‘The Cry of the Children’ by Elizabeth Barrett Browning [Poetry Review]

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The Cry of the Children is one of the most powerfully written poems I’ve read recently–my only wish is that it was about something happier then the plea of suffering children. This is a political poem where Browning is trying to bring the suffering of impoverished children to the consciousness of the upper classes and politicians and basically shock them into doing something about it. The poem focuses on the children that were forced to work in mines and factories during the Industrial Revolution in England.

They are leaning their young heads against their mothers,

And that cannot stop their tears.

Lines 3-4

We’ve all had moments when all you want is to be near a parent or loved one. These children are looking to their mothers for reassurance but even this cannot offer them comfort and a promise that things will get better. This helps to set up the rest of the poem in which Browning is trying to show the bleak lives of these children–because if their mothers can’t help them then something must really be wrong.

They are weeping in the playtime of other,

In the country of the free.

Lines 11-12

These lines really bring home the idea that the owners of the factories, and even members of the parliament, are able to go about their lives, happy and carefree, without regard for the children that are forced to work in order to survive. Of course, this need to survive is in close competition with the want to give into the pain:

“It is good when it happens,” say the children,

“That we die before our time.”

Lines 51-52

These children actually consider dying to be better than continuing to live their lives so impoverished. Like I said, powerful poem that really makes my heart ache.

This is not a poem for the faint of heart but there is a strange beauty in the sadness and desperation of it. It saddens me that this is a topic I can link to things that are still going on today but perhaps we need more poems like this that make us look at what is happening in the world.


Rating: 4 out of 5.

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