such a terrible situation continues to prevail even in modern times and children are always the most neglected, uncared for, harmed, exploited and ruined in every scenario of man's activities. So much so, that children cannot expect a decent life-span and stay on this lovely earth created by God and may have to leave prematurely like 'nipped buds or unblossomed flowers, fallen young leaves or fallen fruits that could not stay long enough upon the tree to grow and ripen with seed! the increasing abortions of the unborn and the spate of children being killed and maimed by society are clear evidences that the world is yet most unfit for children and never will if adults remain selfish and just bothered about their own future and not doing much for improving the world for their progeny! a heart rendering versification that ought to change any adult or elderly heart to start working for the welfare of children, the most neglected lot of society! (Report) Reply

  • Rookie Kevin Straw (10/4/2012 8:45:00 AM)

    Marvelous - read this and you will understand where the British welfare state comes from, and why the 19th century was such a rich recruiting ground for the political left - Marxism did not come out of an academic study but from the plight of these children. Had capitalism not been so red in tooth and claw during that period, Russia, China etc might have had very different histories. (Report) Reply

  • Rookie - 182 Points Karen Sinclair (10/4/2012 2:47:00 AM)

    What strong pictures are thrust infront of me from this piece and they are so contrary. The poor emaciated child who has never seen ought but hardship and the preacher who is adored and feared by his flock. It must of been terribly hard for those who had compassion at the time.
    Its a shame these words still have relevance today (Report) Reply

  • Rookie - 182 Points Karen Sinclair (10/4/2012 2:47:00 AM)

    What strong pictures are thrust infront of me from this piece and they are so contrary. The poor emaciated child who has never seen ought but hardship and the preacher who is adored and feared by his flock. It must of been terribly hard for those who had compassion at the time.
    Its a shame these words still have relevance today (Report) Reply

  • Rookie - 182 Points Karen Sinclair (10/4/2012 2:46:00 AM)

    What strong pictures are thrust infront of me from this piece and they are so contrary. The poor emaciated child who has never seen ought but hardship and the preacher who is adored and feared by his flock. It must of been terribly hard for those who had compassion at the time.
    Its a shame these words still have relevance today (Report) Reply

  • Rookie - 294 Points Ramesh T A (10/4/2011 3:59:00 AM)

    Wonderful meaningful poem! Tears elderly people knew and have control over it somehow! But how about the children never one thinks much in the sad world! It's a nice narration about tears of children and how they should live like other happy beings on the Earth as freely as they can be as we all see in Nature! (Report) Reply

  • Rookie Yen Cress (10/4/2007 6:43:00 PM)

    This very moving depiction of the cruelties of forced labor by children in the coal mines probably encouraged the passage of laws protecting them. Things are much better today, thank God! , but in undeveloped nations, children are still a major part of the work force in the production of marketable goods and produce. Elizabeth Barrett Browning's work was written for another time and place but, unfortunately, her premise is still valid. (Report) Reply

  • Rookie Marcia Morris (10/4/2007 5:21:00 PM)

    This poet is deep, she pulls you in and keep you focus, one cannot leave her write untill the story is done told. Great! (Report) Reply

Read all 14 comments »

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