Verse > Anthologies > Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, ed. > Poems of Places > Africa
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Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, ed.  Poems of Places: An Anthology in 31 Volumes.
Africa: Vol. XXIV.  1876–79.
 
Introductory to Africa
The Slave Ship
James Montgomery (1771–1854)
 
(From The Voyage of the Blind)

O’ER Africa the morning broke,
  And many a negro-land revealed,
From Europe’s eye and Europe’s yoke,
  In nature’s inmost heart concealed:
Here rolled the Nile his glittering train,        5
From Ethiopia to the main;
And Niger here uncoiled his length,
That hides his fountain and his strength,
  Among the realms of noon;
Casting away their robes of night,        10
Forth stood in nakedness of light
  The Mountains of the Moon.
 
Hushed were the howlings of the wild,
  The leopard in his den lay prone;
Man, while creation round him smiled,        15
  Was sad or savage, man alone;—
Down in the dungeons of Algiers
The Christian captive woke in tears;
Caffraria’s lean marauding race
Prowled forth on pillage or the chase;        20
  In Libyan solitude,
The Arabian horseman scoured along;
The caravan’s obstreperous throng
  Their dusty march pursued.
 
But woe grew frantic in the west;        25
  A wily rover of the tide
Had marked the hour of Afric’s rest
  To snatch her children from her side:
At early dawn, to prospering gales,
The eager seamen stretch their sails;        30
The anchor rises from its sleep
Beneath the rocking of the deep;
  Impatient from the shore
A vessel steals;—she steals away
Mute as the lion with his prey,—        35
  A human prey she bore.
 
Curst was her trade and contraband;
  Therefore that keel, by guilty stealth,
Fled with the darkness from the strand,
  Laden with living bales of wealth:        40
Fair to the eye her streamers played
With undulating light and shade;
White from her prow the gurgling foam
Flew backward towards the negro’s home,
  Like his unheeded sighs;        45
Sooner that melting foam shall reach
His inland home, than yonder beach
  Again salute his eyes.
 
Tongue hath not language to unfold
  The secrets of the space between        50
That vessel’s flanks,—whose dungeon-hold
  Hides what the sun hath never seen;
Three hundred writhing prisoners there
Breathe one mephitic blast of air
From lip to lip; like flame supprest,        55
It bursts from every tortured breast,
  With dreary groans and strong;
Locked side to side, they feel by starts
The beating of each other’s hearts,—
  Their breaking, too, erelong.        60
 
Light over the untroubled sea,
  Fancy might deem that vessel held
Her voyage to eternity,
  By one unchanging breeze impelled;—
Eternity is in the sky,        65
Whose span of distance mocks the eye;
Eternity upon the main,
The horizon there is sought in vain;
  Eternity below
Appears in heaven’s inverted face;        70
And on, through everlasting space,
  The unbounded billows flow.
 
Yet, while his wandering bark careered,
  The master knew, with stern delight,
That full for port her helm was steered,        75
  With aim unerring, day and night.
Pirate! that port thou ne’er shalt hail;
Thine eye in search of it shall fail:
But, lo! thy slaves expire beneath;
Haste, bring the wretches forth to breathe;        80
  Brought forth,—away they spring,
And headlong in the whelming tide,
Rescued from thee, their sorrows hide
  Beneath the halcyon’s wing.
 
 
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