Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, ed. Poems of Places: An Anthology in 31 Volumes.
Americas: Vol. XXX. 1876–79.

Introductory to West Indies


By Philip Freneau (1752–1832)

THESE Indian isles, so green and gay,

In summer seas by Nature placed,—

Art hardly told us where they lay

Till tyranny their charms defaced;

Ambition there her conquests made,

And avarice rifled every shade!

The Genius wept, his sons to see

By foreign arms untimely fall,

And some to distant climates flee

Where later ruin met them all:

He saw his sylvan offspring bleed

That fiercer natures might succeed.

The chief that first o’er barren waves

To these fair islands found his way,

Departing, left a race of slaves,

Cortez, thy mandate to obey;

And these again, if fame says true,

To lord it o’er the savage crew.

No more to Indian coasts confined,—

The Genius thus indulged his grief;

While he to woe his heart resigned,

To see the proud European chief

Pursue the harmless Indian race,

Torn by his dogs in every chase!

Ah, what a change! the ambient deep

No longer hears the lover’s sigh;

But wretches meet to wail and weep

The loss of their dear liberty;

Unfeeling hearts possess these isles,

Man frowns, and only Nature smiles.

Proud of these vast extended shores

The haughty Spaniard calls his own,

No other world may share those stores

To other worlds so little known;

His Cuba lies a wilderness,

Where slavery digs what slaves possess.

Jamaica’s sweet romantic vales

In vain with golden, harvests teem,

Her endless spring, her balmy gales,

Did more to me than magic seem;

Yet what the god profusely gave

Is there denied the toiling slave.

Fantastic joy and fond belief

Through life support the galling chain,

Hope’s airy prospects banish grief,

And bring his native climes again;

His native groves his heaven display,

The funeral is the joyous day.

For man reduced to such disgrace

In vain from Jove fair virtue fell:

Distress compels him to be base,

He has no motive to excel;

In death alone his prospects end,

The world’s worst foe is his best friend.

How great their praise, let truth declare

Who, smit with honor’s sacred flame,

Bade freedom to these coasts repair,

Assumed the slave’s neglected claim,

And scorning interest’s sordid plan

Proved to mankind the rights of man.

Ascending here, may this warm sun,

With freedom’s beams divinely clear,

Throughout the world his circuit run

Till these dark prospects disappear,

And a new race, not bought or sold,

Springs from the ashes of the old.