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

Frances E.W. Harper, "Forest Leaves" (Full Text) (ca. 1846-1849)

[Note: the print version of this text is quite rare. The page scans we used to source this plain text edition are Courtesy of the Maryland Center for History and Culture, MP3.H294F. The version at the Maryland Center is undated, though the center dates the text to 1849. Some other sources suggest Harper may have first published this collection in 1846.

There is an excellent annotated edition of "Forest Leaves" by Alex W. Black, Brigitte Fielder, and Johanna Ortner here. Black, Fielder, and Ortner invoke William Still's biographical writing on Harper in The Underground Rail Road to support the dating of the text to 1846. -AS] 

Forest Leaves 
by Frances Ellen Watkins

James Young, Printer
Corner of Baltimore and Holliday streets.


[The version of this poem published in Poems on Miscellaneous Subjects is slightly different. -AS]
Yes! Ethiopia yet shall stretch 
Her bleeding hands abroad,
Her cry of agony shall reach 
The burning throne of God, 
The tyrant's yoke from off her neck, 
His fetters from her soul, 
The mighty hand of God shall break, 
And spurn their vile control. 
Redeemed from dust and freed from chains, 
Her sons shall lift their eyes,
From cloud capt hills and verdant plains 
Shall shouts of triumph rise. 
Upon her dark, despairing brow, 
Shall play a smile of peace, 
For God shall bend unto her woe, 
And bade her sorrows cease. 
'Neath sheltering vines and stately palms 
Shall laughing children play, 
And aged sires with joyous psalms 
Shall gladden every day. 
Secure by night, and blest by day. 
Shall pass her happy hours, 
Nor human tigers hunt for prey 
Within her peaceful bowers. 
Then, Ethiopia! stretch, Oh stretch  
Thy bleeding hands abroad, 
Thy cry of agony shall reach 
And find redress from God. 

The Soul.

"He knoweth not that the dead are there."
[Published as "The Revel" in Poems on Miscellaneous Subjects. -AS
 In yonder halls reclining 
Are forms surpassing fair, 
 And brilliant lights are shining, 
But, oh! the dead are there! 
 There's music, song and dance, 
There's banishment of care. 
 And mirth in every glance, 
But, oh! the dead are there! 
 The wine cup's sparkling glow 
Blends with the viands rare. 
 There's revelry and show, 
But still, the dead are there! 
 'Neath that flow of song and mirth 
Runs the current of despair, 
 But the simple sons of earth 
Know not the dead are there! 
 They'II shudder start and tremble, 
They'll weep in wild despair  
 When the solemn truth breaks on them, 
That the dead, the dead are there! 

[The version of this poem published in Poems on Miscellaneous Subjects is slightly different. -AS]
Oh touch it not that hope so blest, 
Which cheers the fainting heart, 
And points it to the coming rest,  
Where sorrow has no part.

Tear from my heart each worldly prop, 
Unbind each earthly string, 
But to this blest and glorious hope, 
Oh! let my spirit cling.
It cheer'd amid the days of old 
Each holy patriarch's breast,
It was an anchor to their souls, 
Upon it let me rest. 
When wand'ring in dens and caves, 
In sheep and goat skins dress' d, 
A peel'd and scatter'd people learned 
To know this hope was blest. 
Help me to love this blessed hope;
My heart's a fragile thing;
Will you not nerve and bear it up
Around this hope to cling.

Help amid this world of strife
To long for Christ to reign,
That when he brings the crown of life
I may that crown obtain. 

Yearnings for Home.

Oh let me go I’m weary here
And fevers scorch my brain,
I long to feel my native air
Breathe o’er each burning vein.

I long once more to see
My home among the distant hills,
To breathe amid the melody
Of murmering brooks and rills.

My home is where eternal snow
Round threat’ning craters sleep,
Where streamlets murmer soft and low
And playful cascades leap.

Tis where glad scenes shall meet
My weary, longing eye;
Where rocks and Alpine forests greet
The bright cerulean sky.

Your scenes are bright I know,
But there my mother pray’d,
Her cot is lowly, but I go
To die beneath its shade.

For, Oh I know she’ll cling
‘Round me her treasur’d long,
My sisters too will sing
Each lov’d familiar song.

They’ll soothe my fever’d brow,
As in departed hours,
And spread around my dying couch
The brightest, fairest flowers.

Then let me go I’m weary here
And fevers scorch my brain,
I long to feel my native air,
Breathe o’er each burning vein

Farewell, My Heart is Beating. 

Farewell, my heart is beating
With feelings sad and wild,
I’ve strove to hide its heaving
And ‘mid my tears to smile.

This heart the lone and trusting,
Hath twin’d itself to thee;
And now when almost bursting,
Say, must it sever’d be.

When other brows for mine
Were alter’d, cold and strange,
I clasp’d my yearning heart to thine
And never found it chang’d.

This heart when almost breaking
Has leaned upon thy breast,
But when again ‘tis aching
On thine it may not rest.

Oh clasp me closely ere we part
But breathe no sad farewell;
We can’t be sever’d while thy heart
Retains o’er mine its spell

Haman and Mordecai. 

He stood at Persia’s Palace gate
And vassal round him bow’d,
Upon his brow was written hate
And he heeded not the crowd.

He heeded not the vassal throng
Whose praises rent the air,
His bosom shook with rage and scorn
For Mordecai stood there.

When ev’ry satrap bow’d
To him of noble blood,
Amid that servile crowd
One form unbending stood.

And as he gaz’d upon that form,
Dark flash’d his angry eye,
‘Twas as the light’ning ere the storm
Hath swept in fury by.

On noble Mordecai alone,
He scorn’d to lay his hand;
But sought an edict from the throne
‘Gainst all the captive band.

For full of pride and wrath
To his fell purpose true,
He vow’d that from his path
Should perish ev’ry Jew.

Then woman’s voice arose
In deep impassion’d prayer,
Her fragile heart grew strong
‘Twas the nervings of despair.

The king in mercy heard
Her pleading and her prayer
His heart with pity stirr’d,
And he resolved to spare.

And Haman met the fate
He’d for Mordecai decreed,
And from his cruel hate
The captive Jews are freed

Let Me Love Thee.

Let me love thee I have known
The agony deception brings,
And tho’ my riven heart is lone
It fondly clasps and firmly clings.

Oh! let me love thee, I have seen
Hope’s fairest blossoms fail,
Have felt my life a mournful dream
And this world a tearful vale.

Oh! let me love thee, I have felt
Deep yearnings for a kindly heart,
When joy would thrill or sorrow melt
Some kindred soul to bear a part.

Let me love thee, yet Oh! yet
Breathe not distrust around my heart,
The lov’d, the cherish may forget
And act a cold and faithless part.

Let me love thee, I have press’d
Sadly my aching heart and brow,
But banish’d ne’er from each recess
The thirst of love that fills them now

Let me love thee, let my breast
Closely round thee entwine,
And hide within its deep recess
True constant love like thine.

Ruth and Naomi
[The version of this poem in "Poems on Miscellaneous Subjects" is slightly different. -AS] 

Turn my daughters, full of woe, 
Is my heart so sad and lone? 
Leave me children — I would go 
To my loved and distant home. 

From my bosom death has torn 
Husband, children, all my stay, 
Left me not a single one. 
For my life's declining day. 
Want and wo surround my way, 
Grief and famine where I tread ; 
In my native land they say 
God is giving Jacob bread. 
Naomi ceased, her daughters wept, 
Their yearning hearts were fill'd; 
Falling upon her withered neck. 
Their grief in tears distill'd. 

Like rain upon a blighted tree, 
The tears of Orpah fell, 
Kissing the pale and quiv'ring lip. 
She breathed her sad farewell. 
But Ruth stood up, on her brow 
There lay a heavenly calm; 
And from her lips came, soft and low. 
Words like a holy charm. 

I will not leave thee, on thy brow 
Are lines of sorrow, age and care; 
Thy form is bent, thy step is slow. 
Thy bosom stricken, lone and sear. 
They failing lamp is growing dim,
Its flame is flick'ring past,
I will not leave thee withering
'Nearth stern afflication's blast. 
When they heart and home were glad,
I freely shar'd thy joyous lot
And now that heart is lone and sad,
Cease to entreat I'll leave thee not. 

Oh if a lofty palace proud 
Thy future home shall be, 
Where sycophants around thee crowd, 
I'll share that home with thee. 

And if on earth the humblest spot, 
Thy future home shall prove; 
I'll bring into thy lonely lot 
The wealth of woman's love. 

However drear, earth has no lot
My spirit shrinks to share with thee,
Then mother, dear entreat me not
To turn from following after thee. 
Go where thou wilt, my steps are there, 
Our path in life is one; 
Thou hast no lot I will not share, 
'Till life itself be done. 

My country and my home for thee, 
I freely, willingly resign,
Thy people shall my people be, 
Thy God he shall be mine. 
Then, mother, dear, entreat me not 
To turn from following thee; 
My heart is nerved to share thy lot, 
What e'er that may be. 

"Bible Defence of Slavery." 
[The version of this poem in "Poems on Miscellaneous Subjects" is slightly different. -AS] 

Take sackcloth of the darkest dye, 
And shroud the pulpits round,
Servants of Him that cannot lie, 
Sit mourning on the ground. 
Let holy horror blanche each cheek, 
Pale ev'ry brow with fears, 
And rocks and stones, if ye could speak, 
Ye well might melt to tears.
Let sorrow breathe in ev'ry tone, 
And grief in ev'ry strain ye raise; 
Insult not God's majestic throne 
With the mockery of praise. 

 A man, whose light should be 
The guide of age and youth, 
Brings to the shrine of Slavery 
The sacrifice of truth. 
For the direst wrong by man imposed, 
Since Sodom's fearful cry, 
The word of life has been unclos'd, 
To give your God the lie. 

An infidel could do no more
To hide his country's guitly blot,
Than spread God's holy record o'er
The loathesome leprous spot. 
Oh, when ye pray for heathen lands, 
And plead for their dark shores,  
Remember slavery's cruel hands 
Make heathens at your doors. 

To A Missionary.

Joy, joy! unto the heathen,
Unfurl each snowy sail,
And waft the breath of prayer
On ev’ry breeze and gale.

Spread, spread your sails with mercy
As you plough the trackless,
And at your stern and helm
Shall God a vigil keep.

You’re freighted with rich blessings,
You’ve glorious things to tell,
Your tidings are salvation,
Your theme Immanuel.

Heathen minds by sin degraded,
Captives ‘neath the tempter’s sway,
Shall from their moral vision
Have the darkness chas’d away.

‘Neath bamboo hut and palm tree
Shall prayer like incense rise,
An oblation pure and holy
To the God of earth and skies.

He who from the fiery pillar
Guided once a pilgrim train,
Shall protect you by his power
As you sweep across the main.

More faithful than the needle
Pointing constant to the pole,
Shall the God of love be with you
When the darkest tempests roll.

God speed you on your journey,
May his presence and his power
Be your stay in grief and trial
And the joy of every hour.

"I Thirst"

I thirst, but earth cannot allay
The fever coursing thro’ my veins,
The healing stream is far away,
It flows thro’ Salem’s glorious plains

The murmers of its crystal flow
Break ever o’er this world of strife,
My heart is weary let me go
To bathe it in the stream of life.

For a worn and weary heart
Hath bath’d in this pure stream,
And felt its griefs and cares depart
Like some forgotten dream.

The Dying Christian

The light was faintly streaming
Within a darken’d room,
Where a woman, faint and feeble
Was sinking to the tomb.

“The silver cord” was loosened,
We knew that she must die,
We read the mournful token
In the dimness of her eye.

We read it in the radiance
That lit her pallid cheek,
And the quivering of the feeble lip
Too faint its joys to speak.

We read in the glorious flash
Of strange unearthy light,
That ever and non would dash
The dimness from her sight.

And in the thoughts of living fire
Learn’d from God’s encamping band,
Her words seem’d like a holy lyre
Tun’d in the spirit land.

Meet, oh meet me in the kingdom,
Said our lov’d and dying one,
I long to be with Jesus,
I am going, going home.

Like a child oppress’d with slumber
She calmly sank to rest,
With her trust in the Redeemer
And her head upon his breast.

She faded from our vision
Like a thing of love and light,
But we feel she lives forever
A spirit pure and bright.

A Dream.

I had a dream, a varied dream,46
A dream of joy and dread;
Before me rose the judgement scene
For God had raised the dead.

Oh for an angel’s hand to paint
The glories of that day,
When God did gather home each saint
And wipe their tears away.

Each waiting one lifted his head
Rejoic’d to see him nigh,
And earth cast out her sainted dead
To meet him in the sky

Before his white and burning throne
A countless throng did stand;
Whilst Christ confess’d his own,
Whose names were on his hand.

I had a dream, a varied dream,
A dream of joy and dread;
Before me rose the judgment scene
For God had rais’d the dead.

Oh for an angel’s hand to paint
The terrors of that day,
When God in vengeance for his saints
Girded himself with wrath to slay.

But, oh the terror, grief, and dread,
Tongue can’t describe or pen portray;
When from their graves arose the dead,
Guilty to meet the judgment day.

As sudden as the lightning’s flash
Across the sky doth sweep,
Earth’s kingdom’s were in pieces dash’d,
And waken’d from their guilty sleep.

I heard the agonizing cry,
Ye rocks and mountains on us fall,
And hide us from the Judge’s eye,
But rocks and mounts fled from the call.

I saw the guilty ruin’d host
Standing before the burning throne,
The ruin’d, lost forever lost,
Whom God in wrath refus’d to own

The Felon's Dream. 

He slept, but oh, it was not calm,
As in the days of infancy;
When sleep is nature’s tender balm
To hearts from sorrow free.

He dream’d that fetters bound him fast,
He pin’d for liberty;
It seem’d deliverance came at last
And he from bonds were free.

In thought he journey’d where
Familiar voices rose,
Where not a brow was dim with care,
Or bosom heav’d with woes.

Around him press’d a happy band;
His wife and child drew near;
He felt the pressure of the hand,
And dried each falling tear.

His tender mother cast aside
The tears that dim’d her eye;
His father saw him as the pride
Of brighter days gone by.

He saw his wife around him cling,
He heard her breathe his name;
Oh! woman’s love ‘s a precious thing,
A pure undying flame.

His brethren wept for manly pride,
May bend to woman’s tears;
Then welcom’d round their fireside
The playmate of departed years.

His gentle sister fair and mild
Around him closely press’d,
She clasp’d his hand and smil’d
Then wept upon his breast.

All, all were glad around that hearth,
They hop’d his wanderings o’er;
That weary of the strange cold earth
He’d roam from them no more.

‘Twas but a dream, ‘twas fancy’s flight
It mock’d his yearning heart;
It made his bosom feel its blight,
It probed him like a dart.

A prison held his fettered limbs,
Confinement was his lot,
No kindred voice rose to cheer,
He seem’d by friends and all forgot

A Dialogue.

Who hath a balm that will impart,
Strength to the fainting heart and brow;
I’ve look’d upon earth, and many a heart
Weary and wasting with woe.

I’ve heaps, I’ve heaps of shining dust,
I’ve gems from every mine;
Bid the weary spirit learn to trust
In gold that glitters, and gems that shine.

Oh! vain were the hopes of that heart,
Sighing its sorrows should cease,
That would search mid rubies and gems,
For the priceless pearl of peace

I’ve wreaths, I’ve w[r]eaths for the fever’d brow,
They’re bright, and my name is fame;
Will not the heart forget its woe,
When I write it a deathless name?

No! your wreaths and laurels rare,
Would blanche and pale on a brow unblest;
While the heart, remindful of its care,
Would ache and throb with the same unrest.

Oh! I am queen of a laughing train,
The lightsome,49 the gay and glad;
I’ve a nectar cup for every pain,
They drink and forget to be sad.

But I have seen the cheek all pale,
When life was fading from the heart;
‘Twas then I saw thy nectar fail,
I watch’d and saw thy smiles depart.

Oh! I am from the land of light,
My home is the world on high;
But I with the sons of night,
And bid their darkness fly.

I have no heaps of shining dust,
No gems from every mine;
But gifts to beautify the just,
On the brow of the pure to shine.

I have no wreaths of fading fame;
No records of decaying worth;
But God’s remembrance and a name,
That can’t be written in the earth.

When pleasure’s smiles shall all depart,
Her nectar but increase the thirst,
I’ll point the fever’d brow and heart,
To crystal founts that freshly burst.

Thy words do brigh[t]er hopes impart,
Than pleasure, wealth or fame;
Thou hast balm for the wounded heart,
Tell me, kind stranger, thy name.

My name and my nature is love;
God only wise, formed the plan
That mission’d me down from above,
As the guide and the solace of man.

Then I tell the fever’d brow and heart,
Thou’st balm for its wounds, and peace for its strife,
And the guerdon’s which thou dost impart,
Are the pearl of peace and the crown of life.


The shadows of morning empurpled with light,
Bent o’er Judea, all lovely and bright;
The zephyr just risen, stole o’er the lea,
And dimpled the cheeks of river and sea.

On that bright morn, a clamor was heard,
The footsteps of men whose passions were stirred;
The voice of wrath, of tumult and strife,
‘Twas the bloodthirsty cry of innocent life.

I gaz’d on their victim, on his pale brow,
‘Mid beamings of love, were shadows of woe;
And his eyes, mid reproach and with’ring scorn,
Seemed like a star bending o’er a dark storm.

Tho’ pale was his cheek, and ashy his brow,
By sorrow and anguish his spirit bent low;
Yet calm ‘mid the fierce and cruel he stood,
Who, like beasts of the forests were eager for blood.

And this was the multitude fickle and vain,
Who hail’d him in triumph, as coming to reign;
Incited by priests, insatiate they stood,
Their cry was his life, their clamor his blood

When dying earth drew round her form,
A mantle as dark as the vest of a storm,
Nature grew sad, earth trembled and shrank,
Astonish’d as Jesus the dire cup drank

An Acrostic. 

Angels bright that hover o’er thee,
Deem thee an object of their care;
Ever watchful they surround thee,
Lending aid when danger’s near.

May this life, thus guarded, sister,
Always feel thy Saviour near;
Render him thy heart’s devotion –
Trust his goodness, seek his care;
In these vales of grief and sorrow,
Nought shall harm while God is near

For She Said If I May But Touch of His Clothes I Shall Be Whole.

Life to her no brightness brought,
Pale and sorrow’d was her brow,
Till a bright and joyous thought,
Lit the darkness of her woe.

Long had sickness on her prayed;
Strength from every nerve had gone;
Skill and art could give no aid,
Thus her weary life passed on.

Like a sad and mornful dream,
Daily felt she life depart;
Hourly knew the vital stream,
Left the fountains of her heart.

He who’d lull’d the storm to rest,
Cleans’d the lepers, raised the dead;
Whilst a crowd around him prest
Near that suffering one did tread.

Nerv’d by blended hope and fear,
Reason’d thus her anxious heart, -
If to touch him I draw near,
All my suffering shall depart.

While the crowd around him stand,
I will touch, the sufferer said, -
Forth she reach’d her timid hand,
As she touch’d, her sickness fled.

“Who hath touch’d me.” Jesus cried,
Virtue from my body’s gone;
From the crowd a voice replied,
Why inquire, thousands throng.

Faint with fear thro’ ev’ry limb,
Yet too grateful to deny;
Tremblingly, she knelt to him,
“Lord,” she answered, “It was I.”

Kindly, gently, Jesus said,
Words like balm unto her soul,
Peace upon her life be shed,
Child, thy faith has made thee whole.

The Presentiment. 

There’s something strangely thrills my breast,
And fills it with a deep unrest,--
It is not grief, it is not pain,
Nor wish to live the past again.

‘Tis something which I scarce can tell,
And yet I know, and feel it well;
Thro’ ev’ry vein it seems to run,
And whispers life will soon be done.

It comes in accents soft and low,
Like bright streamlets crystal flow,
It whispers, lingers round my heart,
And tells me I must soon depart.

I felt it when the glow of life
Was warm upon my cheek,
In mornful cadence to my heart,
It solemnly did speak.

I felt it when a fearful strife
Was preying on my heart,
It told me from the cares of life,
I quickly must depart.

I felt it when my cheek grew pale,
By cares I could’nt repress;
It whisper’d to my wearried soul,
This earth is not your rest.


This page has paths: