AMERICAN SLAVERY. “Coming events cast their shadows before.” First published in August, 1839.
A splendid dome was imaged in the sky,
With lofty roof on six and twenty pillars.*
Its front looked forth upon the ocean,
Inscribed, “Asylum!” “Death to Tyrants!” “Freedom!”
It rose the product of the experienced past,
Gift of all ages, sealed with blood of martyrs!
Beneath its arch of love – oh, wretched sight –
Coiled round it slept a fiery dragon.
Slept? No, he rages! and with jaws of gore
A thousand throats all yearn as if with famine,
Victims by millions bleed within his coils;
Yet millions more could sate that Hydra!
Groans are his music, and his chosen lawn
Is one dark sea of hopeless human faces,
O’er which no breezes passed but wails of anguish;
And o’er that sea there seared a glorious eagle,
Strong as the wind and fiercer than the tempest;
Yet round her neck a silver chain was welded,
By which the dragon checked her at his pleasure.
She screamed of liberty, and then from afar,
Hoarse o’er the wave, the laughter of all nations
Came. It was the echo of her own orations.
Midnight rolled on. I heard the monster growl,
And thrice the massive pillars shook around him!
Thrice broke the thunder o’er that dome of light,
And red with wrath the lightnings glared athwart it.
Still, ‘mid the gloom one mournful cry ascended,
“Spare us, O God, let not thy people perish.
“Amen!” that sea of anguished manhood answered.
“Amen!” through all her realms the future thundered.
Midnight rolled by; the moon withdrew her shining;
Yet still that one sweet prayer to heaven ascended.
Storm leagued with storm – I felt that vengeful darkness;
Yet still that one sweet prayer to heaven ascended –
“Spare us, O God, let not thy people perish.”
“Amen!” the crashed and broken hearts responded;
“Amen!” the future, and all holy angels
Around the awful brink in concert kneeling,
Answered, “Amen! let not thy people perish.”
“Amen![“] as if from numbers without number,
Till fifteen millions started from their slumber.
High on the summit of the vast Blue Ridge,
Upon the loftiest of the peaks of Otter,
I stood amidst the golden beams of morning,
And watched the signs and wonders of the heavens.
Fled was the darkness, and the storm was hushed;
A radiant troop shone forth like stars of morning:
Truth, Justice, Truth and meek Philanthropy,
Heaven-born Religion, and her child repentance,
Called forth the millions of that peopled dome,
And thrilled the mighty mass with lofty feeling.
The North, the South, the West, all mingled there,
Heaved by one impulse, like the waves of ocean.
Wrought to one grand decision, till there burst
Forth from all lips one word – EMANCIPATION!
O, ’twas a voice of glory! ’twas a shout
As of ten thousand thunders! ’twas the anthem
Of lakes and floods, of prairies and of mountains,
And all enfolding oceans. Then the sunlight
Poured o’er that dome, and wrapped its roof with glory.
The fiery dragon was destroyed for ever.
See! where he coiled around each lofty pillar
Climbs the sweet vine, and clings the breath of roses.
Fly, fly, Ithuriell wave thy spear celestial,
Bright guardian angel of our youthful nation,
Chase from the world all forms of vile oppression;
Hang our the chart of universal freedom,
And legibly across thine unsoiled banner,
Write for thy God one holy word – Hosanna.
*The United States then numbered but Twenty-Six.
Publication:Ashton and Stalybridge Reporter
Date:Jan 7th 1865
Keywords:politics, religion, slavery
This relatively long and dense poem written in elevated language and including several classical references is typical of a particular strain of abolitionist poetry. The heading states that this was first published in 1839, six after the UK abolished slavery in most of its colonies, but suggests that this poem find particular significance now, as the American Civil War reaches its closing stages. The poem is published in this context two years after Lincoln’s Proclamation of Emancipation, and presents the abolition as a religious and moral imperative. – SR