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

Introductory to Africa

The African Chief

By William Cullen Bryant (1794–1878)

CHAINED in the market-place he stood,

A man of giant frame,

Amid the gathering multitude

That shrunk to hear his name,—

All stern of look and strong of limb,

His dark eye on the ground;

And silently they gazed on him,

As on a lion bound.

Vainly, but well, that chief had fought,

He was a captive now;

Yet pride, that fortune humbles not,

Was written on his brow.

The scars his dark broad bosom wore

Showed warrior true and brave;

A prince among his tribe before,

He could not be a slave.

Then to his conqueror he spake:

“My brother is a king;

Undo this necklace from my neck,

And take this bracelet ring,

And send me where my brother reigns,

And I will fill thy hands

With store of ivory from the plains,

And gold-dust from the sands.”

“Not for thy ivory nor thy gold

Will I unbind thy chain;

That bloody hand shall never hold

The battle-spear again.

A price thy nation never gave

Shall yet be paid for thee;

For thou shalt be the Christian’s slave,

In lands beyond the sea.”

Then wept the warrior chief, and bade

To shred his locks away;

And, one by one, each heavy braid

Before the victor lay.

Thick were the platted locks, and long,

And closely hidden there

Shone many a wedge of gold among

The dark and crispéd hair.

“Look, feast thy greedy eye with gold

Long kept for sorest need;

Take it,—thou askest sums untold,

And say that I am freed.

Take it,—my wife, the long, long day,

Weeps by the cocoa tree,

And my young children leave their play,

And ask in vain for me.”

“I take thy gold,—but I have made

Thy fetters fast and strong,

And ween that by the cocoa shade

Thy wife will wait thee long.”

Strong was the agony that shook

The captive’s frame to hear,

And the proud meaning of his look

Was changed to mortal fear.

His heart was broken—crazed his brain:

At once his eye grew wild;

He struggled fiercely with his chain,

Whispered, and wept, and smiled;

Yet wore not long those fatal bands,

And once, at shut of day,

They drew him forth upon the sands,

The foul hyena’s prey.