The Vow of the Peacock and Other Poems/The Factory

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'Tis an accursed thing!—

There rests a shade above yon town,
    A dark funereal shroud:
'Tis not the tempest hurrying down,
    'Tis not a summer cloud.

The smoke that rises on the air
    Is as a type and sign;
A shadow flung by the despair
    Within those streets of thine.

That smoke shuts out the cheerful day,
    The sunset's purple hues,

The moonlight's pure and tranquil ray,
    The morning's pearly dews.

Such is the moral atmosphere
    Around thy daily life;
Heavy with care, and pale with fear,
    With future tumult rife.

There rises on the morning wind
    A low appealing cry,
A thousand children are resigned
    To sicken and to die!

We read of Moloch's sacrifice,
    We sicken at the name,
And seem to hear the infant cries—
    And yet we do the same;—

And worse—'twas but a moment's pain
    The heathen altar gave,
But we give years,—our idol, Gain,
    Demands a living grave!

How precious is the little one,
    Before his mother's sight,
With bright hair dancing in the sun,
    And eyes of azure light!

He sleeps as rosy as the south,
    For summer days are long;
A prayer upon the little mouth,
    Lull'd by his nurse's song.

Love is around him, and his hours
    Are innocent and free;

His mind essays its early powers
    Beside his mother's knee.

When after-years of trouble come,
    Such as await man's prime,
How will he think of that dear home,
    And childhood's lovely time!

And such should childhood ever be,
    The fairy well; to bring
To life's worn, weary memory
    The freshness of its spring.

But here the order is reversed,
    And infancy, like age,
Knows of existence but its worst,
    One dull and darkened page;—

Written with tears, and stamp'd with toil,
    Crushed from the earliest hour,
Weeds darkening on the bitter soil
    That never knew a flower.

Look on yon child, it droops the head,
    Its knees are bow'd with pain;
It mutters from its wretched bed,
    "Oh, let me sleep again!"

Alas! 'tis time, the mother's eyes
    Turn mournfully away;
Alas! 'tis time, the child must rise,
    And yet it is not day.

The lantern's lit—she hurries forth,
    The spare cloak's scanty fold

Scarce screens her from the snowy north,
    The child is pale and cold.

And wearily the little hands
    Their task accustom'd ply;
While daily, some mid those pale bands,
    Droop, sicken, pine, and die.

Good God! to think upon a child
    That has no childish days,
No careless play, no frolics wild,
    No words of prayer and praise!

Man from the cradle—'tis too soon
    To earn their daily bread,
And heap the heat and toil of noon
    Upon an infant's head.

To labour ere their strength be come,
    Or starve,—is such the doom
That makes of many an English home
    One long and living tomb?

Is there no pity from above,—
    No mercy in those skies;
Hath then the heart of man no love,
    To spare such sacrifice?

Oh, England! though thy tribute waves
    Proclaim thee great and free,
While those small children pine like slaves,
    There is a curse on thee!