The narrator of this poem is trying to protect young children from being abused as young workers in industrial England. Her last stanza is a plea for the government to reform working conditions for the children:
In closing, Browning addresses the government saying, " ‘How long, O cruel nation, will you stand, to move the world, on a child’s heart?" This sentence in the final paragraph of the poem is the final plea with the country of England to reform the working conditions of their young and save the lives of the underprivileged children.
The poem is quite effective in that Elizabeth Barrett Browing repeats the lines about the children crying. Children were being exploited. They were used for cheap labor in harsh conditions. Browning writes about the long hours that children worked in mines and factories. She mentions that the children do not see sunshine because they are forced to work in coal mines long before the sun rises until it sets. The cry of the children can be heard as they gather close to their mothers' breasts. Browning used this poem to point out these workers were children who needed their mothers.