Nonfiction > Upton Sinclair, ed. > The Cry for Justice

Upton Sinclair, ed. (1878–1968).
The Cry for Justice: An Anthology of the Literature of Social Protest.  1915.
The Cry of the Children

By Elizabeth Barrett Browning

(English poetess, 1806–1861; wife of Robert Browning, and an ardent champion of the liberties of the Italian people)
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;        5
  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!        10
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        15
  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:        20
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,        25
  And their looks are sad to see,
For the man’s hoary anguish draws and presses
  Down the cheeks of infancy;
“Your old earth,” they say, “is very dreary,
  Our young feet,” they say, “are very weak;        30
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,        35
  And the graves are for the old.”…
“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.        40
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        45
  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,        50
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 drops adown the wall,
Turn the black flies that crawl along the ceiling,        55
  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!’”…        60
They look up, with their pale and sunken faces,
  And their look is dread to see,
For they mind you of the angels in their places,
  With eyes turned on Deity.
“How long,” they say, “how long, O cruel nation,        65
  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 gold-heaper,
  And your purple shows your path!        70
But the child’s sob in the silence curses deeper
  Than the strong man in his wrath.”

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