Albery Allson Whitman was a 19th century African American poet who, despite being born into slavery, carved out a career for himself as a poet and orator. He served as a pastor throughout the south and mid-western regions of the United States. His poetry was universally well received and he became known as the “Poet Laureate of the Negro Race”. He is included in the anthology African-American Poetry of the Nineteenth Century where his efforts are described as “attempts at full-blown Romantic poetry”. Some even compared his verse to that written by well-known American and British authors who wrote in the Romantic tradition. One of Whitman’s poems is called Ye Bards of England which extols the virtues of the great literary figures from English history and begins:
Albery Allson Whitman Bio
Albery was born sometime in 1851 on a Kentucky farm near Munfordville, Hart County. His parents were slaves and the boy grew up working at a variety of manual labour tasks such as railroad construction and in a plowshop. Before winning their freedom his parents had both died and Albery found himself orphaned at the age of 12. Somehow he survived and he did a little teaching for a while before gaining a place at Wilberforce University at the age of 19. He was almost immediately taken under the wing of Bishop Daniel Payne who became his mentor and good friend.
Payne recognised his protégé’s talent as a writer and encouraged him to publish his first collection of poetry. After being at Wilberforce for only six months Whitman was a fundraiser and financial agent for the university. With Payne’s encouragement he took up the role of pastor, initially in Springfield, Ohio at the African Methodist Episcopal church. Between 1879 and 1883 he travelled throughout the states of Texas, Georgia, Kansas and Ohio, establishing churches wherever the spiritual need existed.
Albery Allson Whitman Poems
In The House Of The Aylors
The land of pines and cypress glooms;
We wander forth by field and lane,
In woody shades with plaintive strain.
Ye lonely bayous catch the sound!
Ye languid fen-brakes pass it round;
Ye pensive hills your silence break,
And let the mournful echo wake!
Of errant Pride’s chivalric deeds,
Of frowning Caste’s unholy creeds,
And their worse, sin-begotten heir,
Black Slavery, a lay I bring,
And of her painted crimes dare sing.When Satan, hurled down from the skies,
O’er this terrene his fallen eyes
In search of ruin hotly cast,
Hell-bound, but harm-bent to the last;
Those shores of ours, where Mexic’s Sea
Holds watch with the Atlantic, he
Touched not in his tremendous flight;
For, stooping there, the sons of light
He spied encamped in battle form
Around a captive ocean storm,
From which his equinoctial bent,
Wheeled short, and further northward went.Sweet land! conceived in chivalry,
Brought forth in wild adventure, reared
In conquest’s arm, to rivalry
And old ambitions long endeared!
The fairest of thy sister train
And fairer than thy mother Spain,
Thou art of all the world a lone,
Lone beauty of the fragrant zone.
Thy sisters in their lurid North
Surpass in wealth but not in worth;
More native grace hast thou than they,
Less wrathful winds and winters gray.
Thou hast no somber-low’ring skies,
In which the white-winged tempest flies;
Where shiv’ring woods aloud bewail,
All riven by the angry gale,
Their cheerless, torn, and chilly state,
Like empty beggars at your gate.
But such thy distant sisters know,
Within their wintry wastes of snow,
And hills as speechless as the tomb,
And sullen plains of voiceless gloom.
But girdled in thy summer zone,
As a maid who waits her lover,
Or to meet him walks alone
Under twilight’s dewy cover,
Thou dost come to meet each year,
Always smiling, never drear.
And can it be, that thou, this goodly land,
Could foster slavery with a jealous hand?
Yea, when less comely States had seen the stain,
Of crimson guilt upon their skirts too plain,
They shook the galling traffic from the clutch
Of commerce, and forbade her further such.
But thou, when banished Slavery left the North,
In wretchedness and shame, to wander forth,
A heartless strumpet, seeking e’en a shed;
Thou then did’st take her in and share thy bed!
And can’st thou wonder that thy hardened heart
Should make humanity’s shoulders smart,
When to errantic crime thou wast a bride,
When Pagan barbarism wedded Roman pride?
Of him whose valor first inspired onr strain,
A slave to Aylor bound we sing again.
The shady woodlands of his native West,
To him are not: in richer verdure drest,
A fairer aspect Florida presents,
But not more pleasure; that which most contents
A noble mind, the liberty to dare
And do, the man, he now no more can share.
To him what are luxurious verdure’s sweets,
And cypress shades, and orange-bloom’d retreats;
When for once dear delights his heart now hopeless beats?
Lo! where yon hedge-bound fields beyond the way,
Wave on the view exuberently gay,
Exulting in their flow’ry excellence,
And clasping in their green embrace, a dense
Deep grove of sturdy pines whose solemn shade,
Has o’er delicious seats a curtain made;
There stood the Aylor house, when in its prime,
A brave old structure of that princely time,
When rank and title held unquestioned sway,
And humble worth to fam’ly pride gave way.
How often have I, turning to its bowers,
In dreams sat down and wasted pleasant hours.
How often traced its various changing scenes
Of blossom’d fields, bright lanes, and rolling greens!
This goodly mansion hath an olden fame,
And memories that urn full many a name
In honors bright and not a few in shame.
Here hoary tenants, who in turn await
Their scanty pensions at a master’s gate;
These, and full many an ebon patriarch,
Of Afric’s humble tribe, who wear the mark
Of bondage, tell in tales of cabin lore,
Sad things that run the eye with pity o’er.
Thus of the Aylor line we are informed:
“When erst colonial patriotism stormed
New England’s early hights, and stretched the hand
Of burning eloquence o’er all the land;
And Puritanic piety, allured
By Siren Freedom to the wilds, endured
The long privations of the wilderness,
With all the unction of true holiness,
The Aylors mingled with the daring few,
Who in the tyrant’s face the blade of battle drew.
With vict’ry flushed on fortune’s swelling tide,
Young Aylor soon had won a lovely bride,
The fairest flower of New England’s pride.
Ere long, embarked in love’s light craft, they join
With oars of labor, and their hopes incline
To stem life’s tide; to fortune’s source explore,
And in the future near touch happiness’ shore.
Soft are the winds that swell their first short sail,
And mild their skies, ne’er angered by a gale.
Glad waves arise to kiss their peaceful keel,
And from their prow bright silv’ry ripples steal,
New ambient hills their ravished vision thread,
New argent fields and tinkling valleys spread;
Love lends new relish as new scenes invite;
Hope points to others not yet on their sight,
And gently heaves the deep beneath their dove-like flight.
To them the world is one ovation grand,
Where fortune show’rs bright favors from her hand,
And fancy beckons to a blissful land.
Florida the inviting aspect shows,
And here full soon the Aylor mansion rose.
There, husbandry soon stooped to till the soil,
And ripened plenty filled the lap of toil.
Bright Spring on Winter’s parting steps pursued,
With buds and flowers his ling’ring footprints strewed,
Her cornfields spread, and orchards in the dell,
And waited till the big rain’s benediction fell.
Full, blue-eyed Summer, stately coming on,
With shouting harvests stood the hills upon;
The breath of wasting juices did inhale,
With bloomy cotton whitened in the vale,
Spread out the ripened cane along the steep,
And waving rice fields in the swamp did reap.
Then Autumn came, with sickle keen in hand,
And yellow sheaves beneath her arm; to stand
And with her mellow voice to fill the land.
The waning fields sank on the saddened view,
And melancholy hills were robed in blue.
Brown Autumn came, and at her solemn close,
The swarthy hands of labor found repose.
Then sports set in, and harmless games began,
And through the livelong snowless winter ran.
What cares had slaves to mar their peace with dole,
And shut the light of mirth out from the soul,
When life-long labor made them richer none —
When nothing earned was theirs when work was done?
What reasons they to look back with remorse,
When careful conduct made their state the worse
Or better none? Their lives were not their own;
Hence past and future were to them unknown.
Hard labor’s respite came, and as it neared,
Their burdens lightened and their hearts were cheered.
Religion, work and pastime, all in turn,
They had; but art and science must not learn.
And yet, contentment these vast wants supplied,
And loaned the pleasures caste had them denied.
The mind that never grasped hypotheses,
Nor wandered in the maze of theories;
Nor toil’d thro’ demonstrations intricate,
Nor groaned beneath old histories’ vast weight,
Can best afford in other paths well known,
To seek for pleasures not so over grown
The last day’s labor was a day of feast,
And toil-earned freedom for both slave and beast.
The groaning barns were filled from floor to eaves,
And all the barnyard stacked around with sheaves.
Then, when the last full load of ripened corn
Was gathered in, the master took his horn,
And mounted high upon the rounded pile,
Rode homewards, sounding, followed by a file
Of empty wagons; while a lusty band
Of slaves came shouting on at either hand.
The shorn fields sank forsaken on their view,
And as they nearer to the barnyard drew,
Slave cabins emptied out a roaring crowd,
And gabbling hillsides answered them aloud.
Then shouts of triumph closed the boist’rous scene,
The master king, and mistress crowned a queen.
This edict then, thro’ all her milder reign
Of hut-bound realms, awoke a glad refrain
In servitude’s full heart: “Go waste the hours
As you may wish, good slaves; the time is yours
From now till blooming Spring shall come again,
And spread her painted sweets upon the plain.”
They then set in with ev’ry setting sun,
And danced till they were tired of the fun.
Loud rang the fiddle on three strings or four,
But louder rang their feet upon the floor.
The music, started once, as well might cease,
For joy kept up the dance with lively ease.
Now all hands joined, their circling knew no bound,
Save that they paused to catch the music’s sound;
And when caught, all hands joined around again,
They whirled away to overtake the strain.
Then, balanced all, they stood out pair and pair,
And trampled hugely down the flying air.
Thus on they strode till night’s last watch had flown,
Or they had broke the smiling fiddler down;
Who, sweating like a hunter in the chase,
Dragged his bandanna o’er a hopeless face;
Sore puzzled, grinned, and chided, out of breath,
“Ah! darkies, will you dance a man to death?”
Long ran their joyance thro’ the grateful years,
The slave as happy as his lord appears;
For then true guardian, the master deemed,
In all but rank his servants kindred seemed.
With him communing at the Paschal feast,
Where no distinctions met the humblest guest;
And with him at the nuptial altar kneeling,
His fervent prayer the holy union sealing;
He, round his dying couch, with sleepless care,
Life’s comforts brought, and knew no pains to spare;
Leaned tearful o’er him till his latest breath,
And closed his faithful eyes to sleep the rest of death.
But Avarice, whose reign is rife with woe,
To earthly bliss the deepest venom’d foe,
In this proud mansion found a lurking place,
At first discovered as a youthful grace,
At last unveiling all her frightful face.
The air grew tainted from her baleful lungs,
And Discord there unloosed her howling tongues.
There Anger’s raging thirst was slaked with blood
Drawn from the back of groaning Servitude.
From bad to worse the Aylor house went down;
In phrenzy’s bowl adversities they drown,
Thro’ halls of revel banished joys pursue,
Exhaust old pleasures, madly pine for new;
Chase wanton transports thro’ the mazy dance,
And seek their wasted fortunes at the hand of chance.
Then feuds and murder hurry to the scene,
And fam’ly pride’s dear bowers are there no longer green.
An orphan heir to violence and shame,
Now one lone Aylor, Mosher is his name,
Holds undisputed all his lawful claim.
The hand of love and beauty both he scorns,
With broken vows, his wanton rites adorns,
And in his mansion’s every nook and hall,
With open lewdness holds high carnival.
This brief narration, with its changes fraught,
Hath us once more to meet with Rodney brought.
The cabin dance, the banjo and the song,
Are courted yet by Afric’s humble throng.
They drown their sorrows in a sea of mirth,
And crush young griefs as soon as they find birth
Neath dance’s heel; and on the banjo string
A theme of hope, that forces woe to sing.
But one is there, to them a stranger born,
Whose manly brow the marks of thought adorn.
The low inventions of poor darkened mind,
Can never in the threads of nonsense bind
This mental Sampson; tho’ by Slav’ry shorn
Of rightful manhood, weakness he doth scorn.
The abject sons of Afric’s injured race,
With cabin sports assay to cheer his face,
But all in vain; their silly means repel,
Instead of please, the comrade they love well.
He’s with them, but not of them; for the light
Of freedom flashing on him once, his sight
Has trained beyond low Slav’ry’s bounds to ken
The hights, that he who treads will long to tread again.
All day he labors, speaking scarce a word;
All night lamenting in yon groves is heard.
His ear no more the torrent’s voice shall woo,
In deep shades musing long, or wand’ring thro’.
His winding horn no more shall urge the chase,
Where the proud Wabash doth his woods embrace!
No more the flying stag shall dash the spray,
And bend the hawthorn from his mountain way;
And in the blossom’d fields of yellow sedge,
In thickets brown, or in the briery hedge,
His wary spaniel shall no longer spring,
Nor whirring grouse, nor partridge swift to wing!
His fields are gone! Farewell, ye sports of yore!
Ye goodly seats on Mississippi’s shore!
And home is gone! All that makes labor sweet —
His hearth is darkened, where he once did meet
Bright chirping mirth around hoar comfort’s feet.
No loving eye shall on his threshold wait,
No little footfalls meet him in the gate!
No faithful yard dog to the fence shall come,
To leap, and wag, and tongue his welcome home!
Dear Western home, a tender, last farewell!!
No more shall Rodney in thy bowers dwell.
Lo, in the cane and cotton, far away,
He bends to toil thro’ all the sultry day!
Now on his life a weary journey takes
Thro’ regions where no day beam ever breaks.
“Oh, God!” he mourns along the pensive hills,
“The rayless gloom that now my bosom fills.
My life ends here! existence tho’, may creep
Some further on, but now ambitions sleep!”
Thus, all night once, alone he sighed,
In lanes and fields and forests wide,
And strolling on, was lost from view,
A deep dense pine shade wand’ring thro’.
There, where a bright stream leaping downward,
Moaned o’er falls and rambled onward,
Like a waywardness of childhood,
Or a wild dream; thro’ the wildwood,
And within a farthest recess
Of the forest’s leafy stillness,
Where the damp boughs stoop’d and listened,
And the waters flashed and glistened,
Formed a fountain clear, still, blue, deep,
In whose breast heaved Beauty asleep;
There, while morn was just awaking,
Slumbers from her eye-lids shaking,
And her mountain stillness breaking,
With her first sweet music making;
There, with eyes upon the ground bent,
Yet he onward mourning slow went.
All the waking woods were merry,
But his heavy heart was dreary.
So in deepening shades he wandered,
Where this wild strange stream meandered;
Knowing not, in his sad musing
Where he went, blindly not choosing
This or that path, as he went on
With his eyes the ground still bent on.
In his heavy soul he muttered —
These words pensively he uttered:
“Ah! bleak Norway’s churl may feel not
To complain against his cold lot,
When he never knew a better;
And the naked son of Afric,
Led about from youth to manhood,
In his desert haunt and wildwood;
By the bloody hand of Traffic,
May not groan to wear a fetter;
But to him whose soul doth cherish
Longings that can never perish,
Who his arms in fetters galling
Feels, while liberty is calling
To her citadel before him,
With her bright skies bending o’er him;
But to him, how hard the fate is!
Ah, to him how dark the state is!
Earth her every pleasure looses
To his eyes, and hope refuses
All attempts to mount on high,
To her dwelling in the sky.”
While thus he mourned in this sad plight,
Hard by his way, deep out of sight,
A sudden mighty stir he heard,
Of many a flapping bough and bird.
He upward glanced a hurried eye,
When thro’ the parting branches nigh,
Upon the brooklet’s other side,
A living beauty, lo he spied!
In native sweetness clothed, she stood
And all her fair proportions viewed
With fawn-like timidness. She deemed
Herself unseen, but watchful seemed.
Alone within her soft retreat,
The liquid mirror at her feet
Returned her beauty to her eyes,
Till, warmed with innocent surprise,
She stood admiring. Now her hand,
As graceful as a fairy’s wand,
She waved above the prattling stream;
Then gentle as a reaper’s dream,
She shook down raven locks of hair,
Upon the morning’s dew-sweet air.
In deeper shades she now withdrew,
But Rodney’s eyes as fast pursue.
There, half concealed, she looks more fair,
And seems abashed, at e’en the air,
That scarcely breathes upon her there.
A stolen glance at her fair parts,
Stripped Rodney’s bosom to the darts
That Cupid’s cunning strength let fly,
Till, wounded thro’ his dazzled eye,
He sighed for breath, his bosom held,
To hush its leapings as it swelled.
He shut his eyes to look no more,
But looked, worse wounded than before.
Then thought to turn and steal away,
And thought, and thought, but yet did stay.
Her beauty like a full round moon,
Uncovered in the branches, soon
Appeared as fair as e’er was seen
That lovely orb, green hills between.
Then, step by step on tip-toe poise
She stole, and ev’ry little noise
To her had eyes. Back she withdrew
Within the shade, and now in view
Again in all her beauty rose,
And full and clear stood list’ning, close
Upon the marge, where grasses sweet
And blushing flow’rets kissed her feet.
The wanton waves that played below,
With am’rous descant ceased their flow,
And with a strangely pensive speech,
The maid to tarry did beseech.
A moment gazing on the flood
With Eve-like innocence she stood,
And watched her perfect image there;
While lost within her flowing hair
Her small hand rambled. She had now
Plunged in the panting stream below;
Had not the sudden thickets stirred.
The breathless maiden, shrinking heard
Some farmer’s lad, on errand soon,
Towards her pipe his morning tune.
Quick as the lark, that, song-hushed darts,
When her still brush some footstep parts,
She, hasty dressed, deep out of sight
Within the thick boughs took her flight.
Rodney pursued, not knowing why,
Tho’ oft to turn back he would try.
A power in his feet that drew
Resistless as the wind that blew,
Kept him a going, fast or slow,
And where, or how, he did not know.
Glance after glance his dazzled view,
Worse dazzled as the maiden flew
Beyond him, and as on he bent,
He knew not what his bosom meant,
In drinking breath on breath so fast,
And being out of breath at last.
But now his secret pleasure turned;
Ah! in the distance he discerned
His master skipping onward too,
To keep the coy sight on his view.
Then, Rodney turned and stole away,
And toiling, mourned the live long day;
But Mosher Aylor, stern as fate,
Pursued, till thro’ the Brentfords’ gate
He saw the beauty pass from sight,
Like some sweet vision of the night.
Now Aylor passed a wretched day,
And night’s hours went their wingless way.
On all his house he closed his door,
And in a phrenzy paced the floor.
With hands behind him clasped, he stood,
Or leaning, sat, in sullen mood,
And sighed, and groaned, and raved with pain,
And rose and paced the floor again.
Till midnight’s silence reigned around,
His discontent had reached no bound;
From his vexed sea he saw no shore,
He never had thus felt before.
His wonted bowl, for him had lost
Its deep oblivion, and crost
By broken dreams, his fevered breast,
Refused the arms of balmy Rest.
In this sad plight, a hideous cheer
Before him stood! The haggard seer
Of Aylor’s shrine of wickedness,
Has heard the accents of distress,
That broke night’s stillness, and has come,
To move the trouble burdensome.
Now Aylor spoke, when him he saw,
On whom he long had looked with awe;
“Here Micah! Micah! Micah! here!
To my complaint, oh lend an ear.
This morning as I strolled the wood,
Deep thro’ yon cypress solitude;
Where shores of sweetest green ascend,
And thick boughs in the waters bend;
Fair as the light, I saw a maid
Unclothe her beauty in the shade.
I never felt a sting so bright;
I ne’er saw such an earthly s!ght.
Not radiant May with her perfumes,
And songs, and show’rs, and painted blooms,
And streams of crystal cheerfulness,
Could vie with her in loveliness.
But, like a bird of gorgeous hue,
She vanished on my starving view!”
“Aye,” cries the seer, “no doubt have I,
That the same bird which you saw fly,
Is the fair Creole visiting
At neighbor Brentford’s watering.
She is a slave, a waiting maid,
Brought down from New Orleans, ’tis said,”
“A slave! a waiting maid! a queen
Why don’t you say; for ne’er was seen
A fairer cheek of Saxon hue
Nor prouder eye of brilliant blue.
Phoo, pshaw! a slave! a waiting maid!
That light-beam sweet from Heaven strayed?”
Loud cries the Seer, “A slave I know!
And can be bought as I shall show.
Dispel the phantoms of thy brain,
And turn to thy right mind again;
You must be sick!” “No,” Aylor cries,
“I’m dead in love!” The seer replies,
Go pass in rest this far spent night,
And by the time young morn’s in sight,
I’ll bring the news to set thee right.”
Now, Aylor, half consoled, adjourned
His thoughts till morn, and then returned
With Micah, to the Brentford seat,
The owners of the maid to meet.
The room was darkened where they met,
And all was quiet, save the fret
Of restless boughs, and whisp’ring leaves,
That mingle o’er the ancient eaves.
Now Aylor speaks, “For gold! for gold!
Aye, you but say she will be sold,
And you shall have your price all told.”
Awed by the speaker’s fiery eye,
The strangers whisper this reply:
“If her we sell, of this beware
She must receive your special care,
Not as a slave of low degree,
But as a ward, descended free.
And this day’s doings, ever keep
From earth a secret hidden deep;
For should the news, by any means,
Escape your lips to New Orleans,
And reach our aged father’s ears,
‘Twill grieve away his few frail years.
Know this, he loves Leeona more
Than all his children ten times o’er.
His frailty has a passion grown,
And each day more his love has shown,
Till she has to us all become
The bane of pleasure, hope and home —
The idol of his feeble days,
The object ever of his praise.
Here to this wat’ring near your home,
He with reluctance let her come.
Now from her keep the fact concealed,
That she is sold: for if revealed,
She’ll pine away, and droop and die,
Or from your house attempt to fly.
By wary speech, the truth we’ll mask,
If our aged father ask;
“What hath befallen me? Where’s my dear?
Why hast thou left my Ona there?”
This said, they drew aside and spake,
Concerning what price they should take;
And when agreed, they answered bold:
“Two thousand dollars down in gold!”
And Aylor with triumphant eyes,
Threw them their gold, and seized his prize.
With tembling hands they count their gains,
In haste divide with heartfelt pains;
For well they know a sister’s tears,
And sweat, and blood, their purses fill.
Ah! well they know a sister’s years,
Must now float onward at the will
Of him, who with a shamless cheek,
To buy the hand of love would seek.
The offspring of a father’s crimes,
The bitter fruit of broken vows,
The charming bloom of hapless climes,
The growth of unprotected boughs;
Within the grasp of blighting lust,
A lovely ruin now is thrust.
What tho’ a father’s heart shall break,
In spite of race Caste, taught to ache,
And yearn thro’ age’s kinder years,
For those to whom Nature endears;
What tho’ he wakes with deepest groans,
What tho’ his sleep with anguish moans?
When his first sorrow’s bitter blast,
By soothing words is guided past,
His law-owned brood, will run at last
Their race in peace; tho’ doomed by spite,
A sister thro’ the stormy night
Of bondage mourn, a sad, sad sight.
What tho’ his grief shall bow his head,
And while from view all pleasures sink;
He of a Quadroon’s injured bed,
In age’s twilight stand to think,
And often weep beside her grave?
Society will whisper “Slave!”
His love was wayward, and his wing,
Waved wand’ringly in life’s warm Spring.
He saw the Quadroon, and they loved —
He and Leeona’s mother, moved
Liked sounds of some wild instrument
Touched by the wind, and sweetly blent
Their lives in lasting pleasurement.
But Dame Caste turned her iron face,
And coldly frowned upon their course;
And drove sad love from faith’s embrace,
With all the heartlessness of force.
‘Twas thus by social interest’s sullen voice,
Another’s hands was made to be his choice.
And thus it is that many a love has grown,
Where even Christians dare make it known.
Where Hymen oft in gorgeous aspect shows,
From true love blossoms not a single rose;
While out in fenceless wastes of Nature spring,
Discovered only in wild wandering,
The purest blooms of love, whose fragrant breath,
Live thro’ all life and linger after death.
A sister’s life is signed away,
Her brethren can no longer stay
To see her drink the bitter cup,
Which they with sorrows have filled up.
Leeona kisses them good-bye,
Regards them with a tearful eye,
And long entreats them to make known,
Why she must there be left alone.
And then sweet as the fair-eyed dawn,
When her light steps first brush the lawn,
She meekly looked in Aylor’s face;
And artless as a timid fawn,
With all of innocence’s grace,
She reached a trustful hand in his,
A hand as pure as lilly is,
And gently followed, till from view
Within the Aylor seat they slow withdrew.
Now twilight waned and evening still,
Darkened the vales, while from each hill
Around came soft and lulling sounds.
From just beyond the vision’s bounds,
One voice was heard sweetest of all,
And pensive as a late rain’s fall
Through Autumn leaves when sad and lone
The fading forests make their moan.
This was Leeona’s, poor girl, torn
Away from childhood’s hopes to mourn.
Aylor, meanwhile in sullen mood,
On his piazza list’ning, stood
Roving thro’ mental solitude.
Full well he knew what Ona meant,
By her sad walks, and loud lament,
For he had caused it all.
His overtures of stark deceit,
She’d spurned and fled to this retreat,
To whisper in her Father’s ear,
Complaints He ever stoops to hear.
So Aylor in Remorse’s thrall,
Walked sullen thro’ his ghostly hall,
Within a nook of vine shades went,
And o’er his thoughts in silence bent.
In Ona’s heart though sad, there burned
A hatred deep, for all his aims;
And his entreaties, he discerned,
Were wind, and fanned the angry flames.
To her what were the Brazil’s spicy breath,
Or India’s sweet pride,
If life were fettered with a ghastly death,
That pained but never died?
This night too, Rodney wand’red forth to stroll,
And to the list’ning groves impart his soul.
The vision bright, that charmed his wayward dream,
Within this wood, beside the peaceful stream;
Returned when here he lingered. Now her home
To make at Aylor’s she a slave had come,
And Rodney knew it not; for by caste barred,
He could not pass where wrong was standing guard.
But love hath ways that are past finding out,
And secret triumphs, that how brought about,
No one can tell. Love hath an open eye,
And watches little signs that others would pass by.
“I saw her here,” thought Rodney to himself,
“‘Twas here she flitted by coy as an elf,
And in yon boughs her disappearance made,
When wanton sounds disturbed the morning shade.
Could I but tell her. Ah! but fate forbids!
Poor Hope can’t open there her dazzled lids.
Yet I did see her, oh, I saw her here!
And in my dreams she still doth bright appear.
Thank Heav’n there’s none too crushed by wrong to see,
And beauty’s the beholder’s property.”
But now his hope thro’ darker clouds declines,
And thus within the sounding shade he pines:
“No more to me ere life’s short race be run,
Shall e’er arise another happy sun.
How shall I break the vision that me wounds,
And drive it from my recollection’s bounds!
A poor seafarer, and his star gone down,
From tempest-arms while clouds of heaven are thrown,
And wave-tossed danger wails to seize his bark;
Am I, now drifting thro’ a wreck strewn dark.
Oh, why kind Heaven, plant within my breast,
A blooming sorrow — love begot unrest?
Content to bear tho’ let me journey on,
Light yet may break life’s dismal waste upon!
Now in the cypress gloom, he hushed his strain,
And homeward turned his mournful face again.
Eavesdropper winds, on errands from the South,
In sandals tripping, and with dewy mouth,
To Rodney turned, and whispered in his ear,
The broken murmurs of a sweet voice near.
A maiden sat within the fragrant shade,
And to the night this lamentation made:
“This life is all unreal as a dream,
Here woes chase woes, like waves upon a stream.
Back yonder, just within the past I see
A bow’ry home, where hands do becon me,
To join the buoyant hearts of childhood’s train,
And tread the blossom’d paths of hope again.
But here I am, away from home and friends,
While o’er my head a cliff of sorrow bends,
Strange bodings haunt my pillow in the night,
And day uncovers terror to my sight.
But, whom I saw last eve within this shade,
Methought had by this time another advent made.
A strong companion of a troubled heart,
He seemed; oh, that to him I could impart
My woes; oh, that I could but see him once!” — here
She raised her eyes, and lo! the man was near.
Away she started at a frightened pace,
With red abashment kindling in her face.
Oh, was it real, could all this be true?
Was that the nymph, O what must Rodney do?
“Stay, maid!” he cries, “my wounded soul implores,
Stay, fair one, stay! until my tongue explores
The hidden longings of a leaping heart;
Hear what a wounded spirit would impart.”
Beyond the fence, and near the spring lawn gate,
Leeona paused, the speaker’s steps to wait.
With timid mein, and from the other side,
Now Rodney leans, where blossomed vines divide,
And gathers words with anxious haste to tell,
The blushing beauty that he loves her well.
She answers with a sigh, and turns away,
And with her straggling locks begins to play,
Looks up again to speak, and only sighs,
But dazzles wite the language of her eyes.
Then Rodney sighs, and leans, her hand to reach
And press, that he may aid his falt’ring speech.
Her fingers touch him with a conquering thrill,
Her eyes could wound, her timid touch can kill.
He murmured something, what, no mortal knew,
And pressed the gate ajar, and stumbled thro’;
And as Leeona sauntered slow away,
He whispered, but unheard, “Oh! angel, stay!”
“Oh, moon, speed on thy coming,” then he said,
As blushing light beheld the tall slow maid,
Walk from the boughs, towards the mansion rise,
And flash around her over-pow’ring eyes.
Now Rodney’s soul fair realms of pleasure knew,
And Time’s face brightened as he onward flew.
All sights to him from sadness now awake,
For him the forests into music break,
Thoughts of Leeona speed the moments by,
And they with pleasure lighten as they fly.
His life was now a dream, in which care lay
Like labor’s slumb’rous body, when the day
To night, and rest and lulling sounds gives way.
Thus many a day his burden down he threw,
And half the pangs of slav’ry never knew.
And thus it is, love hath a charm for life,
Whate’er the station, and whate’er the strife.
Where’er we roam, where’er our lot be cast,
In home’s sweet shine, or in the raving blast,
Love to the soul a ray of light doth bring,
And scatter pleasures from his hopeful wing.
His advent lights up e’en the slave’s poor shed,
And sweetens humble labor’s daily bread.
Without thee, Love, what were the shepherd’s reed?
Without thy blessings what the flow’ry mead?
From thy rapt fountain patriotism flows,
In thy fair province tall ambition grows,
Proud aspirations lean toward the skies,
And hight on hight great emulations rise.
Tho’ fortune smile in some voluptous land,
Tho’ fame weave laurels with a lavish hand,
The homely swain of Scotia’s thatch-built shed,
Pines for his frugal meal of milk and bread,
Longs for his oaten tune and herded vales,
His shouting harvests and echoing flails.
And why? because sweet love can make him yearn
For early friendships, and his native bourne.
Some Sylvia charms the rustic’s lowly dell,
The water sweetens from his native well,
The hills ennobles on his happy view,
His even plains with fresh delights doth strew;
The rough face brightens of his daily care,
With satisfaction crowns his scanty fare,
Pours pleasures in the lap of lusty toil,
And forces plenty from the stubborn soil.
To him, no hills above his own arise,
No vales so pleasant meet his ravished eyes,
And clouds so peaceful soften no serener skies.
To him no waters like the faifhful rill,
That murmurs by his cot beneath tee hill,
No tune so charming as his highland air,
No flocks so even, and no lambs so fair.
To him no land at all, no world besides
The world of love, that in his heart abides.
See where yon hero drives his way to war,
With Feast or Famine harnessed to his car.
O’er crumbled thrones, his flaming prowess lead,
And at his wheels imploring Commerce bleeds!
Some Cleopatra names the war-doomed lands,
And thrusts the torch of battle in his hand.
Night after night our lovers met and parted;
Night after night they grew more aching hearted,
Took moonlight rambles in the secret shade,
Wider and wider their excursions made,
And ev’ry night longer and longer stayed.
Oft arm-in-arm, with child-like dalliance, they,
Aud devious eyes, pursue their lonely way,
Or turn aside beneath the arching groves,
In scented nooks, to prattle o’er their loves;
Till smiling thro’ the drowsy branches bright
And peaceful, a late moon bids them “good night.”
Again the shades of night were falling round,
Tnd every hilltop now a speech had found,
When lost in bliss, the lovers met the moon,
Beyond their wonted rambles; but there soon
A crouching fury, who had scanned their walks
And drunk the whispers of their secret talks,
A master who can dare fordid their loves —
Flies on them like a hawk on thoughtless doves.
Leeona, clasping Rodney, starts and cries,
And Aylor hard to tear her from him tries;
Till Rodney’s hand with warning aspect laid
Upon his shoulder, his hot rage allayed.
The shud’ring winds bore Aylor’s threats around,
The groves their bosoms hushed to catch the sound,
But Rodney led his gentle Ona on,
And with her stood the threshold safe upon.
Now to her room, Leeona sauntered slowly,
A dim light on her table flick’ring lowly —
And sat awhile to ponder her sad heart;
A locket, gift from Rodney, took apart,
Looked on his picture, held it to her breast,
And with a sad, sad heart, assayed to rest.
Her light gone out, the room was dark, except
That thro’ her lattice a shy moon beam crept
And looked into her troubled face, but fair,
That now upturned was still in fervent prayer.
She knew not that her faithful Rodney, near
The wall beneath, her lightest word could hear,
As thus she prayed: “Out of the storm, Oh, Lord!
Thou wilt bring shine to those who trust Thy word!
If draughts of bitter grief must first be ta’en,
Oh! Thou dost fill with brimming joys again!
Now in whatever land my Rodney mourn,
Or ‘mid whatever trials he sojourn,
Like walls of strength around him, Oh, Thou King
Of Saints Thy mighty arms of succor fling!”
Lo! Rodney answers: “O, my Ona, dear,
If thou dost pray, I know the Lord will hear!”
Now to her feet the Creole bounds,
On tip-toe to the window steals,
Where blossomed vines her form conceals;
But clank of chains, and bay of hounds,
Stentorian oaths, and raving sounds,
Burst on her ear, and freeze her speech,
Ere yet her words can Rodney reach.
Now thronged about by twenty men,
And savage bloodhounds, nine or ten,
That howl with rage, and gnaw and bay,
Like demons that from Tophet stray,
Thro’ nether worlds to wing their way.
Rodney, with irons loaded, she
Must turn away, or bear to see.
But as she turns, the hounds appear,
And in their deep jaws Rodney tear.
Unarmed he falls, with pain he groans,
A gust of loud oaths mocks his moans,
While human monsters gather round,
And fierce dogs drag him o’er the ground,
Till he in cords of hemp is bound.
“Oh, save!” gasped Ona, as she, poor
Sweet child, sank swooning on the floor.
A moment there, a fair corpse seemed,
As in her face the sad moon beamed;
Then frantic rose, and down stairs flew,
And on her lover’s bosom threw
Her wild sweet form, his stout neck drew
In her soft arms, and her cheeks fair
Nestled on his, and with her streaming hair,
Covered his bleeding shoulders that lay bare.
And this is Slav’ry! the wise faced creed,
That stretched a helping hand to Afric’s need.
The holy Institution that was bound
To raise the heathen, tho’ the Heavens frowned!
Ah! this was what a righteous Nation heard
Pray in her temples, and expound the Word.
This was Creation’s good Samaritan,
And poor old Afric was the thief-torn man.
Oh, who has not the dear good shepherd seen,
Stand Moses-like, God and His hosts between,
Bless Slavery as a child from Heaven born,
Since Joseph was from poor old Jacob torn;
Watch ever sleepless, o’er his peaceful fold,
Unawed by dangers, uninduced by gold,
And weep if one poor lamb from shelter cries?
That is, one white lamb; if black, shut his eyes.
Ah! Young America, for God’s sake, pause,
Hast thou such preachers, and hast thou such laws?
With ruffian hands, the maid was to her room
Forced hurriedly, and shut within its gloom.
Sad as the evening star’s last glim’ring ray,
Now from a swoon, pale Ona crept and lay
Half conscious, till the night had far away
Towards the morning sped.
Wild phantoms wandered thro’ her fevered brain,
Sweet slumber from her eyes its flight had ta’en,
And fainting hope had fled;
When in night’s silent depths she heard a sound,
As of shy footfalls, that on tip-toe, wound
Along the mansion’s stairs, now quick and low,
And now hesitatingly slow.
Then all was still, save that she heard
Upon the roof, light boughs that stirred,
And clasp’d at winds, that with them played,
And off in outer stillness strayed.
Again the cautious sounds revived,
And stood there motionless as death,
Till borne upon a husky breath,
This sentence thro’ the key hole blew:
“Git up, my child, Ise cum fur you!”
‘Twas “Aunt Ameriky,” — she knew —
She bounded up, she followed fast
Her sable guide, who hurried past
Her master’s door with breathless ease,
And stood beneath the silent trees.
Then thus, low spake the good old guide,
“In yonder room is Rodney tied,
Where stands a locust on dis side.
De white folks sell him in de morn,
An he’ll be left yer, shore’s yer born,
Go see him gal, bid him farwell,
An’ tell him what yers got to tell.
An’ I’ll stand here de outside by,
An’ keep watchout wid open eye.”
Now near this room — a prison made
In which to keep slaves till conveyed
Into their buyer’s custody —
Leeona stole on cautiously.
Where thro’ a crevice in the wall,
A late moon lighted up his thrall,
The pale maid saw her lover lie,
And called him with a burning sigh.
He answers: “Ah! is that my dove?”
And she, “Oh, have they bound you, love?”
The ebon angel of the night,
Now flew away and out of sight,
But soon returned with keys in hand
And knife, and giving this command:
“Cum wid me, chile!” unlocked the room,
And entering its sepulchral gloom,
Stooped to her knees npon the floor,
The knotty fast’nings to explore
Of Rodney’s arms; her knife apply,
And loosing him, let Ona fly
With outstretched arms to his embrace,
Lean on his breast and look into his face.
A moment passed, and drinking Ona’s sighs,
The proud slave stood, while with his downward eyes
He caught the azure of her tender gaze,
And felt his kindling manhood all ablaze.
“Naught have I borne!” he cries, “love, but for thee,
These bloody tokens of the truth, oh, see!
Would I could Northward fly and now be free!
But where thou art not, all is bondage dire.
I’m free in chains, if I but in the fire
Of thy sweet eyes, may feel my heart inspire.
I now could arm, and would at once assay,
The vile destroyer of my joys to slay;
But then the law would drive me from thy sight,
Then day were darkness in my soul’s long night.”
Now thus Leeona, gazing in the moon,
“Haste, Rodney, lo, the day will open soon!
Hie to the cave, on yonder side extreme
Of that vast wood, where not the staunchest beam
Of potent noon can thy dark seat invade;
Keep hid by day, by night explore the shade.
There we shall meet. I’ll there late rambles take,
And come to thee. The signal I will make
Is a low song, when there’s no danger nigh,
Then we will walk; but hark, a footstep, fly!
Nay, come now dearest to this further shade,
Where our light converse may not be betrayed.
Tread lightly, ah! speak low, for now I fear
Suspicion walks abroad, with open ear
On night’s still lips. Haste, Rodney, come away!
Still! there, thy heart unburden, make no delay.
List! hush! a hoof, ’tis — no — my beating heart;
That night bird, hark how lonely! Oh, I start!
For now methinks his note doth omens bring
Of sadness, all my poor heart saddening.”
No evening shepherd ever tuned a lay,
Of sweeter accent, down his mountain way
Homeward returning at the close of day,
Than Rodney’s speech was in Leeona’s ears,
Till in the hall a certain step she hears.
His arms once more round ‘Ona Rodney flings,
And sudden freedom to his flight lends wings,
Towards the cave he turns his flying face,
This way and that, and leaps at every pace,
To keep up with imagination’s feet,
That brush by him in noiseless retreat.
The cave is reached, and wide apartments found,
With easy access, hollowed in the ground.
And ent’ring slow, now Rodney feels around,
Finds shelves of stone, and seats and beds of stone,
But windows, attics, and piazzas, none.
Meanwhile Leeona, noiseless as a sprite,
Flies thro’ the halls, and up the ancient flight
Back to her room, and softly sinks to rest,
Till morn shall chase the darkness towards the West.
‘Mid all the jars that shook the Aylor seat,
And hot suspicions, Rodney’s dark retreat
Was ne’er discovered; and Leeona true
As only woman can be, ‘scaping thro’
The darkness, met him oft, and took him food,
And gave him comfort in the dismal wood.
Of how she met him, cheered him; noble slave!
And lighted up the dungeon of his cave,
And with him walked thro’ moonlight rambles long,
Cannot be painted in our faithful song.
Elijah, fed by ravens, it would seem,
Might have thought all the world a monstrous dream;
And Peter seeing wild beasts in a sheet
Tied up, and angel’s crying “slay and eat,”
May have been awed at his supply of meat.
But what must he have thought, who chased by men
And hounds, from human sight into a den,
The angel of his love found stooping there,
Him to refresh, and his abode to share?
Flight of Leeona
In bloom gemm’d depths, where Sylvan branches meet
Above dim paths, that thread a still retreat;
Where light on tip-toe shy, steals o’er your path,
Like some chaste maid unrobing at the bath;
There where old warrior pines on high doth tower,
In fashion quaint is built the Aylor bower.
Here ‘Ona now a noon excursion made,
And wandered peaceful thro’ the silent shade.
There, as she went, and could not turn nor stay,
But ling’ringly pursued her lonely way,
And gazed into the song-stirred woods beyond,
She stooped to raise a wayside flow’r with fond
And gentle touch, and with a sweet look try
To coax the timid azure from its eye.
And now she turns upon a mossy seat,
Where sings a fern-bound stream beneath her feet,
And breathes the orange on the swooning air;
Where in her queenly pride the rose blooms fair,
And sweet geranium waves her scented hair;
There, gazing in the bright face of the stream;
Her thoughts swim onward in a gentle dream.
Now, restless Aylor parts this dense retreat,
And ‘Ona finds reclining, fast asleep;
While, save that one lone bird doth chirping peep,
There’s not a sound to raise its little feet
Within the stooping boughs — the very air
Seems half afraid to breathe upon her there!
And water lilies, prattling in the stream,
With speech subdued, enchanted list’ners seem.
Leeona’s long locks round her slim waist meet,
The bright waves leap and sigh to kiss her feet,
While her reluctant breasts to view disclose
The lovely hues of life’s serenest rose;
And timid rising, like twin moons do seem,
Just o’er the woody marge of some still stream.
Low Aylor peers the arching boughs beneath,
Lust heaves his bosom and compels his breath,
While thus he ponders, on his raving breast,
His hand in trembling indecision prest:
“I’ll nearer steal, but then she might awake!
Oh, in these boughs I’ll stand, till mine eyes take
Their feast of gaze! Ah! what a beauty she!
My soul is drowning in a boundless sea
Of what I can’t express! And she is mine!
My own slave! No, Leeona, no, I’m thine!
I’ll be thy slave, and thou my wife — my — no!
There’s negro in her veins! ‘Twould never do!
What Saxon hand a negro wench would woo,
And let disgrace frown on him? But she’s fair!
Her cheeks, how radiant: ah! what eyes — what hair!
Thou angel slave! and mine! I’ll nearer steal,
And make her while these boughs shall us conceal.
I’ll proffer her a master’s secret love,
Protection, freedom or her heart I’ll move
To confidence and yielding secrecy,
By signs of stooped superiority.”
Then, as some rough-armed hurricane that finds
The hiding places of the little winds,
Where insect horns their day long music keep,
And starts zephyrus in her noontide sleep;
So, filled with blasty lusts, now Aylor goes,
Till on the sleeper fair his footsteps close.
And as the fingers of a dream have caught
The waving pinions of her free young thought,
She hears his steps, sleep blends them with her dream,
Till touch’d, she wakes and bounds up with a scream.
Her master’s low entreaties make her worse,
She screams for aid, till screaming makes her hoarse.
He grows more furious as she him defies;
The helpless lamb to flee the lion tries,
But fear o’ertakes her strength, and daunts her soul,
Her senses reel, and reason yields control
To blank unconsciousness, and what ensues,
Refrain to ask, Oh! man, withhold my muse!
The bower’s deepest bosom saddened seemed,
As innocence’s big libations streamed
Fast down Leeona’s pity-suing cheeks,
And her poor breaking heart gave vent to shrieks;
And up to sympathizing Heaven she turned
Her tear-dimmed eyes, that with entreaty burned.
Oh, loveliness thou radiant visaged sprite,
Thou lute-voiced warbler wooing to delight!
By prince alike, and homely swain adored,
By every gentleness of soul implored!
When unprotected, howe’er cherished much,
To thee how blighting is the lewd hand’s touch,
E’en as the woodside flow’ret plucked away —
Torn from the bosom of enliv’ning May —
Dost droop within the rough grasp of the swain,
Thou witherest to ne’er revive again!
And Slavery, thou worst of all the host
Of human ills, I loathe, and like thee most!
Thy name I spurn, thy grov’ling aims I hate,
And all thy bitter creeds abominate;
But like thee for the daughters thou hast borne,
The jewels that doth thy vile neck adorn,
The tender out-growth of unholy deeds,
The rich-hued blossoms of offensive weeds.
Here, reader, lies a lab’rynth on our way,
Thro’ which perchance ‘twould weary you to stray;
Or yet perhaps with some unwonted sight,
Or sound, mar all thy bosom’s visions bright.
Our steps, therefore, around it now proceed,
Where to remoter realms our lovers lead.
But as we pass, there lingers on the ear,
A strong man’s mournings for his lover dear.
For Rodney hears that his fair ‘Ona’s dead,
And sleepless anguish bows his manly head,
The nightly forests hear his wand’ring cries,
And with her stony speech his cave replies.
‘Twas eve in Florida serene and bright,
And gently sighed the wind as sighs a maid
When watching in an early moon’s round light,
Her lover’s footsteps in the trysting shade.
The woods breathed softly, and their even breath
Was sweet with blossoms of the neighb’ring heath.
And, save the lonely note of nightingale,
The churlish out-bursts of the farm boy’s vale,
The horn owl’s shout, and swamp bird’s lone reply,
No evening sound disturbed the sleepy sky.
Now near a dark and solemn wood,
Close by the Aylor house I stood.
The evening star, without a peer,
Was sinking in his mild career,
As sinks the warrior on his shield,
When vict’ry holds a silent field,
And no alarum breaks his rest,
To build her watch fires in his breast.
Soon, as a maid will half conceal
To show her beauty, then with sighs,
Languishing looks, and yielding eyes,
Will arm her sex with that appeal,
Which conquers him who dares to feel;
So, bursting from the wood’s embrace,
A moon in soft clouds dipped her face,
Ascended then her peaceful throne
Of green hills, and supremely shone.
I heard a wail of woman’s woe;
Now loud it bursted, and now low,
Suppressed, as if in sudden flow,
A hand had checked its bitter gush;
Then followed an expressive hush,
When, in the mansion’s silent hall
I saw a female proud and tall,
Half covered in the myrtle’s shade,
Thro’ which the moonlight faintly strayed.
Her long hair stream’d below her waist
In wild waves; and her bosom chaste
Arose in pensive sweetness, bare,
Beneath a face that pale with care,
Some monster trouble seemed to dare.
Her eyes with sullen lustre blazed,
As up in Heav’n’s still face she gazed,
And clasped an infant to her breast,
To gently hush its sweet unrest.
I nearer to the woman stole,
And lo! she was the fair Creole!
For unobserved, I reached the hall,
And leaned against the shadowed wall,
Just as the moon was fairly seen,
Breaking white banks of clouds from ‘tween.
I heard the Creole’s softest sighs,
And saw her flash her restless eyes
Upon her rear; I now did know
There was concealed some dreadful foe.
I looked upon her lovely form,
And felt my hurried blood run warm.
Ah! she was beautiful, tho’ not
So fair as lovesick rhymers plot,
Or whining prose mongers array,
Along the novel’s little way,
Through which good sense doth never pass,
But where the intellectual ass
Delights to roam, or fast or slow,
To see the strange white lilies grow,
Or hear a big black giant blow!
Ah! not so fair, but a rich rose,
And brilliant as the stream that flows
From Summer hills, with meadows sweet,
And dewy corn-fields at their feet;
While bleating pastures peaceful lie,
Beneath an azure canopy.
But hovered o’er by raven-winged fears,
Assailing wrongs had dried her tears
In their bright home; tho’, as the rill,
When Winter from his cheerless hill,
Freezes the surface with his breath,
But cannot stop the flow beneath;
So her proud look of beauty showed
That sorrow’s stream beneath it flowed.
Oh! how I wished I knew wherefore
Her wrongs, and her distresses sore!
How then I could have met her foe,
And brought her weal, or shared her woe!
I raised my hands, I strove to speak,
But long suspense had made me weak;
I could but lisp a single word,
And that too faintly to be heard.
Then, ere I caught my reeling sense,
I would have sprung to her defense,
But horror froze my sluggish blood,
And I aghast in silence stood.
A whisper low breathed thro’ the hall,
And then there came a quick footfall.
Leeona flashed a hurried eye,
And “Oh, my Rodney!” then did cry,
And to his brave arms weeping fly.
A moment clasped in love they stood;
Then he looked round in sullen mood,
As calm as night, but stern as death,
Resentment warming every breath,
And “fly, Leeona!” quickly gasped,
And to his lips her small hand clasp’d.
“They’re on us now, and soon we’ll be
Beyond the reach of Liberty.”
“Hush! there they come! can’t you hear
Their angry footsteps hurrying near?
Wait not a moment to be gone,
By Heaven aided fly alone!
I’ll meet, and hold them here at bay,
Or stain with blood their fiendish way.”
I strove now but could not withdraw,
Nor look, nor shut my eyes for awe.
A hurried sigh, a sob suppressed,
Escaped Leeona’s noble breast.
All earth to her was in her arms,
And she could tread on Scorpion harms,
While this firm purpose swelled her heart —
To live not from her babe apart.
Now wild as the wild cat’ract moans,
Thro’ deep shades and replying stones,
The murmur from her bosom rose:
“God save my Etta from her foes!”
Then on her shoulder swinging straight,
The thoughtless infant’s little weight,
Forth from the mansion’s hall she stole,
Like hope’s last vision from the soul.
Her lips were clenched, her dark eyes staid,
Her brow was knit and arched with shade,
To Heaven’s arms she looked for help,
And fearless as the lion’s whelp,
Was winding thro’ the silent grove,
With no cheer but the moon above.
Now fast and faster onward flew,
Till indistinct upon the view,
She seemed a shadow, then was seen
No more the darkling trees between.
Now in the dismal mansion roared
A storm of heavy steps that poured
From aisle to aisle, and hall to hall,
As if loud tongues in every wall
Were loosed upon the night to call.
The current foamed towards the door,
From which had fled the Creole poor,
And o’er the voices of the crowd
One great grum throat was heard aloud,
Like a crack’d trumpet madly blown,
Or like a fierce boar’s sally groan.
“Let loose the hounds upon her track,
Go, villians! Speed and bring her back!
Or leave her torn upon your way,
And on her flesh let vultures prey!”
Now Aylor ceased, and his dread form,
Peerless in terror, issued forth,
As wrathful as the dark browed storm
That shuts the doorway of the North,
And drapes the eagle’s palace bright,
In curtains of the misty night.
Then grum as some old Indian king,
He strode among the gaping throng
Till like a Champion of the ring
Of loud Olympus, stern and strong,
Of matchless port, and manner proud,
He rose above the gaping crowd
Of men and dogs, and shook his hair.
Dread silence seized the trembling air,
Dumb terror made his minions quake,
Their knees to smite, their fingers shake,
And dogs beneath his nod and scowl,
Began to gnaw their chains and howl.
The chains are loosed, and at a smack,
Away fierce yelping fly the pack.
Their deep, loud throats in full chase break,
The darkling woods responsive speak,
And far off hills from slumbers wake.
The very night shades seem to fly,
And dance and flutter on the eye;
For dreadful sight is it to see,
A woman from swift bloodhounds flee.
Then like some lion, when loud dogs invade,
That flies ferocious from his roaring shade,
His bristling kindred scatters from his path,
And shakes the forests in his lordly wrath;
So now brave Rodney from his cover springs,
And right and left her loud pursuers flings.
These at him stare with trembling fears opprest,
He plucks a dagger from his heaving breast,
Displays the ghastly warning to their eyes,
And in pursuit of hounds and Creole flies.
Ah! ye whose eyes with pity doth run o’er,
When mournful tales come from a heathen shore,
Of babes by mothers thrown to crocodile;
The scaly terror of the languid Nile;
Of Brahma’s car and Islam’s wanton rites,
And bloody raids on Zion’s sacred hights!
Ye who hear these and pray for God to come,
Behold yon mother fleeing from her home!
A master’s child upon her frantic breast,
And by a master’s savage bloodhounds prest;
And this, too, where in every steepled town,
The crucifix on human wrong looks down!
Think then no more of heathen lands to rave,
While in America there breathes a slave!
Rodney pursues, and where the sickened moon
Looks thro’ the woods, comes on the Creole soon.
The angry hounds have overta’en their prey,
And round Leeona, madly mingling, bay.
Deep thro’ the wastes their fiendish voices ring,
Fierce with their tongues, wood, plain and hillock sing;
And now they close upon her, thick around;
Ah! God, they seize and drag her to the ground!
Lo! Rodney nears, he hears his ‘Ona’s cries,
Right on the hounds with flashing steel he flies;
They on him furious turn, with eyes that glare
Like furies’ fell, jaws gaping, and teeth bare;
This one and that he seizes as they lunge
Upon him, and their dread fangs in him plunge.
Deep thro’ their reeking sides his blade he drives,
They reel away and empty out their lives;
Till with their warm blood dropping from his hands,
He master of the situation stands!
Ah! ye whose hearts with swifter currents beat,
When fabled gods in equal combat meet,
Shout loud the challenge, swing their shields immense,
While armies hang around in dread suspense,
Lift their vast lances, like the lightnings driven,
Jar all the plain and shake the vault of heaven;
Behold this hero of the real fight,
This man who dares the wiles of swampy night;
Whose fearless bosom, lit with valor’s fire,
Withstands the monster bloodhound in his ire;
Whose faithful heart to love’s first impulse true
Will dare to suffer and is brave to do.
Now Rodney listens, his surrounding views,
And thro’ the pines his dismal way pursues.
Leeona follows on his journey dark,
Where night-owls laugh and wary foxes bark;
Till thro’ the branches op’ning day’s in sight,
With rosy smiles and locks of streaming light.
We wander now in grasses long and damp,
O’er oozy mosses of a dismal swamp,
Thro’ languid brakes, and under monster trees,
Thro’ whose vine loaded boughs noon never sees.
Here nature sleeps her long, long torpid nap
In silence, on the Tropic’s tangled lap;
Here yellow streams with lazy murmurs creep
On slowly, talking in their sluggish sleep;
Here hideous reptiles in their slimy reign
Crawl aimless ever, and an apish train
Of forest hoodlums day long orgies hold;
And birds, although their plumage gleam with gold,
And divers colors, sing not; in this wood,
This habitation of dark solitude,
Our lovers, for their lives escaping, fly
Into the arms of dismal safety.
The scaly venom of the pathless brakes
About them here a sure protection makes,
For who will dare the danger of the bogs?
And here is crocodile a match for dogs.
Here hope our lovers found,
And love about them wound
Her silver cords the tighter;
As fears vanish’d away,
And they from day to day
Felt life’s burdens grow lighter.
Ona saw Rodney’s manhood, he
Her fortitude and constancy;
Thus, each could in the other see
Enough to keep the loving eye
With pleasures running over.
As Eve and Adam, innocent
Wtihin the charms of Eden went,
And nothing of the wide world knew,
Save what lay just betwixt the two;
So wandered these, the wild shade thro’,
Lover absorbed in lover.
Far from their home within the wood,
Once Rodney went to search for food,
And ready make, for he next day
Must toward the North Star take his way.
Leeona biding, sandals knit
Of fibres from the cypress split,
A basket rude of willows wove,
And gathered fruits within the grove.
Thus wand’ring round, she missed her track,
And lost, could not her way find back.
At last despairing, sad she stood,
Then on her devious way pursued,
The sun upon his western way,
Had nearly reached the verge of day,
Baptizing in his orange sheen
The lofty groves of cypress green;
When in the swamp grass, long and dank,
Leeona reached some bayou’s bank.
Lo! all around was strange and lone,
And silence on her dismal throne
Held her dark sway in every nook;
Save that one swamp bird yonder, shook
A mournful noise from his throat,
That sounded something like a note;
And that one tiny wren did say
Some feeble things anear her way,
Scarce able when it flew to shake a spray.
Leeona turned to scan the wood,
When lo! beyond her scarce a rood,
A horrid human form she viewed!
A tall old man in skins half guized,
Half savage and half civilized,
With a great cudgel in his hand,
Towards her gazing still did stand.
About his waist a leathern thong
Bound his long locks, they were so long.
Uncombed and matted close they lay,
And age’s touch had made them gray.
His gaunt arms were of monstrous length,
The ghastly signs of wasted strength.
“Ah!” Ona sighed, “what shall I do?”
And, as she thought, unseen, withdrew;
But slow the ghostly hermit stalked
Around her hiding-place, then walked
Straight in the bush to where she lay
Breathless, stood squarely in the way,
Swung his great cudgel round and round,
Chattered and gnashed, and stamped the ground,
Rolled his wild eyes, growled like a bear,
And thrust his fingers in his hair.
A true heroine of the cypress gloom,
Now there to lie, the Creole saw her doom —
A reckless madman had her in his hand —
She sprang up, and did at his elbow stand,
And cried out, “Look sir, see my pretty child!”
At this, the raving specter grimly smiled,
Let fall his cudgel, muttered some strange speech,
And for the babe his dreadful claws did reach.
“Have you seen Nanawauea?” then he cried,
“She died long time ago, and then I died;
Who wrongs the red man, wrongs the race of man;
You hurt my wigwam now, sir, if you can!”
Leeona answered, pointing him away,
For no auspicious moment long will stay:
“Your Nanawawa lives in yonder glen,
Make haste and find her — come and tell me then.”
Now both hands in his hair the madman threw,
Dashed off and laughed, and gibbered as he flew.
“Dark mystery,” Leeona leaving, said,
“Hath in that human waste her mansion made!
Ah! now within his once love-lighted breast,
The owly phantom builds her broody nest.
And that high seat where wisdom once did dwell,
Is now inhabited by visions fell,
And recollections harrassing, among
Which, a dreadful secret holds her tongue!
And ‘Nanawawa;’ love-balmed name survives —
Above that heap of mental ruins lies!
Poor wretch, unconscious of existence save
With the loved dead, thinks he’s beyond the grave!
‘Who wrongs the red man.’ Why he speaks of wrongs,
To that the secret of his words belongs;
Wrong! wrong! Yea wrong! We all that monster know,
The blight and bane of earth, and source of woe!
Now Rodney’s voice and heavy footsteps broke
Upon the Creole’s ear, as thus he spoke:
“Leeona, here am I! What were those sounds?
And what went by me with such dreadful bounds?”
Leeona told him; list’ning still he stood,
Then talking low they slowly left the wood,
Began their steps toward a Northern clime,
And looked on Florida for their last time.