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[9]

Anti-Slavery Poems

To William Lloyd Garrison.

champion of those who groan beneath
     Oppression's iron hand:
In view of penury, hate, and death,
     I see thee fearless stand.
Still bearing up thy lofty brow,
     In the steadfast strength of truth,
In manhood sealing well the vow
     And promise of thy youth.

Go on, for thou hast chosen well;
     On in the strength of God!
Long as one human heart shall swell
     Beneath the tyrant's rod.
Speak in a slumbering nation's ear,
     As thou hast ever spoken,
Until the dead in sin shall hear,
     The fetter's link be broken!

I love thee with a brother's love,
     I feel my pulses thrill,
To mark thy spirit soar above
     The cloud of human ill. [10]
My heart hath leaped to answer thine,
     And echo back thy words,
As leaps the warrior's at the shine
     And flash of kindred swords!

They tell me thou art rash and vain,
     A searcher after fame;
That thou art striving but to gain
     A long-enduring name;
That thou hast nerved the Afric's hand
     And steeled the Afric's heart,
To shake aloft his vengeful brand,
     And rend his chain apart.

Have I not known thee well, and read
     Thy mighty purpose long?
And watched the trials which have made
     Thy human spirit strong?
And shall the slanderer's demon breath
     Avail with one like me,
To dim the sunshine of my faith
     And earnest trust in thee?

Go on, the dagger's point may glare
     Amid thy pathway's gloom;
The fate which sternly threatens there
     Is glorious martyrdom!
Then onward with a martyr's zeal;
     And wait thy sure reward
When man to man no more shall kneel,
     And God alone be Lord!

1832.


[11]

Toussaint L'ouverture.

Toussaint L'Ouverture, the black chieftain of Hayti, was a slave on the plantation ‘de Libertas,’ belonging to M. Bayou. When the rising of the negroes took place, in 1791, Toussaint refused to join them until he had aided M. Bayou and his family to escape to Baltimore. The white man had discovered in Toussaint many noble qualities, and had instructed him in some of the first branches of education; and the preservation of his life was owing to the negro's gratitude for this kindness.

In 1797, Toussaint L'Ouverture was appointed, by the French government, General-in-Chief of the armies of St. Domingo, and, as such, signed the Convention with General Maitland for the evacuation of the island by the British. From this period, until 1801, the island, under the government of Toussaint, was happy, tranquil, and prosperous. The miserable attempt of Napoleon to reestablish slavery in St. Domingo, although it failed of its intended object, proved fatal to the negro chieftain. Treacherously seized by Leclerc, he was hurried on board a vessel by night, and conveyed to France, where he was confined in a cold subterranean dungeon, at Besangon, where, in April, 1803, he died. The treatment of Toussaint finds a parallel only in the murder of the Duke D'Enghien. It was the remark of Godwin, in his Lectures, that the West India Islands, since their first discovery by Columbus, could not boast of a single name which deserves comparison with that of Toussaint L'Ouverture.

Twas night. The tranquil moonlight smile
     With which Heaven dreams of Earth, shed down
Its beauty on the Indian isle,—
     On broad green field and white-walled town;
And inland waste of rock and wood,
     In searching sunshine, wild and rude,
Rose, mellowed through the silver gleam,
     Soft as the landscape of a dream.
All motionless and dewy wet,
     Tree, vine, and flower in shadow met:
The myrtle with its snowy bloom,
     Crossing the nightshade's solemn gloom,— [12]
The white cecropia's silver rind
     Relieved by deeper green behind,
The orange with its fruit of gold,
     The lithe paullinia's verdant fold,
The passion-flower, with symbol holy,
     Twining its tendrils long and lowly,
The rhexias dark, and cassia tall,
     And proudly rising over all,
The kingly palm's imperial stem,
     Crowned with its leafy diadem,
Star-like, beneath whose sombre shade,
     The fiery-winged cucullo played!

How lovely was thine aspect, then,
     Fair island of the Western Sea!
Lavish of beauty, even when
     Thy brutes were happier than thy men,
For they, at least, were free!
     Regardless of thy glorious lime,
Unmindful of thy soil of flowers,
     The toiling negro sighed, that Time
No faster sped his hours.
     For, by the dewy moonlight still,
He fed the weary-turning mill,
     Or bent him in the chill morass,
To pluck the long and tangled grass,
     And hear above his scar-worn back
The heavy slave-whip's frequent crack:
     While in his heart one evil thought
In solitary madness wrought,
     One baleful fire surviving still
The quenching of the immortal mind,
     One sterner passion of his kind, [13]
Which even fetters could not kill,
     The savage hope, to deal, erelong,
A vengeance bitterer than his wrong!

Hark to that cry! long, loud, and shrill,
     From field and forest, rock and hill,
Thrilling and horrible it rang,
     Around, beneath, above;
The wild beast from his cavern sprang,
     The wild bird from her grove!
Nor fear, nor joy, nor agony
     Were mingled in that midnight cry;
But like the lion's growl of wrath,
     When falls that hunter in his path
Whose barbed arrow, deeply set,
     Is rankling in his bosom yet,
It told of hate, full, deep, and strong,
     Of vengeance kindling out of wrong;
It was as if the crimes of years—
     The unrequited toil, the tears,
The shame and hate, which liken well
     Earth's garden to the nether hell—
Had found in nature's self a tongue,
     On which the gathered horror hung;
As if from cliff, and stream, and glen
     Burst on the startled ears of men
That voice which rises unto God,
     Solemn and stern,—the cry of blood!
It ceased, and all was still once more,
     Save ocean chafing on his shore,
The sighing of the wind between
     The broad banana's leaves of green,
Or bough by restless plumage shook,
     Or murmuring voice of mountain brook, [14]
Brief was the silence. Once again
     Pealed to the skies that frantic yell,
Glowed on the heavens a fiery stain,
     And flashes rose and fell;
And painted on the blood-red sky,
     Dark, naked arms were tossed on high;
And, round the white man's lordly hall,
     Trod, fierce and free, the brute he made;
And those who crept along the wall,
     And answered to his lightest call
With more than spaniel dread,
     The creatures of his lawless beck,
Were trampling on his very neck!
     And on the night-air, wild and clear,
Rose woman's shriek of more than fear;
     For bloodied arms were round her thrown,
And dark cheeks pressed against her own!

Then, injured Afric! for the shame
     Of thy own daughters, vengeance came
Full on the scornful hearts of those,
     Who mocked thee in thy nameless woes,
And to thy hapless children gave
     One choice,—pollution or the grave!

Where then was he whose fiery zeal
     Had taught the trampled heart to feel,
Until despair itself grew strong,
     And vengeance fed its torch from wrong?
Now, when the thunderbolt is speeding;
     Now, when oppression's heart is bleeding;
Now, when the latent curse of Time
     Is raining down in fire and blood,
That curse which, through long years of crime, [15]
     Has gathered, drop by drop, its flood,—
Why strikes he not, the foremost one,
     Where, murder's sternest deeds are done?

He stood the aged palms beneath,
     That shadowed o'er his humble door,
Listening, with half-suspended breath,
     To the wild sounds of fear and death,
Toussaint L'Ouverture!
     What marvel that his heart beat high!
The blow for freedom had been given,
     And blood had answered to the cry
Which Earth sent up to Heaven!
     What marvel that a fierce delight
Smiled grimly o'er his brow of night,
     As groan and shout and bursting flame
Told where the midnight tempest came,
     With blood and fire along its van,
And death behind! he was a Man!

Yes, dark-souled chieftain! if the light
     Of mild Religion's heavenly ray
Unveiled not to thy mental sight
     The lowlier and the purer way,
In which the Holy Sufferer trod,
     Meekly amidst the sons of crime;
That calm reliance upon God
     For justice in His own good time;
That gentleness to which belongs
     Forgiveness for its many wrongs,
Even as the primal martyr, kneeling
     For mercy on the evil-dealing;
Let not the favored white man name
     Thy stern appeal, with words of blame. [16]
Has he not, with the light of heaven
     Broadly around him, made the same?
Yea, on his thousand war-fields striven,
     And gloried in his ghastly shame?
Kneeling amidst his brother's blood,
     To offer mockery unto God,
As if the High and Holy One
     Could smile on deeds of murder done!
As if a human sacrifice
     Were purer in His holy eyes,
Though offered up by Christian hands,
     Than the foul rites of Pagan lands!

Sternly, amidst his household band,
     His carbine grasped within his hand,
The white man stood, prepared and still,
     Waiting the shock of maddened men,
Unchained, and fierce as tigers, when
     The horn winds through their caverned hill
And one was weeping in his sight,
     The sweetest flower of all the isle,
The bride who seemed but yesternight
     Love's fair embodied smile.
And, clinging to her trembling knee,
     Looked up the form of infancy,
With tearful glance in either face
     The secret of its fear to trace.

‘Ha! stand or die!’ The white man's eye
     His steady musket gleamed along,
As a tall Negro hastened nigh,
     With fearless step and strong. [17]
‘What, ho, Toussaint! ’ A moment more,
     His shadow crossed the lighted floor.
‘Away!’ he shouted; “fly with me,
     The white man's bark is on the sea;
Her sails must catch the seaward wind,
     For sudden vengeance sweeps behind.
Our brethren from their graves have spoken,
     The yoke is spurned, the chain is broken;
On all the hills our fires are glowing,
     Through all the vales red blood is flowing!
No more the mocking White shall rest
     His foot upon the Negro's breast;
No more, at morn or eve, shall drip
     The warm blood from the driver's whip:
Yet, though Toussaint has vengeance sworn
     For all the wrongs his race have borne,
Though for each drop of Negro blood
     The white man's veins shall pour a flood;
Not all alone the sense of ill
     Around his heart is lingering still,
Nor deeper can the white man feel
     The generous warmth of grateful zeal.
Friends of the Negro! fly with me,
     The path is open to the sea:
Away, for life!” He spoke, and pressed
     The young child to his manly breast,
As, headlong, through the cracking cane,
     Down swept the dark insurgent train,
Drunken and grim, with shout and yell
     Howled through the dark, like sounds from hell.

Far out, in peace, the white man's sail
     Swayed free before the sunrise gale. [18]
Cloud-like that island hung afar,
     Along the bright horizon's verge,
O'er which the curse of servile war
     Rolled its red torrent, surge on surge
And he, the Negro champion, where
     In the fierce tumult struggled he?
Go trace him by the fiery glare
     Of dwellings in the midnight air,
The yells of triumph and despair,
     The streams that crimson to the sea!

Sleep calmly in thy dungeon-tomb,
     Beneath Besancon's alien sky,
Dark Haytien! for the time shall come,
     Yea, even now is nigh,
When, everywhere, thy name shall be
     Redeemed from color's infamy;
And men shall learn to speak of thee
     As one of earth's great spirits, born
In servitude, and nursed in scorn,
     Casting aside the weary weight
And fetters of its low estate,
     In that strong majesty of soul
Which knows no color, tongue, or clime,
     Which still hath spurned the base control
Of tyrants through all time!
     Far other hands than mine may wreathe
The laurel round thy brow of death,
     And speak thy praise, as one whose word
A thousand fiery spirits stirred,
     Who crushed his foeman as a worm,1
Whose step on human hearts fell firm: [19]
     Be mine the better task to find
A tribute for thy lofty mind,
     Amidst whose gloomy vengeance shone
Some milder virtues all thine own,
     Some gleams of feeling pure and warm,
Like sunshine on a sky of storm,
     Proofs that the Negro's heart retains
Some nobleness amid its chains,—
     That kindness to the wronged is never
Without its excellent reward,
     Holy to human-kind and ever
Acceptable to God.

1833.


The slave-ships.

That fatal and perfidious bark,
     Built ia the eclipse, and rigged with curses dark.

The French ship Le Rodeur, with a crew of twenty-two men, and with one hundred and sixty negro slaves, sailed from Bonny, in Africa, April, 1819. On approaching the line, a terrible malady broke out,—an obstinate disease of the eyes,—contagious, and altogether beyond the resources of medicine. It was aggravated by the scarcity of water among the slaves (only half a wineglass per day being allowed to an individual), and by the extreme impurity of the air in which they breathed. By the advice of the physician, they were brought upon deck occasionally; but some of the poor wretches, locking themselves in each other's arms, leaped overboard, in the hope, which so universally prevails among them, of being swiftly transported to their own homes in

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