My Heart I Give …

100 Years Later – Pippa Still Passes


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,
Justice confounding,
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.


2 thoughts on “100 Years Later – Pippa Still Passes

  1. Note:

    Robert Browning’s poem, “Pippa Passes,” mourns the fate of an innocent girl-child during the brutal era of child labor in 19th century Britain. Like other sweatshop children, Pippa worked in a factory with only one day off each year – New Year’s Day. In “Pippa Passes,” Browning’s innocent little girl plays in the streets, singing the refrain, for all in her community to hear — “God’s in His Heaven! All’s right with the world!” The tragedy, of course, is Pippa’s innocence concerning her own decrepit condition.

    “100 Years Later … Pippa Still Passes” reiterates Browning’s call for justice for all the child slaves, the Pippas who still exist among us. Today they are hidden, not just by decrepit factory walls, but by the distance of their countries and complacency of the human heart. By supporting sweatshop conditions, we … WE are the guilty ones.

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