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

Frances E.W. Harper, "The Slave Auction" (1854)

The sale began — young girls were there, 
     Defenceless in their wretchedness. 
 Whose stifled sobs of deep despair 
     Revealed their anguish and distress. 
  And mothers stood with streaming eyes, 
     And saw their dearest children sold; 
  Unheeded rose their bitter cries, 
      While tyrants bartered them for gold. 
 And woman, with her love and truth — 
     For these in sable forms may dwell — 
 Gaz'd on the husband of her youth, 
     With anguish none may paint or tell. 
 And men, whose sole crime was their hue, 
     The impress of their Maker's hand, 
 And frail and shrinking children, too. 
     Were gathered in that mournful band. 
 Ye who have laid your love to rest, 
     And wept above their lifeless clay. 
 Know not the anguish of that breast. 
     Whose lov'd are rudely torn away. 
 Ye may not know how desolate 
     Are bosoms rudely forced to part. 
 And how a dull and heavy weight 
     Will press the life-drops from the heart. 

Published in Poems on Miscellaneous Subjects, 1854

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