“The Slave Mother” by Frances Ellen Watkins Harper (1825 – 1911)


“The Slave Mother”

Heard you that shriek? It rose
   So wildly on the air,
It seem’d 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 kyrtle 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.

“Lines” by Francis Ellen Watkins Harper (1825 – 1911)


“Lines”

At the Portals of the Future,
    Full of madness, guilt and gloom,
Stood the hateful form of Slavery,
    Crying, Give, Oh! give me room–
Room to smite the earth with cursing,
    Room to scatter, rend and slay,
From the trembling mother’s bosom
    Room to tear her child away;
Room to trample on the manhood
    Of the country far and wide;
Room to spread o’er every Eden
    Slavery’s scorching lava-tide.
Pale and trembling stood the Future,
    Quailing ‘neath his frown of hate,
As he grasped with bloody clutches
    The great keys of Doom and Fate.
In his hand he held a banner
    All festooned with blood and tears:
‘Twas a fearful ensign, woven
    With the grief and wrong of years.
On his brow he wore a helmet
    Decked with strange and cruel art;
Every jewel was a life-drop
    Wrung from some poor broken heart.
Though her cheek was pale and anxious,
    Yet, with look and brow sublime,
By the pale and trembling Future
    Stood the Crisis of our time.
And from many a throbbing bosom
    Came the words in fear and gloom,
Tell us, Oh! thou coming Crisis,
    What shall be our country’s doom?
Shall the wings of dark destruction
    Brood and hover o’er our land,
Till we trace the steps of ruin
    By their blight, from strand to strand?

“Learning to Read” by Frances E. W. Harper (1825 – 1911)


Learning to Read

Very soon the Yankee teachers
   Came down and set up school;
But, oh! how the Rebs did hate it,—
   It was agin’ their rule.
Our masters always tried to hide
   Book learning from our eyes;
Knowledge did’nt agree with slavery—
   ’Twould make us all too wise.
But some of us would try to steal
   A little from the book.
And put the words together,
   And learn by hook or crook.
I remember Uncle Caldwell,
   Who took pot liquor fat
And greased the pages of his book,
   And hid it in his hat.
And had his master ever seen
   The leaves upon his head,
He’d have thought them greasy papers,
   But nothing to be read.
And there was Mr. Turner’s Ben,
   Who heard the children spell,
And picked the words right up by heart,
   And learned to read ’em well.
Well, the Northern folks kept sending
   The Yankee teachers down;
And they stood right up and helped us,
   Though Rebs did sneer and frown.
And I longed to read my Bible,
   For precious words it said;
But when I begun to learn it,
   Folks just shook their heads,
And said there is no use trying,
   Oh! Chloe, you’re too late;
But as I was rising sixty,
   I had no time to wait.
So I got a pair of glasses,
   And straight to work I went,
And never stopped till I could read
   The hymns and Testament.
Then I got a little cabin
   A place to call my own—
And I felt independent
   As the queen upon her throne.

“To the Union Savers of Cleveland” by Frances Ellen Watkins Harper *(1824 – 1911)


To The Union Savers Of Cleveland

By Frances Ellen Watkins Harper

Men of Cleveland, had a vulture
Sought a timid dove for prey
Would you not, with human pity,
Drive the gory bird away?

Had you seen a feeble lambkin,
Shrinking from a wolf so bold,
Would ye not to shield the trembler,
In your arms have made its fold?

But when she, a hunted sister,
Stretched her hands that ye might save,
Colder far than Zembla’s regions,
Was the answer that ye gave.

On the Union’s bloody altar,
Was your hapless victim laid;
Mercy, truth, and justice shuddered,
But your hands would give no aid.

And ye sent her back to the torture,
Robbed of freedom and of fright.
Thrust the wretched, captive stranger.
Back to slavery’s gloomy night.

Back where brutal men may trample,
On her honor and her fame;
And unto her lips so dusky,
Press the cup of woe and shame.

There is blood upon our city,
Dark and dismal is the stain;
And your hands would fail to cleanse it,
Though Lake Erie ye should drain.

There’s a curse upon your Union,
Fearful sounds are in the air;
As if thunderbolts were framing,
Answers to the bondsman’s prayer.

Ye may offer human victims,
Like the heathen priests of old;
And may barter manly honor
For the Union and for gold.

But ye can not stay the whirlwind,
When the storm begins to break;
And our God doth rise in judgment,
For the poor and needy’s sake.

And, your sin-cursed, guilty Union,
Shall be shaken to its base,
Till ye learn that simple justice,
Is the right of every race.

“Bury Me in a Free Land” by Frances E.W. Harper (1825 – 1911)


Bury Me in a Free Land

Make me a grave where’er you will,
In a lowly plain, or a lofty hill; 
Make it among earth’s humblest graves,
But not in a land where men are slaves.

I could not rest if around my grave
I heard the steps of a trembling slave;
His shadow above my silent tomb
Would make it a place of fearful gloom.

I could not rest if I heard the tread
Of a coffle gang to the shambles led,
And the mother’s shriek of wild despair
Rise like a curse on the trembling air.

I could not sleep if I saw the lash
Drinking her blood at each fearful gash,
And I saw her babes torn from her breast,
Like trembling doves from their parent nest.

I’d shudder and start if I heard the bay
Of bloodhounds seizing their human prey,
And I heard the captive plead in vain
As they bound afresh his galling chain.

If I saw young girls from their mother’s arms
Bartered and sold for their youthful charms,
My eye would flash with a mournful flame,
My death-paled cheek grow red with shame.

I would sleep, dear friends, where bloated might
Can rob no man of his dearest right;
My rest shall be calm in any grave
Where none can call his brother a slave.

I ask no monument, proud and high,
To arrest the gaze of the passers-by;
All that my yearning spirit craves,
Is bury me not in a land of slaves.

“Blessed Hope” by France E.W. Harper


Oh! crush it not, that hope so blest,

Which cheers the fainting heart,

And points it to the coming rest,

Where sorrow has no part.

Tear from my heart each worldly prop,

Unbind each earthly string,

But to this blest and glorious hope,

Oh! let my spirit cling.

It cheer’d amid the days of old,

Each holy patriarch’s breast;

It was an anchor to their souls,

Upon it let me rest.

When wandering in dens and caves,

In sheep and goat skins dress’d,

A peel’d and scatter’d people learned

To know this hope was blest.

Help me, amid this world of strife,

To long for Christ to reign,

That when He brings the crown of life,

I may that crown obtain

“Thank God For Little Children” by Frances E. W. Harper


Thank God for little children,
Bright flowers by earth’s wayside,
The dancing, joyous lifeboats
Upon life’s stormy tide.

Thank God for little children;
When our skies are cold and gray,
They come as sunshine to our hearts,

Continue reading “Thank God For Little Children” by Frances E. W. Harper