The Slaves of Martinique
Suggested by a daguerreotype taken from a small French engraving of two negro figures, sent to the writer by Oliver Johnson.
Beams of noon, like burning lances, through the tree-tops flash and glisten,
As she stands before her lover, with raised face to look and listen.
Dark, but comely, like the maiden in the ancient Jewish song
Scarcely has the toil of task-fields done her graceful beauty wrong.
He, the strong one and the manly, with the vassal's garb and hue,
Holding still his spirit's birthright, to his higher nature true;
Hiding deep the strengthening purpose of a freeman in his heart,
As the gregree holds his Fetich from the white man's gaze apart.
Ever foremost of his comrades, when the driver's morning horn
Calls away to stifling mill-house, to the fields of cane and corn.
Fall the keen and burning lashes never on his back or limb;
Scarce with look or word of censure, turns the driver unto him.
Yet, his brow is always thoughtful, and his eye is hard and stern;
Slavery's last and humblest lesson he has never deigned to learn.
And, at evening, when his comrades dance before their master's door,
Folding arms and knitting forehead, stands he silent evermore.
God be praised for every instinct which rebels against a lot
Where the brute survives the human, and man's upright form is not!
As the serpent-like bejuco winds his spiral fold on fold
Round the tall and stately ceiba, till it withers in his hold;
Slow decays the forest monarch, closer girds the fell embrace,
Till the tree is seen no longer, and the vine is in its place;
So a base and bestial nature round the vassal's manhood twines,
And the spirit wastes beneath it, like the ceiba choked with vines.
God is Love, saith the Evangel; and our world of woe and sin
Is made light and happy only when a Love is shining in.
Ye whose lives are free as sunshine, finding, where-soe'er ye roam,
Smiles of welcome, looks of kindness, making all the world like home;
In the veins of whose affections kindred blood is but a part,
Of one kindly current throbbing from the universal heart;
Can ye know the deeper meaning of a love in Slavery nursed,
Last flower of a lost Eden, blooming in that Soil accursed?
Love of Home, and Love of Woman!--dear to all, but doubly dear
To the heart whose pulses elsewhere measure only hate and fear.
All around the desert circles, underneath a brazen sky,
Only one green spot remaining where the dew is never dry!
From the horror of that desert, from its atmosphere of hell,
Turns the fainting spirit thither, as the diver seeks his bell.
'T is the fervid tropic noontime; faint and low the sea-waves beat;
Hazy rise the inland mountains through the glimmer of the heat,--
Where, through mingled leaves and blossoms, arrowy sunbeams flash and glisten,
Speaks her lover to the slave-girl, and she lifts her head to listen:--
"We shall live as slaves no longer! Freedom's hour is close at hand!
Rocks her bark upon the waters, rests the boat upon the strand!
"I have seen the Haytien Captain; I have seen his swarthy crew,
Haters of the pallid faces, to their race and color true.
"They have sworn to wait our coming till the night has passed its noon,
And the gray and darkening waters roll above the sunken moon!"
Oh, the blessed hope of freedom! how with joy and glad surprise,
For an instant throbs her bosom, for an instant beam her eyes!
But she looks across the valley, where her mother's hut is seen,
Through the snowy bloom of coffee, and the lemon-leaves so green.
And she answers, sad and earnest: "It were wrong for thee to stay;
God hath heard thy prayer for freedom, and his finger points the way.
"Well I know with what endurance, for the sake of me and mine,
Thou hast borne too long a burden never meant for souls like thine.
"Go; and at the hour of midnight, when our last farewell is o'er,
Kneeling on our place of parting, I will bless thee from the shore.
"But for me, my mother, lying on her sick-bed all the day,
Lifts her weary head to watch me, coming through the twilight gray.
"Should I leave her sick and helpless, even freedom, shared with thee,
Would be sadder far than bondage, lonely toil, and stripes to me.
"For my heart would die within me, and my brain would soon be wild;
I should hear my mother calling through the twilight for her child!"
Blazing upward from the ocean, shines the sun of morning-time,
Through the coffee-trees in blossom, and green hedges of the lime.
Side by side, amidst the slave-gang, toil the lover and the maid;
Wherefore looks he o'er the waters, leaning forward on his spade?
Sadly looks he, deeply sighs he: 't is the Haytien's sail he sees,
Like a white cloud of the mountains, driven seaward by the breeze.
But his arm a light hand presses, and he hears a low voice call
Hate of Slavery, hope of Freedom, Love is mightier than all.