Civil War Voices: Part 7 – Woman engages in anti-slavery movement with poetry
– Excerpted from ‘Civil War Voices from York County’
Frances Ellen Watkins Harper was a widely known Civil War-era poet, writer and lecturer, and a strong voice for abolition and women’s suffrage.
But before she reached heights, the African-American woman was a teacher in York in the 1850s.
While in York, she pondered whether to continue in education and move into the anti-slavery field.
“The Slave Mother” is an example of her work:
Heard you that shriek? It rose
So wildly on the air,
It seemed as if a burden’d heart
Was breaking in despair.
Saw you those hands so sadly clasped –
The bowed and feeble head –
The shuddering of that fragile form –
That look of grief and dread?
Saw you the sad, imploring eye?
Its every glance was pain,
As if a storm of agony
Were sweeping through the brain.
She is a mother, pale with fear,
Her boy clings to her side,
And in her kirtle vainly tries
His trembling form to hide.
He is not hers, although she bore
For him a mother’s pains;
He is not hers, although her blood
Is coursing through his veins!
He is not hers, for cruel hands
May rudely tear apart
The only wreath of household love
That binds her breaking heart.
His love has been a joyous light
That o’er her pathway smiled,
A foundation gushing ever news,
Amid life’s desert wild.
His lightest word has been a tone
Of music round her heart,
Their lives a streamlet in one
– Oh, Father! Must they part?
They tear him from her circling arms,
Her last and fond embrace.
Oh! Never more may her sad eyes
Gaze on his mournful face.
No marvel, then, these bitter shrieks
Disturb the listening air:
She is a mother, and her heart
Is breaking in despair.