Introduction

Elizabeth Barett Browning was writing during the Victorian era, when the Industrial Revolution in England had just taken place. Due to the rapidly changing economy and the industrial boom, many children became part of the workforce and were forced to work in coal mines and factories. The brutal and inhuman conditions in which these children had to work led them to a truly horrible fate. In this poem, the poet gives voice to these children and talks about their plight.

About the Poet

Elizabeth Barrett Browning (1806-1861) was a great poet of English language. She published collection of poems such as Sonnets from the Portuguese, Aurora Leigh, The Seraphim and Other Poems. She married Robert Browning, a famous English poet and moved to Italy. Most of her poems deal with human emotions.

Theme

The main theme of this poem is child labour and the children who suffer due to it.

Poem

“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.
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
Through the coal – dark, underground;
Or, all day we drive the wheels or iron
In the factories, round and round.”

Summary

The children exclaim that they are weary and they cannot run or leap. If they cared for any meadows, it was merely to lie down in them and sleep. Their knees tremble in pain as they kneel, and they fall upon their faces while trying to walk. And underneath their heavy droopy eyelids, their eyes are so red from exhaustion that they would make the reddest flower look as pale as snow. They are in this condition because all day they drag their tired burdened selves through the coal in the dark underground coal mines, or drive the wheels or iron in the factories, turning them round and round.