Verse > Anthologies > Edmund Clarence Stedman, ed. > An American Anthology, 1787–1900
Edmund Clarence Stedman, ed. (1833–1908).  An American Anthology, 1787–1900.  1900.
99. The Death of Slavery
By William Cullen Bryant
O THOU great Wrong, that, through the slow-paced years,
  Didst hold thy millions fettered, and didst wield
  The scourge that drove the laborer to the field,
And turn a stony gaze on human tears,
    Thy cruel reign is o’er;        5
    Thy bondmen crouch no more
In terror at the menace of thine eye;
  For He who marks the bounds of guilty power,
Long-suffering, hath heard the captive’s cry,
  And touched his shackles at the appointed hour,        10
And lo! they fall, and he whose limbs they galled
Stands in his native manhood, disenthralled.
A shout of joy from the redeemed is sent;
  Ten thousand hamlets swell the hymn of thanks;
  Our rivers roll exulting, and their banks        15
Send up hosannas to the firmament!
    Fields where the bondman’s toil
    No more shall trench the soil,
Seem now to bask in a serener day;
  The meadow-birds sing sweeter, and the airs        20
Of heaven with more caressing softness play,
  Welcoming man to liberty like theirs.
A glory clothes the land from sea to sea,
For the great land and all its coasts are free.
Within that land wert thou enthroned of late,        25
  And they by whom the nation’s laws were made,
  And they who filled its judgment-seats, obeyed
Thy mandate, rigid as the will of Fate.
    Fierce men at thy right hand,
    With gesture of command,        30
Gave forth the word that none might dare gainsay;
  And grave and reverend ones, who loved thee not,
Shrank from thy presence, and in blank dismay
  Choked down, unuttered, the rebellious thought;
While meaner cowards, mingling with thy train,        35
Proved, from the book of God, thy right to reign.
Great as thou wert, and feared from shore to shore,
  The wrath of Heaven o’ertook thee in thy pride;
  Thou sitt’st a ghastly shadow; by thy side
Thy once strong arms hang nerveless evermore.        40
    And they who quailed but now
    Before thy lowering brow,
Devote thy memory to scorn and shame,
  And scoff at the pale, powerless thing thou art.
And they who ruled in thine imperial name,        45
  Subdued, and standing sullenly apart,
Scowl at the hands that overthrew thy reign,
And shattered at a blow the prisoner’s chain.
Well was thy doom deserved; thou didst not spare
  Life’s tenderest ties, but cruelly didst part        50
  Husband and wife, and from the mother’s heart
Didst wrest her children, deaf to shriek and prayer;
    Thy inner lair became
    The haunt of guilty shame;
Thy lash dropped blood; the murderer, at thy side,        55
  Showed his red hands, nor feared the vengeance due.
Thou didst sow earth with crimes, and, far and wide,
  A harvest of uncounted miseries grew,
Until the measure of thy sins at last
Was full, and then the avenging bolt was cast!        60
Go now, accursed of God, and take thy place
  With hateful memories of the elder time,
  With many a wasting plague, and nameless crime,
And bloody war that thinned the human race;
    With the Black Death, whose way        65
    Through wailing cities lay,
Worship of Moloch, tyrannies that built
  The Pyramids, and cruel creeds that taught
To avenge a fancied guilt by deeper guilt—
  Death at the stake to those that held them not.        70
Lo! the foul phantoms, silent in the gloom
Of the flown ages, part to yield thee room.
I see the better years that hasten by
  Carry thee back into that shadowy past,
  Where, in the dusty spaces, void and vast,        75
The graves of those whom thou hast murdered lie.
    The slave-pen, through whose door
    Thy victims pass no more,
Is there, and there shall the grim block remain
  At which the slave was sold; while at thy feet        80
Scourges and engines of restraint and pain
  Moulder and rust by thine eternal seat.
There, mid the symbols that proclaim thy crimes,
Dwell thou, a warning to the coming times.


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