The Cry of the Children

The Cry of the Children Study Guide

"The Cry of the Children" is an 1843 poem by the British poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning, commenting upon and condemning child labor. It was first published in the magazine Blackwood's Edinburgh, though Browning would go on to revise the poem several times following this initial publication. The poem is formally intricate and experimental, consisting of thirteen twelve-line stanzas, each of which follows an ABABCDCDEFEF rhyme scheme. Though the poem has no consistent or regular meter, its lines alternate in length, with long and short lines interspersed.

Its speaker is an anonymous opponent of child labor who communicates the desires and miseries of child workers to bystanding adults. Through quotations from the speaker, the children also voice thoughts in their own, collective voice. Browning argues throughout the poem that youth is naturally a carefree and happy time, and that child labor violates this natural norm. "The Cry of the Children" also critiques religious attitudes, arguing that preaching is unhelpful and even insulting when the listener's basic needs are unmet.

The poem was criticized as controversial or sentimental by some at the time, but it also fit into a broad Victorian-era literary movement that advocated for an end of child labor and critiqued industrialization. Browning's poem has endured as one of the most well-known examples of that genre.