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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 Slave Ship

By James Montgomery (1771–1854)

(From The Voyage of the Blind)

O’ER Africa the morning broke,

And many a negro-land revealed,

From Europe’s eye and Europe’s yoke,

In nature’s inmost heart concealed:

Here rolled the Nile his glittering train,

From Ethiopia to the main;

And Niger here uncoiled his length,

That hides his fountain and his strength,

Among the realms of noon;

Casting away their robes of night,

Forth stood in nakedness of light

The Mountains of the Moon.

Hushed were the howlings of the wild,

The leopard in his den lay prone;

Man, while creation round him smiled,

Was sad or savage, man alone;—

Down in the dungeons of Algiers

The Christian captive woke in tears;

Caffraria’s lean marauding race

Prowled forth on pillage or the chase;

In Libyan solitude,

The Arabian horseman scoured along;

The caravan’s obstreperous throng

Their dusty march pursued.

But woe grew frantic in the west;

A wily rover of the tide

Had marked the hour of Afric’s rest

To snatch her children from her side:

At early dawn, to prospering gales,

The eager seamen stretch their sails;

The anchor rises from its sleep

Beneath the rocking of the deep;

Impatient from the shore

A vessel steals;—she steals away

Mute as the lion with his prey,—

A human prey she bore.

Curst was her trade and contraband;

Therefore that keel, by guilty stealth,

Fled with the darkness from the strand,

Laden with living bales of wealth:

Fair to the eye her streamers played

With undulating light and shade;

White from her prow the gurgling foam

Flew backward towards the negro’s home,

Like his unheeded sighs;

Sooner that melting foam shall reach

His inland home, than yonder beach

Again salute his eyes.

Tongue hath not language to unfold

The secrets of the space between

That vessel’s flanks,—whose dungeon-hold

Hides what the sun hath never seen;

Three hundred writhing prisoners there

Breathe one mephitic blast of air

From lip to lip; like flame supprest,

It bursts from every tortured breast,

With dreary groans and strong;

Locked side to side, they feel by starts

The beating of each other’s hearts,—

Their breaking, too, erelong.

Light over the untroubled sea,

Fancy might deem that vessel held

Her voyage to eternity,

By one unchanging breeze impelled;—

Eternity is in the sky,

Whose span of distance mocks the eye;

Eternity upon the main,

The horizon there is sought in vain;

Eternity below

Appears in heaven’s inverted face;

And on, through everlasting space,

The unbounded billows flow.

Yet, while his wandering bark careered,

The master knew, with stern delight,

That full for port her helm was steered,

With aim unerring, day and night.

Pirate! that port thou ne’er shalt hail;

Thine eye in search of it shall fail:

But, lo! thy slaves expire beneath;

Haste, bring the wretches forth to breathe;

Brought forth,—away they spring,

And headlong in the whelming tide,

Rescued from thee, their sorrows hide

Beneath the halcyon’s wing.