This poem was written based on a report that was written because of the treatment of children in mines and factories. Children were being worked to death.
The first stanza speaks of all of the young offspring with their mothers: birds, lambs,fawns and even flowers. They are all allowed to laugh and play like children should. Meanwhile, real children are crying uncontrollably.
The second and third stanzas speak of the old--men, trees, old wounds who have been around. But the question remains--"why are the children weeping so?" This has not been answered.
The forth and fifth stanzas speak of Alice and how happy she is now that she is dead. She doesn't cry anymore and other children agree with her--it's better to leave the misery on earth. The adult voice wants the children to run and be happy. The children still would rather die than slave away in the mines.
Stanzas 6-8 speak of the wheels of the mine carts that go round and round, droning on day after day, yet the children don't care. The speaker wants them to have a break from the pain and suffering.
In stanzas 9-11 the speaker wants the children to pray and know God. However, their response is that they don't know God. How could they when the men who hear their cries continue on and never stop to help them or comfort them. They say that he remains silent and never answers their prayers.
The last two stanzas continue the overall theme of the poem. How can the children know truth and goodness and Christianity if all they ever have known has been pain and suffering from working for powerful and controlling men.