Rhyme and Reform

Victorian Working-Class Poets Elizabeth Barrett Brownings "The Cry of the Children"

VI: Justice Loves Company: The Cry of the Children perceived in Poems (1850)

When first published in Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine in 1843, The Cry of the Children was preceded by a satirical poem, Jolly Father Joe, affecting readings of EBB’s poem.  Blackwood’s was a politically conservative publication, so perception of Cry would have been determined mainly by the magazine’s readership. A year later, in the second edition of her collected Poems, Elizabeth Barrett Browning put The Cry of the Children between The Runaway Slave at Pilgrim’s Point and A Child Asleep. Placement between these poems is significant because the reception of Cry is strengthened by the similar tone and themes exuded in these two poems.

Read stanza XXXV from The Runaway Slave at Pilgrim’s Point (first) and stanza XI from The Cry of the Children (second).

Our wounds are different. Your white men
Are, after all, not gods indeed,
Nor able to make Christs again
Do good with bleeding. We who bleed
(Stand off!) we help not in our loss!
We are too heavy for our cross,
And fall and crush you and your seed.

“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 ye 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.

Now, look at the ending stanzas of Cry of the Children (first) and A Child Asleep (second):

They look up, with their pale and sunken faces,
And their look is dread to see,
For they think you see 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
And tread onward to your throne amid the mart?
Our blood splashes upward, O our tyrants, And your purple shews your path;
But the child’s sob curseth deeper in the silence
Than the strong man in his wrath!”

He is harmless—ye are sinful,—
Ye are troubled—he, at ease:
From his slumber, virtue winful
Floweth outward with increase—
Dare not bless him! but be blessed by his peace—
and go in peace.


How do these two stanzas work together to evoke emotional responses?
How are the oppressors and oppressed contrasted?
How does the religious language in these stanzas strengthen EBB’s appeal to social justice?


Post created by Connor Watkins


erik_swanson • July 15, 2018

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