Poems excerpted from 'Amazing Grace: An Anthology of Poems about Slavery 1660-1810'

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Phillis Wheatley (1753?-1784)
"On Being Brought From Africa To America"

'Twas mercy brought me from my Pagan land,
Taught my benighted soul to understand
That there's a God, that there's a Saviour too:
Once I redemption neither sought nor knew.
Some view our sable race with scornful eye,
"Their colour is a diabolic die."
Remember, Christians, Negros, black as Cain,
May be refin'd, and join th' angelic train.

William Cowper (1731-1800)
from "The Time-Piece," Book II of The Task

My ear is pain'd,
My soul is sick with ev'ry day's report
Of wrong and outrage with which earth is fill'd.
There is no flesh in man's obdurate heart,
It does not feel for man. The nat'ral bond
Of brotherhood is sever'd as the flax
That falls asunder at the touch of fire.
He finds his fellow guilty of a skin
Not colour'd like his own, and having pow'r
T' inforce the wrong, for such a worthy cause
Dooms and devotes him as his lawful prey. . . .
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.
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,
And tremble when I wake, for all the wealth
That sinews bought and sold have ever earn'd.
No: dear as freedom is, and in my heart's
Just estimation priz'd above all price,
I had much rather be myself the slave
And wear the bonds, than fasten them on him.

William Wordsworth (1770-1850)
"September 1, 1802"

We had a female Passenger who came
From Calais with us, spotless in array,-
A white-robed Negro, like a lady gay,
Yet downcast as a woman fearing blame;
Meek, destitute, as seemed, of hope or aim
She sate, from notice turning not away,
But on all proffered intercourse did lay
A weight of languid speech, or to the same
No sign of answer made by word or face:
Yet still her eyes retained their tropic fire,
That, burning independent of the mind,
Joined with the lustre of her rich attire
To mock the Outcast — O ye Heavens, be kind!
And feel, thou Earth, for this afflicted Race!

Thomas Branagan (1774-1843)
from Canto II of "The Penitential Tyrant; or, Slave Trader Reformed"

One night, methought about the midnight hour,
A double darkness o'er me seem'd to lower;
Pensive I lay, to know what God design'd,
Sensations awful fill'd my boding mind!
The poor unhappy slaves rose to my view,
My former guilt, their wounds now bled anew;
I heard their sighs, and saw their big round tears,
Wept as they wept, and fear'd with all their fears;
Methought I saw once more their natal shore,
All stain'd with carnage, red with human gore;
Shrouded in blood they now appear'd to stand,
And pointed to their agonizing land;
I saw the thousands, thousands, thousands slain,
On their primeval, their parental plain;
Their lacerated limbs, with chains opprest,
Their minds, alas! with mighty woes distrest!
Each body mangled, scourged in every part,
While sighs and groans burst from each swelling heart!
I saw in tides of tears their sorrows flow,
And still new anguish added to their woe.