Poems Written During the Progress of the Abolition Question In the United States
J. G. WHITTIER.
THE MORNING DREAM.[F 1]
'Twas in the glad season of spring,
Asleep, at the dawn of the day,
I dream'd what I cannot but sing,
So pleasant it seem'd as I lay.
I dream'd that on ocean afloat,
Far hence to the westward I sail'd,
While the billows high lifted the boat,
And the fresh blowing breeze never fail'd.
In the steerage a woman I saw—
Such at least was the form that she wore—
Whose beauty impressed me with awe,
Ne'er taught me by woman before.
She sat, and a shield at her side
Shed light like a sun on the waves,
And smiling divinely, she cried,
'I go to make freemen of slaves.'—
Then raising her voice to a strain,
The sweetest that ear ever heard,
She sung of the slave's broken chain,
Wherever her glory appeared.
Some clouds which had over us hung,
Fled, chased by her melody clear;
And methought, while she liberty sung,
'Twas liberty only to hear.
Thus swiftly dividing the flood,
To a slave-cultured island we came,
Where a demon, her enemy, stood,
Oppression his terrible name.
In his hand, as a sign of his sway,
A scourge hung with lashes he bore,
And stood looking out for his prey,
From Africa's sorrowful shore.
But soon as approaching the land,
That angel-like woman he view'd,
The scourge he let fall from his hand,[F 2]
With the blood of his subjects imbru'd.
I saw him both sicken and die,
And the moment the monster expired,
Heard shouts that ascended the sky,
From thousands with rapture inspired.
Awaking, how could I but muse
At what such a dream should betide?
But soon my ear caught the glad news,
Which served my weak thought for a guide;
That Britannia, renown'd o'er the waves,
For the hatred she ever has shown
To the black-sceptered rulers of slaves,
Resolves to have none of her own.
- In explanation of the Plate.
- See Frontispiece
WRITTEN DURING THE PROGRESS
BETWEEN THE YEARS
1830 AND 1838.
John G. Whittier.
PUBLISHED BY ISAAC KNAPP,
No. 25, Cornhill.
Entered according to Act of Congress, in the year 1837, by
In the Clerk's office of the District Court of Massachusetts.
The Editor has been inducted to collect the fugitive pieces which compose this little volume, by observing the care with which they have been sought for and preserved, long after the events which gave rise to them have passed. This gives him to know that they are not merely occasional poems, but true poetry;—the germs of great deeds, cast forth into 'the seed-field of opinion.'
The wish to bind them together is strengthened in the editor's mind by the knowledge that the author is himself but too careless of preserving their form, as long as their spirit is kindling up in the community.
Those who have read Mogg Megone will see in the same easy strength of versification; the same thrilling correspondence of sound to sense—the same electrifying estro joined to high and powerful conceptions of moral beauty and sublimity, which have become thus strong and exalted, because the writer 'lives as a life what he apprehends as a truth.'[I 1]
It is to be regretted, as a loss to American Literature, that one so highly gifted as a poet should devote so little time to poetic labors. But he may derive satisfaction from the idea, that his labors for the honor of our nation, in a far nobler sense, will ultimately give freedom and life to her literature—now withering beneath the soul-enslaving censorship of a public, who exact of an author that he shall not unreservedly name the very name of Freedom.
Alas for eloquence, poetry and piety, when the orator, yielding his soul to the management of covetousness and oppressive ambition, is compelled to check the indignant burst of soul with which, in his childhood and youth, he had learned to speak of traffic in slaves[I 2]:—and when the poet and the preacher alike are dragged at the chariot-wheels of a slaveholding republic.
A kindly and generous spirit, filled like that of Whittier, 'with all gentleness and calmest hope,' makes a sacrifice of its most cherished delights and occupations when it springs to the defence of the difficult pass which commands the battlefield of Christian Freedom, with the determination to defend it unto blood, and yet to shed none.
Except in this difference of opinion as to the mode of effecting deliverance from oppression, Whittier is the Korner of America.[I 3] To those hearts and in whose memories these poems are treasured, the editor offers this little book with peculiar pleasure: while he trusts that it will meet many an eye, and touch many a heart, yet unaware of the extent, the power, or the beauty of abolition principles.
- R. W. Emerson
- Speech of Hon. Peleg Sprague in Faneuil Hall—'I mean, Sir, the forgiven slave trade!'
- How many hearts among the American abolitionists, beat in sympathy with the feelings thus expressed by the Hero-poet of Germany:
'Let me prove a worthy son of my Father-land. Now, when I know how far this world's happiness can reach; now, when all the stars of good fortune shine over me, fair and propitious; now is it by my God, a noble spirit which stirs in me; now do I give a mighty proof that no offering is too great for man's highest blessing—the Freedom of his Country! The great moment calls for great hearts; and within me do I feelthe power to be a rock amidst the raging of the waves of nations. I must away—and throw my breast with the fearless force against this storm of seas. Shall I be cowardly content with my Lyre to arouse my conquering brothers, by sounding after them songs of triumph? No. I know what anxious fears thou must suffer for me; I know how my mother will weep! God comfort her! I cannot spare you this sorrow. That I offer up my life is no great thing; but this life is twined with all the flower-wreaths of friendship, happiness and love; and that thus I offer it: That I fling behind me the dear pleasure given by the feeling that I had caused you no trouble, no pain;—THIS is an offering to be weighed against Freedom alone!'
KORNER—Letter to his Father.
POEMS BY WHITTIER.