Verse > Anthologies > The World’s Best Poetry > Vol. VIII. National Spirit
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Bliss Carman, et al., eds.  The World’s Best Poetry.
Volume VIII. National Spirit.  1904.
 
II. Freedom
Slavery
William Cowper (1731–1800)
 
From “The Timepiece”: “The Task,” Book II.

  O FOR a lodge in some vast wilderness,
Some boundless contiguity of shade,
Where rumor of oppression and deceit,
Of unsuccessful or successful war,
Might never reach me more! My ear is pained,        5
My soul is sick, with every day’s report
Of wrong and outrage with which earth is filled.
There is no flush in man’s obdúrate heart;
It does not feel for man; the natural bond
Of brotherhood is served as the flax,        10
That falls asunder at the touch of fire.
He finds his fellow guilty of a skin
Not colored like his own, and, having power
To enforce the wrong, for such a worthy cause
Dooms and devotes him as his lawful prey.        15
Lands intersected by a narrow frith
Abhor each other. Mountains interposed
Make enemies of nations, who had else
Like kindred drops been mingled into one.
Thus man devotes his brother, and destroys;        20
And, worse than all, and most to be deplored
As human nature’s broadest, foulest blot,
Chains him, and tasks him, and exacts his sweat
With stripes, that Mercy, with a bleeding heart,
Weeps, when she sees inflicted on a beast.        25
Then what is man? And what man, seeing this,
And having human feelings, does not blush,
And hang his head, to think himself a man?
I would not have a slave to till my ground,
To carry me, to fan me while I sleep,        30
And tremble when I wake, for all the wealth
That sinews bought and sold have ever earned.
No; dear as freedom is, and in my heart’s
Just estimation prized above all price,
I had much rather be myself the slave,        35
And wear the bonds, than fasten them on him.
We have no slaves at home.—Then why abroad?
And they themselves, once ferried o’er the wave
That parts us, are emancipate and loosed.
Slaves cannot breathe in England; if their lungs        40
Receive our air, that moment they are free;
They touch our country, and their shackles fall.
That ’s noble, and bespeaks a nation proud
And jealous of the blessing. Spread it then,
And let it circulate through every vein        45
Of all your empire; that, where Britain’s power
Is felt, mankind may feel her mercy too.
 
 
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