Vistas of Labor

“ How long, O Lord, how long !”




SWEAT-DRENCHED, and blinded by the heat, he reels
Back from the furnace, crawls on deck to win
A cooling breath or two, ere plunging down
Into his torture-house of Steam.
In truth,
He earns his heaven, for, fierce hour by hour,
He knows the bitterness and bite of hell.
What more could heaven do for any soul
Than fan a burning brow with airs as bland
As those of Arcady, and soothe the eyes
With touch of winsome waters, at whose call
The seeming dead grow light and labor-strong!



Up creaks the car; he leaves his ghastly dream
Of flickering, strange lights and caverns gloomed,
Grim fears of death-damp and the rumblings deep
Of an inferno whence the damned come back
Daily to taste of Paradise, before
The Devil bids them down; up creaks the car
Disgorging men and mud indifferently.
How sweet the lingering sun, and yonder, look,
The cabin lights are beckoning fondly, where
Warm love awaits him; for a little space
He’s no machine but human, and his God
Our God, — no mid-earth Devil, but a powder
Benign and near. . . .
But now the nether pit
Reclaims these children of a double world,
And once again Life is a nightmare dream.



Pent in, and sickening for one wholesome draught
Of air, — God’s gift that cities sell so dear,
They stitch and stitch. The dim lights fall upon
Bent bodies, hollowed bosoms and dead eyes.
Their very mirth is horrible to hear,
It is so joyless! Every needle-stroke Knits into dainty fabrics that shall go
Where Fashion flaunts, the protest and the pain
Of ravaged lives, of souls denied their food.
At last the clock-stroke! From the beetling shop
The prisoners file, and up and down the street
Scatter to hutches humorists call Home,
To sin, to die, or, if it may be, clutch
Some pleasure fierce enough to drown the thought
That on the morrow they must meet again.



Here toil the striplings, who should be a-swarm
In open, sun-kissed meadows; and each day
Amid the monstrous murmur of the looms
That still their treble voices, they become
Tiny automata, mockeries of youth:
To her that suckled them, to him whose name
They bear, mere fellow-earners of Life’s bread:
No time for tenderness, no place for smiles, —
These be the world’s wee workers, by your leave!
Naught is more piteous underneath the sky
Than at the scant noon hour to see them play
Feebly, without abandon or delight
At some poor game; so grave they seem and crushed!
The gong! and foulness sucks them in once more.
Yet still the message wonderful rings clear
Above all clang of commerce and of mart:
Suffer the little children, and again:
My Kingdom is made up of such as these.