Context: The speaker of this poem feels guilty of having exploited her sister by forcing her to labor in the factory. The poem involves a series of self-accusations as the speaker realizes the severity of her injustice. She realizes that she has denied her sister the joys of life by subjecting her to long, laborious days which have taken her "from sweets of summer and from wild spring air." Furthermore, she reminds herself: "I have robbed my sister of her day of maidenhood." Therefore, deprived of love "till dusk shall fall, . . ./ How shall she go scatheless through the sin-lit dark?" The speaker is doubly tortured by the injustice done her sister when she recalls that she herself had time for the good things of life, for play, innocence, love, and mirth. "Was it I," she cries, who did this to her? Realizing the full import of her injustice, the fact that her little sister will never enjoy her own family, and bitterly recalling her past indifference, she points the finger of accusation at herself and confesses: "It was I! It was I!" The poem begins:
I have shut my little sister in from life and light(For a rose, for a ribbon, for a wreath across my hair),I have made her restless feet still until the night,Locked from sweets of summer and from wild spring air. . . .