Liberty Chimes: The Slave-Mother
In a poetry-centric set of “Chimes,” our contributors implore their fellows: wake up already to the horrors of life under slavery.
For our next set of “Liberty Chimes,” we are poetry-heavy. And in this case, at least, that is a very good thing. First up, we have the nearly-anonymous “S.L.L.”’s offering, “The Slave-Mother.” Over eight stanzas, we are introduced to a slave woman and her child, each locked in emotional bonds which no natural force could possibly break. The woman cradles her child and mutters the saddest set of coos we are likely to imagine: the little family’s slave master had just sold the baby’s father further South, and the child was likely next. The mother’s depressed murmuring awake the child and stir it to cry, which is especially unfortunate given that half of the child’s parents are unable to ever sooth it. As the child cries, the master approaches yet again. As predicted—because our narrator knows exactly how slavery worked—our silent antagonist comes to seize the child next and threatens to whip them both if the mother will not comply. He allows them to spend one further night together before ultimately submitting to his will and surrendering the child. But the next day, arriving in the slave quarters, the master finds the pair—mother and child—lying dead together in embrace. The poet’s given explanation is a plague of some sort that had afflicted many slaves; but, perhaps the truth is somewhere behind the text. After all, we are informed that the slaves left living envied the sick and dead. Did Lucy, then, poison herself and the infant to avoid separation? It certainly did happen, and if the North’s good Christian citizens ever wanted to keep such tragedies from continuing day after day, they might finally wake up and do something about it.
To that end, the rest of the numbers below implore readers to find it within themselves to be consistently and radically antislavery, to always seek the right and the good no matter the social pressure to conform with an evil society, and to persevere in humanity’s grand faith-quest no matters what the apparent odds facing them.
Ed. Frances Whipple
Providence: Providence Ladies Anti-Slavery Society. 1845.
It comes at length, the twilight dim;
The weary mother sings her hymn
Sweetly, but plaintively. She sings,
“I have no hope in earthly things,
But only in the King of kings”
‘Twas a young mother sitting there,
The mingled hues her features bear
Of that poor race to ruin driven,
With those to whom the will of Heaven
A paler tint of skin has given.
She hushed upon her yearning breast
Her love-her first born-into rest;
And parted back his raven hair,
And heavenly hope with earth’s despair
Was struggling in her tone and air.
“My baby dear, they sold away
Thy father to the South to-day;
And soon they’ll come for thee, sweet love.
Oh, why thou gracious One, above,
Do slaves e’er know a mother’s love?
“Hush, babe! thy mother’s earnest tone
‘Wakens anew thy plaintive moan.
Hush, babe! thou hast no father near
To wipe away thy glistening tear:
Hush! for the master’s step I hear.”
The master comes he need not speak;
She reads it all with changing cheek,
And eyes whence tears of anguish run-
Closer she clasps her little one,
And sobs aloud “You’ve sold my son.”
“I have! no whimpering, on thy life,
Or soon the lash shall end the strife.
To-night with thee the boy may stay;
To-morrow morn at break of day
Your part-be silent, and obey.”
The morning came, as fair a morn
As ever was in Eden born.
As near the hut the master drew,
The deep green earth, the Heavens blue
Were still, as if the whole they knew.
He entered there; on the low ground
The mother and he babe he found;
He stooped to rouse with sudden shake-
Pause, ruffian pause! for Heaven’s dear sake,
The dead, the dead wouldst thou awake?
Oh! what divine, triumphant air
Those young and gentle features wear!
And the meek babe, no ruffian bold
Shall e’er unclasp the tender hold
Of those soft arms that thee enfold.
A mortal plague that season reigned,
And many a bondman, long enchained,
Found freedom in their welcome graves;-
Lucy and her dear infant craves
A place among these happy slaves.
Far off on that clear morning sky,
‘Twas told that music floated by,
And legends of that region wild
Said that sweet song of angels mild,
Was Lucy and her blessed child.
By John Brown
E. Greenwich, June 30, 1845
As I did not absolutely refuse your kind request to furnish an article for your Book, I have endeavoured to fix on some subject that might be interesting to your readers; and my excuse is, that I feel such an all-absorbing interest for the re-union of the Friends of the Slave, that I have no place in my mind but for that one idea.
When in the year 1836, I had the high honor to preside in the convention that formed the R.I State A. S. Society, and there witnessing the unanimity, zeal and kindness and Brotherly Love there manifested, giving promise of certain success, my heart rejoiced exceedingly.
But where now are those Brethren whose hearts mingled like drops of water uniting into one? Why is the good work stayed, and why are those brave hearts chilled? Why do those giant arms hang listlessly down and why are those heavenly tempered weapons blunted or turned upon their Friends? Who is the Enemy that has done all this? Is he not of ourselves? And why have those loud paeans ceased, with which the Liberator and Emancipator, once greeted the Tappans, Garrison, Birney, Stanton, Rogers, Phelps, Goodell, Stewart, Smith and others? Has the pure gold become dim? Or are those Editors of too pure eyes to look upon human infirmity with the least degree of allowance? I do most sincerely wish that all Friends of the Slave would earnestly inquire, why it is, that most of our Anniversaries exhibit the secession, or an open, violent, virulent, attack on some prominent, active and influential abolitionist; all his faults observed set in a note book, conned and learned to be cast into his teeth. And then let those who are not wholly inflated with the idea of their own infallibility, resolve not to cast the first stone until they are without sin and resolve to refrain from all harsh and provoking epithets, and cheerfully leave others to choose such means as they think will be most effective to accomplish the object we all so much desire.
Yours for the Slave
And Freedom of Speech,
Lines Written in November
By Sarah H. Whitman
“All seasons shall be sweet to thee,
Whether the summer clothe the general earth
With greenness, or the redbreast sit and sing
Betwixt the tufts of snow on the bare branch
Of mossy apple tree.”—COLERIDGE
Farewell the forest shade-the twilight grove,
The turfy path with fern and flowers inwove,
Where though long summer days I wandered far
‘Till warned of evening by her “folding-star.”—
No more I linger by the fountain’s play
Where arching boughs shut out the sultry ray,
Making at noon-tide hours a dewy gloom;
O’er the moist marge where weeds and wild flowers bloom;
‘Till from the western sun a glancing flood
Of arrowy radiance filled the twilight wood,
Glinting athwart each leafy verdant fold,
And flecking all the turf with drops of gold.
Sweet sang the wild-bird on the waving bough
Where cold November winds are wailing now;—
The chirp of insects on sunny lea,
And the wind music of wandering bee
Are silent all—closed is their vesper lay,
Borne by breeze of Autumn far away—
Yet still the withered health I love to rove,
The bare brown meadow and the leafless grove—
Still love to tread the bleak hill’s rocky side,
Where nodding asters wave in purple pride,
Or from its summit listen to the flow
Of the dark waters booming far below
Still through the tangling pathless copse I stray
Where sere and rustling leaves obstruct the way,
To find the last pale blossom of the year,
That strangely blooms when all is dark and drear—
The wild witch hazel, fraught with mystic power
To ban, or bless, as sorcery rules the hour,—
Then, homeward wending ‘neath the dusky vale
Where winding rills their evening damps exhale,—
Pause by the dark pool in whose sleeping wave
Pale Dian loves her golden locks to lave,
In the hushed fountain’s heart, serene and cold,
Glassing her glorious image—as of old
Wheren first she stole upon Endymion’s rest,
And his young dreams with heavenly beauty blessed.
And thou, “stern ruler of the inverted year,”
Cold, cheerless winter, hath thy wild career
No sweet peculiar pleasures for the heart
That can ideal worth to rudest forms impart?
When, through thy long dark nights, cold sleet and rain
Patter and plash against the frosty pane,
Warm curtained from the storm, I love to lie
Wakeful, and listening to the lullabye
Of fitful winds, that, as they rise and fall,
Send hollo murmurs through the echoing hall.
Oft blazing hearth at eventide
I love to mark the changing shadows glide
In flickering motion o’er the umbered wall,
Till slumber’s honey-dew my senses thrall.
Then, while in dreamy consciousness, I lie
‘Twixt sleep and waking, fairy fantasie
Culls from the golden past a treasured store,
And weaves a dream so sweet, hope could not ask for more.
In the cold splendour of a frosty night,
When blazing stars burn with intenser light
Through the blue vault of heaven—when cold and clear
The air through which you call cliffs rise severe;
Or when the shrouded earth in solemn trance
Sleeps ‘neath the wan moons melancholy glance
I love to mark earth’s sister planets rise,
And in pale beauty tread the midnight skies,
Where, like lone pilgrims, constant as the night,
They fill their dark urns from the fount of light.
I love the Borealis’ flames that fly
Fitful and wild athwart the northern sky,—
The storied constellation, like a page
Fraught with the wonders of a former age,
Where monsters grim, gorgons, and hydras rise,
And “Gods and heroes blaze along the skies.”
Thus Nature’s music, various as the hour
Solemn, or sweet, hath ever mystic power
Still to preserve the unperverted heart
Awake to love and beauty—to impart
Treasures of thought, and feeling pure and deep,
That aid the doubting soul its heavenward course to keep.
The Golden Ball: A Tale of Faerie
Written in the Album of a Young Friend1
By Sarah H. Whitman
Chauted to the cradle slumbers
Of thy childhood, Eleanore,
Often hast thou heard the numbers
Of the ancient faerie-lore—
Listened to the mythic stories
Taught when fancy’s charm-ed away
Filled with visionary glories
All thy childhood’s golden day.
In the dull and drear December
Sitting by the hearth-light’s gleam,
Often do I still remember
Tales that haunt me like a dream.
Often I recall the story
Of the outcast child forlorn,
Doomed to rove in forest hoary,
From the step-dame’s cruel scors,
Long she wandered, sad and lonely,
‘Till the daylight’s dying gloom
Left one silver planet only,
Trembling through the twilight gloom.
Still she wandered, faint and weary,
Through the forest wild and wide,
Till her thoughts grew dark and dreary,
And her heart with terror died.
Orphaned in this world of sorrow,
Chased by savage beasts of prey—
Doomed from frantic fears to borrow
Strength to bear her on her way.
‘Till a gracious fairy, wandering
Forth to greet the evening star,
Found her near a torrent, pondering
How to pass its watery bar.
Then, with dulcet voice, the stranger
Freed her soul from terror’s thrall;
While, to guide her feet from danger,
Down she flung a Golden Ball.
Shrined within its charm-ed hollow,
Many a mystic virtue lay;
Safely might her footsteps follow
Wheresoe’er it led the way.
Hast not heard, with heart of wonder,
How this magic globe of gold,
Onward through the rushing thunder
Of the stormy torrent rolled?
On where boundless forests burning,
Scorched the air and scathed the sight,
From earth’s ghastly features turning
Back the dunnest pall of night.
Still, on golden axis tuning
Onward, onward, still it sped—
Still the maid, her terrors spurning,
Fleetly following as it fled.
While the raging waters bore her
Safely o’er their hollow way;
And the flame-lights, flashing o’er her,
Paled like stars at break of day.
Paled before her virgin honor—
Paled before her love and truth—
Savage natures, gazing on her,
Turned to pity and to ————-
So she passed the burning forest,
Passed the grinding2 iron gate,
And when danger threatened sorest,
Calmly trod the path of fate.
‘Till the night that seemed so dreary,
Grew more beautiful than day;
And her little feet so weary,
Glided gently on their way—
Glided o’er the grassy meadows
Steeped in perfume—starred with dew—
Glided ‘neath the forest shadows,
Till the moonlight, slanting through,
Gleamed athwart a fountain, sleeping
Calmly in its hollow cells,
Where were little fishes leaping
All about the lily bells.
Soon the lilies seemed to shiver,
And a tremor shook the air,
Curdled all the sleeping river,
Woke the thunder in its lair.
Lo! a fish from out the water
Rising, ope’d its rosy gills—
(‘Twas the gracious fairy’s daughter;)
And the air with music thrills,
As her finny life, ignoring,3
Thus she spoke, in gurgling tones,
Sweet as summer waters, pouring
O’er a bed of pebble-stones.
“Thou hast conquered, little stranger,
All thy bitter trials past;
Days of toil, and nights of danger,
Thou hast won the goal at last.
“Lift me from the running water,
Lay me on the grass to dry,
For I am a fairy’s daughter,
Doomed within the wave to lie,
“Till a mortal maid should take me
From the liquid element—
Henceforth will I ne’er forsake thee,
And my name is—TRUE CONTENT.
“Thus, though step-dame NATURE chide thee,
And oppress with cruel thrall,
Unto true content shall guide thee,
FAITH’S unerring GOLDEN BALL.”
- I have sought in vain, dear Eleanore, for this story, among the most approved collections of authentic fairy legends. I fear it will be considered apocryphal by the “New Generation,” since I must confess it rests on no better authority than the traditionary lore of the Cabeiri, or the Talmudic legends of the Kabbala. Yet I can vouch for its authenticity, having heard it in my childhood, from an aged relative, to whose maternal ancestors it was related by lineal descendant of ——— Nurse, well known to have been connected by marriage with a half sister of Mother Bunch. You will not, therefore, accuse me of straining your fair pages with un-advised or trivial fables; but treasure the mythic verse in your young heart, and ponder its hidden wisdom. ↩
- This gate crushed those who lingered and hesitated; while the courageous passed safely through. ↩
- This term has come into much use of late, but lest any should be unacquainted with its meaning, I would say that it is used in the sense of abandoning, or forgetting. ↩