The Cry of the Children

The Cry of the Children Literary Elements

Speaker or Narrator, and Point of View

The poem is narrated by an anonymous first-person speaker attempting to persuade fellow adults to address the problem of child labor. The speaker quotes a group of children throughout, establishing them as a kind of collective secondary speaker.

Form and Meter

The poem is made up of thirteen twelve-line stanzas in an inconsistent meter, with ABABCDCDEFEF rhyme schemes.

Metaphors and Similes

The simile in the line “The reddest flower would look as pale as snow” emphasizes the physical exhaustion the children undergo in the industry, as well as the way in which industry alienates them from nature. The metaphor "They are binding up their hearts away from breaking, / With a cerement from the grave" describes the death-like numbness that the children adopt. The "mailed heel" mentioned in the final stanza is a metaphorical representation of the nation's thoughtless cruelty and violence.

Alliteration and Assonance

Assonance appears in the "E" sounds of the line “the old tree is leafless in the forest," and in the "U" sounds of "Of their tender human youth," while alliteration appears in the "M" sounds of the line "And merry go her moments, lulled and stilled in," and in the "S" sounds of "He is speechless as a stone."


One of the poem's great ironies is the fact that, according to the speaker, it is young people who are experiencing distress and misery, although youth is naturally a carefree time. Another irony is the fact that Britain's adults idealize their country, believing it to be free and happy despite the existence of child labor, and in fact, this idealizing creates complacency and worsens the problem of child labor.


Poetry of witness, social critique


The poem is set in industrializing Britain, with certain sections set in mines and factories.


Persuasive; accusatory, urgent

Protagonist and Antagonist

The protagonists are the child laborers, while the antagonists are the factory and mine owners who abuse them—and the bystanders who allow such abuse to occur.

Major Conflict

The poem's major conflict is the speaker's attempt to convince listeners that child labor is an urgent problem and that they should address it.


The poem's climax occurs in its final stanza, when the children (as quoted by the speaker), directly accuse their nation's adults of committing violence against them using dramatic language.


The poem's epigraph foreshadows the children's upcoming accusation and indictment of the adults in their lives.


The descriptions of "Little Alice," which state that she does not cry and that she is calm and silent, use understatement for emotional effect, since she is in fact calm because she has died.


The poem addresses the conditions of child laborers in industrialized Britain during the nineteenth century.

Metonymy and Synecdoche

The poem's wheels, which symbolize the danger and misery of industrial work, are a metonymic representation of the machines used in textile factories. The "mart" mentioned near the close of the poem metonymically represents the marketplace of industrial capitalism.


The speaker personifies flowers to illustrate that natural beings, even plants, enjoy carefree childhoods.


The speaker establishes hyperbolic definitions of youth and age, asserting that youth is uniformly happy and relaxed in order to make child labor appear even more appalling and unnatural.


“Bleating,” “chirping,” “weeping,” and “droning” are all examples of onomatopoeia in the poem: in particular, Browning uses the device to illustrate the relentless noise of factory machinery.