African American Poetry (1870-1928): A Digital Anthology

Benjamin Griffith Brawley, "The Slaver" (1905)


 A Vision of What has Been, Viewed off Charleston Harbor. 

 As I stand near the ripple and plash of the wave, as I stand 
 Where the soul of the sea throbs with passion and love for the land, 
 As I muse in the attar of lilies and jessamine-bloom, 
 All the stress and the song of a hundred years fall in the loom. 

 Who is that? It is Taney; John Brown is making a raid ! 
 Is it Vesey that thinks? Are the mothers of Charleston afraid? 
 What a beautiful girl for an auction! a slave? and-hah!-she 
 With bouquets? Why, that's Topsy; that soldier there? Robert E. Lee. 

 It may be but the mist which the sea from its caverns hath wrung, 
 It may be but an impotent dream, undeveloped, unsung, 
 But that tosses and tunes a ghost-dance, and that shudders and veers, 
 While the pilot greets hence in the darkness the death that he steers. 

 And the mist settles low on the deep, and the night-wind comes down 
 On the heart of the sea where the myriad star-dartings drown; 
 Is it death-can it be?—that dim mist, and that scent from the line- 
 That strange vapor that mixes in heav'n with palmetto and pine? 

 It comes nearer, becomes more defined, and the waters let slip, 
 And the vasty dim blackness grows blacker; ah, see ! 'tis a ship! 
 It recedes, it reçoils like a serpent full ready to spring; 
 Far across the Atlantic's deep chest hear the slaves as they sing.

And the anthem spurred on by the driver rolls over the main, 
And the wavelets would fain bear the wail to the home-shore again ; 
Surely these are thy creatures, O God, they live under thy skies- 
Why, why do they shudder at even, why hate the sunrise? 

Yes, here! it was here that they brought them, those captives of old; 
It was here that they huddled at bell-taps, and here they were sold; 
Is it scourge and the death that I fear, nine-and, Africa, thine? 
No! in heav'n, mixed with beauty and blue, see Aldebaran shine!

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