| Although slavery was associated mainly with the West Indies, there were slaves in other British colonies. Poetry, as this next selection shows, is more powerful than prose to convey emotion. The reader is more prone to read between the lines and exercise his imagination. The images are more personal and thus more memorable. The offspring of slaves were considered property of their owners. Hence, the wish that the womb be a grave for any being born means death is preferable to life for the slave. Another literary strategy was to use the pathos of a little child slave to awaken the reader’s concern and empathy. A good example occurs in “The Petition of a Negro Boy” by Hannah More from The Amulet of 1828:
Let your little Negro boy look
In God Almighty’s holy book.
The stripes that Jesus bore,
Could we but read his sufferings sore,
Would make ours lighter than before.
I’m told this Book, so wise and good
Has made it fully understood
God made all nations of one blood;
If that be true,
I then may meet my Massa at my Saviour’s feet. (More 169)
The irony of this poem is that the child begs to see a Bible, but as a slave, he would not be permitted to learn to read. The thought of salvation gives him the hope of present peace and life after death. The recourse of the slave was only to seek freedom in death or surmount captivity by religious faith. Maria Jane Jewsbury expresses the belief that salvation in Christianity would bring ultimate relief from earthly woes in these stanzas from “The Sleeping Slave” from the Forget Me Not of 1846:
Dream of the world beyond the grave,
Tis broad but in it walks no slave!
Of Heaven, where many mansions be,
Of Him, who orders one for thee,
Of Him, who notes thy tears and sighs,
Dream thus and conquer - Slave arise! (Jewsbury 190)
This poem promises the slave freedom after death. However, the last line is interesting, because it could be interpreted as encouraging the slave to revolt before death.
Many religious abolitionists thought that the brutality of slavery reflected back upon the souls of the slaveholders and that their just retribution would come after their death. John Holland writes in these lines selected from “Sonnet” from The Amulet of 1827:
“Who shall avenge the slave?”
“The right avenger of the slave is man!”
Sternly he looked, as proud on earth he trod,
Then said, “The avenger of the slave is God!”
I looked in prayer towards heaven - awhile twas still,
And then me thought God’s voice replied-“I will!” (Holland 33)
This poem asks the reader to think about whom is responsible for slavery, and the implicit answer is, any person who tolerates slavery. If one shuns his responsibility, one will ultimately pay for it. The slaver is primarily responsible, however, and the slaver’s eventual fate is more grimly portrayed in these selections from “Slavery” from Winter’s Wreath of 1828:
And when the dark and silent grave
Its gloomy jaws shall close,
And the stern master and his slave
Alike in dust repose.
Shall then in black array appear?
Before the judgment seat.
Then tremble tyrant of the day,
And shudder at thy doom;
For know, vain man, thy little sway is ended in the tomb.
(Anonymous 3 142)