A poem from 1909:
I stand at the station as the gray light of dawn
Comes stealing and deepening and widening on,
And the trains, heavy laden, go rumbling by
As the heralds of sunrise leap into the sky;
While the outlines of things are from dimness released
And show sharply against an incarnadine east;
In the hush of the morning appears, doubly plain,
On each object of vision a dark crimson stain.
There is blood on the rails! In the smoke and the din
Of the mills where they rolled them, they ladled it in;
There is blood on the wires! in the place they were drawn
‘Twas by piracy filched from the brain and the brawn
Of strong men, my brethren; men, joint heirs with me,
To the fullness of earth, and the sky and the sea.
There is blood on the engine and blood on the train
And the ties, and the bed for them, carry a stain.
On the panels and roof of the coach where I ride
Are stains which no varnish nor gilding can hide!
And the click of the wheels, as they rapidly roll,
Repeat: “We have value; there’s none to a soul.”
There is blood on the stones which men crush in the street,
And stains on the pavement that rings ‘neath my feet;
The parks, brightly lit, where suave indolence strolls
Are garnished by anguish and unshriven souls.
There are stains on the buildings men raise in contempt
Of their God–and his house is not wholly exempt!
The fountains along the highway have their source
In the Moloch of Greed, in the temple of Force
And mixed half and half with their thirst quenching streams,
Is the ichor of life and the substance of dreams;
In proof that the pagan but changes his name
And remains, as to ends, and in essence, the same.
There is blood on the fields where the meadow larks sing;
‘Tis the record of God of where king strove with king;
Where ignorance and hate, little knowing for why,
Have warred, blindly warred, ‘neath a pitying sky;
And the blood of the worker, for idlers increase,
Baptizes the walls of the temple of peace.
There is blood on the carpets I have in my home!
From the mills which grind children as grist they have come;
On the crystal I own are deep, dark stains of red,
And even my books chant a dirge for the dead–
The dead who to others were dear as the one
Who from my own side into dreamland has gone.
There are stains on all things which surround us today
And I question if water to wash them away
Is held by the earth, or the deep outer void
Where recompense waits for they who have destroyed
The image of God by insidious wiles
Of commerce; they who, in exchange for the smiles
Of the wanton of trade and the god of increase,
Have innocence slain in the temple of peace.
~Saloman Long, 1909 copyright courier press, kansas
The only thing I know about child labor laws, is that at some point in US history, we decided sending children to work at a factory was BAD. Obviously, there was significant disparity – no children from wealthy families would be “grist.” That is part of what this poem speaks about, how guilt lives in every single thing made when constructed under those conditions. Even the rugs have blood on them. The author is watching a sunrise, watching how that is transforming everything at a train station into a red reflection of the sun.
But he goes on to say how his house and home is covered in red, how life has become all about greed. Then he goes on to reach for the payment or justice from heaven, because the situation is so desperate that only God can punish those powerful people who are in charge and creating the situation.
There is the human element where the author mentions “soul.” We may have less concern for a soul these days, but there is an understanding of lasting and irreversible psychological damage. So child labor was known to effect an entire lifetime with results that could lead to a harsher and more uncaring individual. What happens when you combine child labor practices with army recruitment and conscription from lower classes?
They knew world war was coming. And saw how one thing ‘bled’ into another.
We still have disparity in the US, where to large extents only the lower classes see the frontlines of any armed conflict. And most of us would not want the silver-spoon weaklings as representing the best we have for an armed services. Does wealth make you weak? It can. When comes to judgment and instinct, we have what is called “street smarts.” You can’t buy street smarts. Has to be earned. But was it right with child labor, to have whole classes of individuals earning street smarts at such a young age?
See, this poet did not cry out or work to abolish poverty. He wasn’t that hopeful. I am very serious. He was not that hopeful, to EVER be able to create EQUAL citizens within the United States. His hope – his argument – is that for God sakes, let these souls at LEAST have a childhood before you grind them down to nothing in the mills. That was all.
Isolating child labor in a step that took us to where we are today, where childhood is a time for learning, only. Where childhood is considered something to protect, for both the rich and the poor.
He would cry in joy. This friend of the family, who wrote a poetry book, “Child Slaves, and Other Poems.” He would cry in nonbelief. It is that kind of miracle. The change that came about, because one man in good enough position – said you know what, this child labor thing, is WRONG. Or because he added his voice to many others at the time.
Change and direction. Where we go as a country and the decisions that get us there. It is not always easy to differentiate right and wrong. Sometimes what seems right may have more wrong in it, especially by the time it gets to Congress. For ourselves, child labor and the slavery of entire nations before that, is now considered such a deep wrong that anyone holding they are good things, is automatically considered unstable and not of right mind.
This type of absolutism is the direction life takes, when decisions of such a magnitude are made. It is a one-way street, with no reversal and no way back. They had to be pretty sure of what they were doing. But they also saw a war coming.
Child labor might have come to a natural end, just as many argue that slavery in the South might have come to some kind of natural end. Lincoln did not have that kind of time. In 1910, they also did not have that kind of time. We say “don’t leap before you look” — make sure you look before you leap. But as a nation, we’re pretty good at the looking and the leaping part. Or have been.
Now, it seems like every person that is sent to Congress is on the lower side of the gene pool when it comes to intelligence. I myself have said, Congress wants to test welfare recipients for drugs? They need to test themselves for intelligence. Require an IQ test before anyone even gets to go to Washington.
That is an extreme, that is a joke. For a process like that would only drive our democracy further into fascism. You don’t make a wrong right with another wrong. It’s a joke, because am saying that if they want to step that boldly into fascism, the logical place to start would be in testing members of Congress. Yet they have diplomas. What is a diploma?
In a way, education is already sucked in to value as a trade mechanism, for the way in which commerce trades off of College diplomas. And we are back to education. To what an education and what public education MEANS. How these are some of the biggest gears in our country. Good or bad, right or wrong. The only problem with minds too set in their origins, is they don’t see that war up ahead. They don’t know when to speed things up, or when the train is better off sitting at the station.
You want children today to pay for a University education, because if they don’t – the law of commerce says that invalidates the value of your own University education. This is a rut. We are going to have to push hard. Somehow, some poet is going to have to come forward, like Levy Long – and say this is WRONG.
This making higher education exclusive through University expense, is WRONG. It might die a natural death, as more and more avenues open up for lower classes to reach higher education. It is set up so that poor students only get a higher education if they want it badly enough. What do the proud do, when you place a hoop and say jump higher for us, please? The proud tell you to go get lost.
Yet a war is coming. Changes in direction are needed, and we do not have the time to gracefully enter a new age. Education is necessity for equality. Just as equality is necessity, for the mind to understand its own worth.
Child Slaves & Other Poems, Solomon Levy Long.