by Jeanne Jacoby Smith
“God’s in His Heaven …
All’s right with the world!”
Trilled the girl child Pippa
On the one day per diem
She was frees from her slavery.
A century past Pippa,
Child labor hidden,
Children not whole.
Browning’s red-hot brand
sears our conscience
– and soul!
NOTE: Robert Browning, a celebrated Victorian poet, penned a poem called “Pippa Passes.” His poem deals with a girl child who worked in a sweatshop, day in and day out, year after year. Each year, Pippa had one day off from work – New Year’s Day. Other than those few blessed hours, the only world this girl child knew was one of modern-day slavery. She had no other reality.
The irony here is that in Browning’s poem, on New Year’s Day, her only day off that year, in her innocence she was singing, “God’s in His Heaven; All’s right with the world.”
Pippa is, obviously, happy for her time off, but, tragically, the reader knows (and we know) that for the next 364 days, little Pippa will be slaving at her machine again., day in and day out, ad infinitum.
One cannot read this poem without experiencing what Wordsworth called “the overflow of powerful feelings,” only in this case, Pippa has no frame of reference for freedom or what a real childhood might look like. Thus, she interprets this day as her ‘moment in heaven,’ even though the rest of the year for her is hell.
Pippa’s reality impels us to work on behalf of justice, freeing child slaves like her. Her story melts my heart.