Verse > Anthologies > Samuel Kettell, ed. > Specimens of American Poetry
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Samuel Kettell, ed.  Specimens of American Poetry.  1829.
 
The African Chief
By Sarah Wentworth Morton (1759–1846)
 
SEE 1 how the black ship cleaves the main,
  High bounding o’er the dark blue wave,
Remurmuring with the groans of pain,
  Deep freighted with the princely slave!
 
Did all the gods of Afric sleep,        5
  Forgetful of their guardian love,
When the white tyrants of the deep,
  Betrayed him in the palmy grove.
 
A chief of Gambia’s golden shore,
  Whose arm the band of warriors led,        10
Or more—the lord of generous power,
  By whom the foodless poor were fed.
 
Does not the voice of reason cry,
  “Claim the first right that nature gave,
From the red scourge of bondage fly,        15
  Nor deign to live a burden’d slave.”
 
Has not his suffering offspring clung,
  Desponding round his fetter’d knee;
On his worn shoulder, weeping hung,
  And urged one effort to be free?        20
 
His wife by nameless wrongs subdued,
  His bosom’s friend to death resign’d;
The flinty path-way drench’d in blood;
  He saw with cold and frenzied mind.
 
Strong in despair, then sought the plain,        25
  To heaven was raised his steadfast eye,
Resolved to burst the crushing chain,
  Or ’mid the battle’s blast to die.
 
First of his race, he led the band,
  Guardless of danger, hurling round,        30
Till by his red avenging hand,
  Full many a despot stain’d the ground.
 
When erst Messenia’s sons oppress’d,
  Flew desperate to the sanguine field,
With iron clothed each injured breast,        35
  And saw the cruel Spartan yield,
 
Did not the soul to heaven allied,
  With the proud heart as greatly swell,
As when the Roman Decius died,
  Or when the Grecian victim fell?        40
 
Do later deeds quick rapture raise,
  The boon Batavia’s William won,
Paoli’s time-enduring praise,
  Or the yet greater Washington!
 
If these exalt thy sacred zeal,        45
  To hate oppression’s mad control,
For bleeding Afric learn to feel,
  Whose chieftain claim’d a kindred soul.
 
Ah, mourn the last disastrous hour,
  Lift the full eye of bootless grief,        50
While victory treads the sultry shore,
  And tears from hope the captive chief;
 
While the hard race of pallid hue,
  Unpractised in the power to feel,
Resign him to the murderous crew,        55
  The horrors of the quivering wheel.
 
Let sorrow bathe each blushing cheek,
  Bend piteous o’er the tortured slave,
Whose wrongs compassion cannot speak,
  Whose only refuge was the grave.        60
 
Note 1. Morton, wife of the Hon. Perez Morton, Attorney General of Massachusetts, is a native of Boston, and occupied the first rank among the female writers of America in the early part of her life. Her verses published under the name of Philenia, enjoyed about thirty years since a wide popularity. Of late years she has not devoted herself much to poetry; but in 1823 she published a volume of prose and verse, entitled “My Mind and its Thoughts.” [back]
 
 
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