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Elizabeth Barrett Browning (1806-1861)

The Cry of the Children


"Theu theu, ti prosderkesthe m ommasin, tekna;"
[[Alas, alas, why do you gaze at me with your eyes, my children.]]--Medea.

              1Do ye hear the children weeping, O my brothers,
              2    Ere the sorrow comes with years ?
              3They are leaning their young heads against their mothers, --
              4    And that cannot stop their tears.
              5The young lambs are bleating in the meadows ;
              6  The young birds are chirping in the nest ;
              7The young fawns are playing with the shadows ;
              8  The young flowers are blowing toward the west--
              9But the young, young children, O my brothers,
            10    They are weeping bitterly !
            11They are weeping in the playtime of the others,
            12    In the country of the free.

            13Do you question the young children in the sorrow,
            14    Why their tears are falling so ?
            15The old man may weep for his to-morrow
            16    Which is lost in Long Ago --
            17The old tree is leafless in the forest --
            18  The old year is ending in the frost --
            19The old wound, if stricken, is the sorest --
            20  The old hope is hardest to be lost :
            21But the young, young children, O my brothers,
            22    Do you ask them why they stand
            23Weeping sore before the bosoms of their mothers,
            24    In our happy Fatherland ?

            25They look up with their pale and sunken faces,
            26    And their looks are sad to see,
            27For the man's grief abhorrent, draws and presses
            28    Down the cheeks of infancy --
            29"Your old earth," they say, "is very dreary;"
            30  "Our young feet," they say, "are very weak !"
            31Few paces have we taken, yet are weary--
            32  Our grave-rest is very far to seek !
            33Ask the old why they weep, and not the children,
            34    For the outside earth is cold --
            35And we young ones stand without, in our bewildering,
            36    And the graves are for the old !"

            37"True," say the children, "it may happen
            38    That we die before our time !
            39Little Alice died last year her grave is shapen
            40    Like a snowball, in the rime.
            41We looked into the pit prepared to take her --
            42  Was no room for any work in the close clay :
            43From the sleep wherein she lieth none will wake her,
            44  Crying, 'Get up, little Alice ! it is day.'
            45If you listen by that grave, in sun and shower,
            46  With your ear down, little Alice never cries ;
            47Could we see her face, be sure we should not know her,
            48  For the smile has time for growing in her eyes ,--
            49And merry go her moments, lulled and stilled in
            50    The shroud, by the kirk-chime !
            51It is good when it happens," say the children,
            52    "That we die before our time !"

            53Alas, the wretched children ! they are seeking
            54    Death in life, as best to have !
            55They are binding up their hearts away from breaking,
            56    With a cerement from the grave.
            57Go out, children, from the mine and from the city --
            58  Sing out, children, as the little thrushes do --
            59Pluck you handfuls of the meadow-cowslips pretty
            60  Laugh aloud, to feel your fingers let them through !
            61But they answer, " Are your cowslips of the meadows
            62    Like our weeds anear the mine ?
            63Leave us quiet in the dark of the coal-shadows,
            64    From your pleasures fair and fine!

            65"For oh," say the children, "we are weary,
            66    And we cannot run or leap --
            67If we cared for any meadows, it were merely
            68    To drop down in them and sleep.
            69Our knees tremble sorely in the stooping --
            70  We fall upon our faces, trying to go ;
            71And, underneath our heavy eyelids drooping,
            72  The reddest flower would look as pale as snow.
            73For, all day, we drag our burden tiring,
            74    Through the coal-dark, underground --
            75Or, all day, we drive the wheels of iron
            76    In the factories, round and round.

            77"For all day, the wheels are droning, turning, --
            78    Their wind comes in our faces, --
            79Till our hearts turn, -- our heads, with pulses burning,
            80    And the walls turn in their places
            81Turns the sky in the high window blank and reeling --
            82  Turns the long light that droppeth down the wall, --
            83Turn the black flies that crawl along the ceiling --
            84  All are turning, all the day, and we with all ! --
            85And all day, the iron wheels are droning ;
            86    And sometimes we could pray,
            87'O ye wheels,' (breaking out in a mad moaning)
            88    'Stop ! be silent for to-day ! ' "

            89Ay ! be silent ! Let them hear each other breathing
            90    For a moment, mouth to mouth --
            91Let them touch each other's hands, in a fresh wreathing
            92    Of their tender human youth !
            93Let them feel that this cold metallic motion
            94  Is not all the life God fashions or reveals --
            95Let them prove their inward souls against the notion
            96  That they live in you, or under you, O wheels ! --
            97Still, all day, the iron wheels go onward,
            98    As if Fate in each were stark ;
            99And the children's souls, which God is calling sunward,
          100    Spin on blindly in the dark.

          101Now tell the poor young children, O my brothers,
          102    To look up to Him and pray --
          103So the blessed One, who blesseth all the others,
          104    Will bless them another day.
          105They answer, " Who is God that He should hear us,
          106  While the rushing of the iron wheels is stirred ?
          107When we sob aloud, the human creatures near us
          108  Pass by, hearing not, or answer not a word !
          109And we hear not (for the wheels in their resounding)
          110    Strangers speaking at the door :
          111Is it likely God, with angels singing round Him,
          112    Hears our weeping any more ?

          113" Two words, indeed, of praying we remember ;
          114    And at midnight's hour of harm, --
          115'Our Father,' looking upward in the chamber,
          116    We say softly for a charm.
          117We know no other words, except 'Our Father,'
          118  And we think that, in some pause of angels' song,
          119God may pluck them with the silence sweet to gather,
          120  And hold both within His right hand which is strong.
          121'Our Father !' If He heard us, He would surely
          122    (For they call Him good and mild)
          123Answer, smiling down the steep world very purely,
          124    'Come and rest with me, my child.'

          125"But, no !" say the children, weeping faster,
          126    " He is speechless as a stone ;
          127And they tell us, of His image is the master
          128    Who commands us to work on.
          129Go to ! " say the children,--"up in Heaven,
          130  Dark, wheel-like, turning clouds are all we find !
          131Do not mock us ; grief has made us unbelieving --
          132  We look up for God, but tears have made us blind."
          133Do ye hear the children weeping and disproving,
          134    O my brothers, what ye preach ?
          135For God's possible is taught by His world's loving --
          136    And the children doubt of each.

          137And well may the children weep before you ;
          138    They are weary ere they run ;
          139They have never seen the sunshine, nor the glory
          140    Which is brighter than the sun :
          141They know the grief of man, without its wisdom ;
          142  They sink in the despair, without its calm --
          143Are slaves, without the liberty in Christdom, --
          144  Are martyrs, by the pang without the palm, --
          145Are worn, as if with age, yet unretrievingly
          146    No dear remembrance keep,--
          147Are orphans of the earthly love and heavenly :
          148    Let them weep ! let them weep !

          149They look up, with their pale and sunken faces,
          150    And their look is dread to see,
          151For they think you see their angels in their places,
          152    With eyes meant for Deity ;--
          153"How long," they say, "how long, O cruel nation,
          154  Will you stand, to move the world, on a child's heart, --
          155Stifle down with a mailed heel its palpitation,
          156  And tread onward to your throne amid the mart ?
          157Our blood splashes upward, O our tyrants,
          158    And your purple shews your path ;
          159But the child's sob curseth deeper in the silence
          160    Than the strong man in his wrath !"

Notes

116] A fact rendered pathetically historical by Mr. Horne's report of his commission. The name of the poet of " Orion " and " Cosimo de' Medici " has, however, a change of associations ; and comes in time to remind me (with other noble instances) that we have some brave poetic heat of literature still, -- though open to the reproach, on certain points, of being somewhat gelid in our humanity. (Browning's note)


Online text copyright © 2003, Ian Lancashire for the Department of English, University of Toronto.
Published by the Web Development Group, Information Technology Services, University of Toronto Libraries.

Original text: Elizabeth Barrett Browning. Poems. London: Edward Moxon, 1844. PR 4180 E44a ROBA. 19th-cent. STC: 5.1.511. mfe DA 533 N55.
First publication date: 1844
RPO poem editor: J. D. Robins
RP edition: 2RP.II:338
Recent editing: 2:2002/1/10


Other poems by Elizabeth Barrett Browning