Verse > John Greenleaf Whittier > The Poetical Works in Four Volumes
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John Greenleaf Whittier (1807–1892).  The Poetical Works in Four Volumes.  1892.
 
Anti-Slavery Poems
The Christian Slave
 
          In a publication of L. F. Tasistro—Random Shots and Southern Breezes—is a description of a slave auction at New Orleans, at which the auctioneer recommended the woman on the stand as “A GOOD CHRISTIAN!” It was not uncommon to see advertisements of slaves for sale, in which they were described as pious or as members of the church. In one advertisement a slave was noted as “a Baptist preacher.”

    A CHRISTIAN! going, gone!
Who bids for God’s own image? for his grace,
Which that poor victim of the market-place
    Hath in her suffering won?
 
    My God! can such things be?        5
Hast Thou not said that whatsoe’er is done
Unto Thy weakest and Thy humblest one
    Is even done to Thee?
 
    In that sad victim, then,
Child of Thy pitying love, I see Thee stand;        10
Once more the jest-word of a mocking band,
    Bound, sold, and scourged again!
 
    A Christian up for sale!
Wet with her blood your whips, o’ertask her frame,
Make her life loathsome with your wrong and shame,        15
    Her patience shall not fail!
 
    A heathen hand might deal
Back on your heads the gathered wrong of years:
But her low, broken prayer and nightly tears,
    Ye neither heed nor feel.        20
 
    Con well thy lesson o’er,
Thou prudent teacher, tell the toiling slave
No dangerous tale of Him who came to save
    The outcast and the poor.
 
    But wisely shut the ray        25
Of God’s free Gospel from her simple heart,
And to her darkened mind alone impart
    One stern command, Obey! 1
 
    So shalt thou deftly raise
The market price of human flesh; and while        30
On thee, their pampered guest, the planters smile,
    Thy church shall praise.
 
    Grave, reverend men shall tell
From Northern pulpits how thy work was blest,
While in that vile South Sodom first and best,        35
    Thy poor disciples sell.
 
    Oh, shame! the Moslem thrall,
Who, with his master, to the Prophet kneels,
While turning to the sacred Kebla feels
    His fetters break and fall.        40
 
    Cheers for the turbaned Bey
Of robber-peopled Tunis! he hath torn
The dark slave-dungeons open, and hath borne
    Their inmates into day:
 
    But our poor slave in vain        45
Turns to the Christian shrine his aching eyes;
Its rites will only swell his market price,
    And rivet on his chain.
 
    God of all right! how long
Shall priestly robbers at Thine altar stand,        50
Lifting in prayer to Thee, the bloody hand
    And haughty brow of wrong?
 
    Oh, from the fields of cane,
From the low rice-swamp, from the trader’s cell;
From the black slave-ship’s foul and loathsome hell,        55
    And coffle’s weary chain;
 
    Hoarse, horrible, and strong,
Rises to Heaven that agonizing cry,
Filling the arches of the hollow sky,
    How long, O God, how long?

  1843.
        60
 
Note 1. There was at the time when this poem was written an Association in Liberty County, Georgia, for the religious instruction of negroes. One of their annual reports contains an address by the Rev. Josiah Spry Law, in which the following passage occurs: “There is a growing interest in this community in the religious instruction of negroes. There is a conviction that religious instruction promotes the quiet and order of the people, and the pecuniary interest of the owners.” [back]
 
 
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