Black Poetry Writing Month: Write a Poem for the Weary Slave

The Slave’s Complaint

Am I sadly cast aside,
On misfortune’s rugged tide?
Will the world my pains deride
Forever?

Must I dwell in Slavery’s night,
And all pleasure take its flight,
Far beyond my feeble sight,
Forever?

Worst of all, must hope grow dim,
And withhold her cheering beam?
Rather let me sleep and dream
Forever!

Something still my heart surveys,
Groping through this dreary maze;
Is it Hope?—they burn and blaze
Forever!

Leave me not a wretch confined,
Altogether lame and blind—
Unto gross despair consigned,
Forever!

Heaven! in whom can I confide?
Canst thou not for all provide?
Condescend to be my guide
Forever:

And when this transient life shall end,
Oh, may some kind, eternal friend
Bid me from servitude ascend,
Forever!

—George Moses Horton

 

Slavery was the darkest chapter in our country’s history. Human beings were viewed as property, interchangeable with livestock. They were kidnapped from their homeland, packed in squalor like spoons aboard ships and transported to a foreign land, beaten into obedience, depraved of their language and culture, forced into hard labor, whipped, murdered, raped, and worst of all, the defenders of this deplorable system said these victims were happy.

90
from Disney’s Song of the South (1946)

The myth of the happy plantation servant was a form of propaganda spread by Southern slave owners to combat abolitionism. They argued that the slaves were content with there status, siting that they often sung while working in the fields. Unbeknownst to the masters, this songs were usually Negro spirituals, Christian-themed songs that described the hardships of slavery, lamenting the slaves’ suffering and crying out for freedom. Frederick Douglass, a fugitive slave who because the face of the abolition movement after he escaped from bondage, wrote about the Negro spirituals in his autobiography, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass:

To those songs I trace my first glimmering conception of the dehumanizing character of slavery. I can never get rid of that conception. Those songs still follow me, to deepen my hatred of slavery, and quicken my sympathies for my brethren in bonds.

Contrary to what many works portraying the Old Antebellum South may have you believe, the slaves were not strolling through the woods singing “Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah” to the animals.

For today’s BlaPoWriMo prompt, channel the spirit of the weary plantation slave. Feel his pain, his sorrow, his desperation to be free from chains. Embrace the Christian-themed Negro spirituals and sing a hymn of hope and sadness that would break the hearts of all who hear.

—Nortina

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