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

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

 Heard you that shriek? It rose 
       So wildly on the air, 
 It seemed as if a burden'd heart 
       Was breaking in despair. 
 Saw you those hands so sadly clasped— 
      The bowed and feeble head — 
  The shuddering of that fragile form — 
      That look of grief and dread? 
Saw you the sad, imploring eye? 
      Its every glance was pain, 
 As if a storm of agony 
     Were sweeping through the brain. 
 She is a mother, pale with fear, 
      Her boy clings to her side, 
 And in her kirtle vainly tries 
      His trembling form to hide. 
 He is not hers, although she bore 
      For him a mother's pains; 
  He is not hers, although her blood 
      Is coursing through his veins! 
 He is not hers, for cruel hands 
      May rudely tear apart 
 The only wreath of household love 
      That binds her breaking heart. 
 His love has been a joyous light 
      That o'er her pathway smiled, 
  A fountain gushing ever new, 
      Amid life's desert wild. 
 His lightest word has been a tone 
      Of music round her heart. 
 Their lives a streamlet blent in one- 
      Oh, Father ! must they part? 
 They tear him from her circling arms, 
      Her last and fond embrace; 
  Oh ! never more may her sad eyes 
      Gaze on his mournful face. 
 No marvel, then,  these bitter shrieks  
      Disturb the listening air: 
 She is a mother, and her heart 
       Is breaking in despair. 

Published in Poems on Miscellaneous Subjects, 1854

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