Runaway Slave At Pilgrims Point

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Elizabeth Barrett Browning was a vociferous proponent of the idea that poetry had the power to affect change. She was of the opinion that ethical poetry was the highest of all poetic forms. Both The Cry of the Children and The Runaway Slave at Pilgrims Point are examples of Browning engaging with the issues of oppression and human cruelty. They present to her readers the effects that an abject environment can have on the mind, body, and spirit of a person . The Cry of the Children makes a sentimental and impassioned plea for the rights of children in the workplace. The Runaway Slave at Pilgrims Point pushes a pro-abolitionist message by giving the reader a glimpse into the harrowing narrative that is the life of a slave. In both poems…show more content…
Her use of ‘stifle’ emphasises the point that the children’s work in factories and mines suppresses their physical growth as well as their emotional and spiritual growth. Among the OED’s definitions of ‘palpitation’ are ‘quivering’ or ‘irregular beating of the heart’ , both of which contrast sharply against the formidable ‘mailed’ heel that stifles it. This line is particularly distressing as ‘mailed’ conjures images of protection. However, these armoured heels that represent the people who should be protecting the children’s hearts, are in fact the ones crushing them - showing the complete perversion of society. Furthermore Browning presents her readers with the blood of the crushed heart staining the wealthy ‘purple’ robes of the ‘gold-heaper’. By juxtaposing the blood and the gold, Browning’s final stanza presents us with a graphic and poignant image of the capitalistic gains of the wealthy factory owners being directly linked to the spilled blood of stifled…show more content…
Within the thirteen stanzas there are eighteen occurrences of a synonym of crying or tears. The ubiquity of children weeping within the poem has resulted in Browning’s poem being dismissed for its sentimentality. Dorothy Mermin deemed its "meter awkward, the diction sentimental and false […] the tears […] too profuse and damp, and the appeal to our feelings inartistically explicit" . However I would draw issue with this critique. Browning’s plea to the sentimental while perhaps ‘inartistically explicit’ recognises that the mistreatment of children is an emotionally charged issue. Sentimentality may be looked down upon in terms of its literary merit but the important point that Browning is trying to convey is that we should be listening to our emotions when we see this social injustice. Otherwise we become no better than the ‘mailed’ capitalist heel that crushes the children’s

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