William Cowper


[Written Feb. (?), 1788.  Published in The Gentleman's Magazine,
     Dec., 1793; afterwards in 1800.]

FORC'D from home and all its pleasures,
     Afric's coast I left forlorn;
To increase a stranger's treasures,
     O'er the raging billows borne.
Men from England bought and sold me,
     Paid my price in paltry gold;
But, though theirs they have enroll'd me,
     Minds are never to be sold.

Still in thought as free as ever,
     What are England's rights, I ask,
Me from my delights to sever,
     Me to torture, me to task?
Fleecy locks, and black complexion
     Cannot forfeit nature's claim;
Skins may differ, but affection
     Dwells in white and black the same.

Why did all-creating Nature
     Make the plant for which we toil?
Sighs must fan it, tears must water,
     Sweat of ours must dress the soil.
Think, ye masters, iron-hearted,
     Lolling at your jovial boards;
Think how many backs have smarted
     For the sweets your cane affords.

Is there, as ye sometimes tell us,
     Is there one who reigns on high?
Has he bid you buy and sell us,
     Speaking from his throne the sky?
Ask him, if your knotted scourges,
     Matches, blood-extorting screws,
Are the means which duty urges
     Agents of his will to use?

Hark! he answers—Wild tornadoes,
     Strewing yonder sea with wrecks;
Wasting towns, plantations, meadows,
     Are the voice with which he speaks.
He, foreseeing what vexations
     Afric's sons should undergo,
Fix'd their tyrants' habitations
     Where his whirlwinds answer—No.

By our blood in Afric wasted,
     Ere our necks received the chain;
By the mis'ries that we tasted,
     Crossing in your barks the main;
By our suff'rings since ye brought us
     To the man-degrading mart;
All sustain'd by patience, taught us
     Only by a broken heart:

Deem our nation brutes no longer
     Till some reason ye shall find
Worthier of regard and stronger
     Than the colour of our kind.
Slaves of gold, whose sordid dealings
     Tarnish all your boasted pow'rs,
Prove that you have human feelings,
     Ere you proudly question ours!








The Complete Poetical Works of William Cowper.
H. S. Milford, ed.
London: Henry Frowde, 1905. 371-2.


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