The men whom freedom has made strong,
And bound to follow thee by willing vows;
The women greatened by the joys
Of motherhood to rule a happy house;
The vigorous girls and boys,
Whose eager faces and unclouded brows
Foretell the future of a noble race,
Rich in the wealth of wisdom and true worth!
While millions such as these to thee belong,
What foe can do thee wrong,
What jealous rival rob thee of thy place
Foremost of all the flags of earth?
My vision darkens as the night descends;
And through the mystic atmosphere
I feel the creeping coldness that portends
A change of spirit in my dream
The multitude that moved with song and cheer
Have vanished, yet a living stream
Flows on and follows still the flag,
But silent now, with leaden feet that lag
And falter in the deepening gloom,—
A weird battalion bringing up the rear.
Ah, who are these on whom the vital bloom
Of life has withered to the dust of doom?
These little pilgrims prematurely worn
And bent as if they bore the weight of years?
These childish faces, pallid and forlorn,
Too dull for laughter and too hard for tears?
Is this the ghost of that insane crusade
That led ten thousand children long ago,
A flock of innocents, deceived, betrayed,
Yet pressing on through want and woe
To meet their fate, faithful and unafraid?
Nay, for a million children now
Are marching in the long pathetic line,
With weary step and early wrinkled brow;
And at their head appears no holy sign
Of hope in heaven;
For unto them is given
No cross to carry, but a cross to drag.
Before their strength is ripe they bear
The load of labour, toiling underground
In dangerous mines and breathing heavy air
Of crowded shops; their tender lives are bound
To service of the whirling, clattering wheels
That fill the factories with dust and noise;
They are not girls and boys,
But little “hands” who blindly, dumbly feed
With their own blood the hungry god of Greed.
Robbed of their natural joys,
And wounded with a scar that never heals,
They stumble on with heavy-laden soul,
And fall by thousands on the highway lined
With little graves; or reach at last their goal
Of stunted manhood and embittered age,
To brood awhile with dark and troubled mind,
Beside the smouldering fire of sullen rage,
On life’s unfruitful work and niggard wage.
Are these the regiments that Freedom rears
To serve her cause in coming years?
Nay, every life that Avarice doth maim
And beggar in the helpless days of youth,
Shall surely claim
A just revenge, and take it without ruth;