"The Cry of the Children"
by Elizabeth Barrett Browning (1806-1861)

["Alas, my children, why do you look at me?" (Greek)] 


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


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


25   They look up with their pale and sunken faces, 
26         And their looks are sad to see, 
27   For the man's hoary anguish 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; 
31   Few paces have we taken, yet are weary--- 
32      Our grave-rest is very far to seek: 
33   Ask the aged why they weep, and not the children, 
34         For the outside earth is cold, 
35   And 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: 
39   Little Alice died last year, her grave is shapen 
40         Like a snowball, in the rime. 
41   We looked into the pit prepared to take her: 
42      Was no room for any work in the close clay! 
43   From the sleep wherein she lieth none will wake her, 
44      Crying, 'Get up, little Alice! it is day.' 
45   If you listen by that grave, in sun and shower, 
46      With your ear down, little Alice never cries; 
47   Could we see her face, be sure we should not know her, 
48      For the smile has time for growing in her eyes: 
49   And merry go her moments, lulled and stilled in 
50         The shroud by the kirk-chime. 
51   It is good when it happens," say the children, 
52         "That we die before our time." 


53   Alas, alas, the children! they are seeking 
54         Death in life, as best to have: 
55   They are binding up their hearts away from breaking, 
56         With a cerement from the grave. 
57   Go out, children, from the mine and from the city, 
58      Sing out, children, as the little thrushes do; 
59   Pluck your handfuls of the meadow-cowslips pretty, 
60      Laugh aloud, to feel your fingers let them through! 
61   But they answer, "Are your cowslips of the meadows 
62         Like our weeds anear the mine? 
63   Leave 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; 
67   If we cared for any meadows, it were merely 
68         To drop down in them and sleep. 
69   Our knees tremble sorely in the stooping, 
70      We fall upon our faces, trying to go; 
71   And, underneath our heavy eyelids drooping 
72      The reddest flower would look as pale as snow. 
73   For, all day, we drag our burden tiring 
74         Through the coal-dark, underground; 
75   Or, 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, 
79   Till our hearts turn, our heads with pulses burning, 
80         And the walls turn in their places: 
81   Turns the sky in the high window, blank and reeling, 
82      Turns the long light that drops adown the wall, 
83   Turn the black flies that crawl along the ceiling: 
84      All are turning, all the day, and we with all. 
85   And 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!'" 


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


101   Now tell the poor young children, O my brothers, 
102         To look up to Him and pray; 
103   So the blessed One who blesseth all the others, 
104         Will bless them another day. 
105   They answer, "Who is God that He should hear us, 
106      While the rushing of the iron wheels is stirred? 
107   When we sob aloud, the human creatures near us 
108      Pass by, hearing not, or answer not a word. 
109   And we hear not (for the wheels in their resounding) 
110         Strangers speaking at the door: 
111   Is 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. 1 
117   We know no other words except 'Our Father,' 
118      And we think that, in some pause of angels' song, 
119   God 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) 
123   Answer, 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: 
127   And they tell us, of His image is the master 
128         Who commands us to work on. 
129   Go to!" say the children,---"up in Heaven, 
130      Dark, wheel-like, turning clouds are all we find. 
131   Do not mock us; grief has made us unbelieving: 
132      We look up for God, but tears have made us blind." 
133   Do you hear the children weeping and disproving, 
134         O my brothers, what ye preach? 
135   For God's possible is taught by His world's loving, 
136         And the children doubt of each. 


137   And well may the children weep before you! 
138         They are weary ere they run; 
139   They have never seen the sunshine, nor the glory 
140         Which is brighter than the sun. 
141   They know the grief of man, without its wisdom; 
142      They sink in man's despair, without its calm; 
143   Are slaves, without the liberty in Christdom, 
144      Are martyrs, by the pang without the palm: 
145   Are worn as if with age, yet unretrievingly 
146         The harvest of its memories cannot reap,--- 
147   Are orphans of the earthly love and heavenly. 
148         Let them weep! let them weep! 


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