National Poetry Month was introduced in 1996 by the Academy of American Poets as a way to increase awareness and appreciation of poetry in the United States, and, since 1998, it’s also been celebrated in Canada. The idea for the celebration came when the Academy saw the success of Women’s History Month (in March) and Black History Month (in February), and wanted a way to celebrate and promote the work of poets, and the power of poetry. So, as a Library who always enjoys a celebration, we are happy to oblige!
This week’s poem is by George Moses Horton, who was born into slavery around 1798 in North Carolina. He taught himself how to read and write using hymnals, the Bible, and cast-off spelling books. From these, he learned poetry, and to composes verses on his own. As a result, Horton was the first Black author in the South to publish a book, as well as the only American to publish a book while living in slavery. The book was titled The Hope of Liberty, and was released in 1829 by the politically liberal journalist Joseph Gales, who was intended to raise funds to purchase Horton’s freedom. He was not emancipated until 1865, however. Following his release from slavery, Horton moved to Pennsylvania, where he continued writing poetry that focused on his experiences of a Black man in the United States. He died in about 1884.
On Liberty and Slavery
Alas! and am I born for this, To wear this slavish chain? Deprived of all created bliss, Through hardship, toil, and pain! How long have I in bondage lain, And languished to be free! Alas! and must I still complain-- Deprived of liberty. Oh, Heaven! and is there no relief This side the silent grave-- To soothe the pain--to quell the grief And anguish of a slave? Come, Liberty, thou cheerful sound, Roll through my ravished ears! Come, let my grief in joys be drowned, And drive away my fears. Say unto foul oppression, Cease: Ye tyrants rage no more, And let the joyful trump of peace, Now bid the vassal soar. Soar on the pinions of that dove Which long has cooed for thee, And breathed her notes from Afric’s grove, The sound of Liberty. Oh, Liberty! thou golden prize, So often sought by blood-- We crave thy sacred sun to rise, The gift of nature’s God! Bid Slavery hide her haggard face, And barbarism fly: I scorn to see the sad disgrace In which enslaved I lie. Dear Liberty! upon thy breast, I languish to respire; And like the Swan upon her nest, I’d to thy smiles retire. Oh, blest asylum--heavenly balm! Unto thy boughs I flee-- And in thy shades the storm shall calm, With songs of Liberty!