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ON THE BILL WHICH WAS PASSED IN ENGLAND FOR REGULATING THE SLAVE-TRADE;

A SHORT TIME BEFORE ITS ABOLITION.

1 THE hollow winds of night no more
2 In wild, unequal cadence pour,
3 On musing fancy's wakeful ear,
4 The groan of agony severe
5 From yon dark vessel, which contains
6 The wretch new bound in hopeless chains!
7 Whose soul with keener anguish bleeds,
8 As AFRIC'S less'ning shore recedes
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9 No more where Ocean's unseen bound
10 Leaves a drear world of waters round,
11 Between the howling gust, shall rise
12 The stifled captive's latest sighs!
13 No more shall suffocating death
14 Seize the pent victim's sinking breath;
15 The pang of that convulsive hour,
16 Reproaching man's insatiate power;
17 Man! who to AFRIC'S shore has past,
18 Relentless, as the annual blast
19 That sweeps the Western Isles, and flings
20 Destruction from its furious wings!
21 And woman, she, too weak to bear
22 The galling chain, the tainted air,
23 Of mind too feeble to sustain
24 The vast, accumulated pain,
25 No more, in desperation wild,
26 Shall madly strain her gasping child;
27 With all the mother at her soul,
28 With eyes where tears have ceas'd to roll,
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29 Shall catch the livid infant's breath,
30 Then sink in agonizing death!
31 BRITAIN! the noble, blest decree
32 That soothes despair, is fram'd by thee!
33 Thy powerful arm has interpos'd,
34 And one dire scene for ever clos'd;
35 Its horror shall no more belong
36 To that foul drama, deep with wrong.
37 O, first of EUROPE'S polish'd lands
38 To ease the captive's iron bands;
39 Long, as thy glorious annals shine,
40 This proud distinction shall be thine!
41 Not first alone when valour leads
42 To rush on danger's noblest deeds;
43 When mercy calls thee to explore
44 A gloomy path, untrod before,
45 Thy ardent spirit springs to heal,
46 And, greatly gen'rous, dares to feel!
47 Valour is like the meteor's light,
48 Whose partial flash leaves deeper night;
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49 While Mercy, like the lunar ray,
50 Gilds the thick shade with softer day.
51 Blest deed! that met consenting minds
52 In all but those whom av'rice binds,
53 Who creep in interest's crooked ways,
54 Nor ever pass her narrow maze;
55 Or those whom hard indiff'rence steels
56 To every pang another feels.
57 For them has fortune round their bowers
58 Twin'd, partial nymph! her lavish flowers;
59 For them, from unsunn'd caves, she brings
60 Her summer ice; for them she springs
61 To climes where hotter suns produce
62 The richer fruit's delicious juice;
63 While they, whom wasted blessings tire,
64 Nor leave one want to feed desire,
65 With cool, insulting ease demand
66 Why, for yon hopeless, captive band,
67 Is ask'd, to mitigate despair,
68 The mercy of the common air?
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69 The boon of larger space to breathe,
70 While coop'd that hollow deck beneath?
71 A lengthen'd plank, on which to throw
72 Their shackled limbs, while fiercely glow
73 The beams direct, that on each head
74 The fury of contagion shed?
75 And dare presumptuous, guilty man,
76 Load with offence his fleeting span?
77 Deform creation with the gloom
78 Of crimes that blot its cheerful bloom?
79 Darken a work so perfect made,
80 And cast the universe in shade?
81 Alas! to AFRIC'S fetter'd race
82 Creation wears no form of grace!
83 To them earth's pleasant vales are found
84 A blasted waste, a sterile bound;
85 Where the poor wand'rer must sustain
86 The load of unremitted pain;
87 A region in whose ample scope
88 His eye discerns no gleam of hope;
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89 Where thought no kind asylum knows
90 On which its anguish may repose;
91 But death, that to the ravag'd breast
92 Comes not in shapes of terror drest;
93 Points to green hills where freedom roves,
94 And minds renew their former loves;
95 Or, hov'ring in the troubled air,
96 Hangs the fierce spectre of Despair;
97 Whose soul abhors the gift of life,
98 Who stedfast grasps the reeking knife,
99 Bids the charg'd heart in torrents bleed,
100 And smiles in frenzy at the deed!
101 Ye noble minds! who o'er a sky
102 Where clouds are roll'd, and tempests fly,
103 Have bid the lambent lustre play
104 Of one pure, lovely, azure ray;
105 O, far diffuse its op'ning bloom,
106 And the wide Hemisphere illume!
107 Ye, who one bitter drop have drain'd
108 From slav'ry's cup, with horror stain'd,
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109 O, let no fatal dregs be found,
110 But dash her chalice on the ground,
111 While still she links her impious chain,
112 And calculates the price of pain;
113 Weighs agony in sordid scales,
114 And marks if death or life prevails;
115 Decides how near the mangling scourge
116 May to the grave its victim urge,
117 Yet for awhile, with prudent care,
118 The half-worn wretch, if useful, spare;
119 And speculates, with skill refin'd,
120 How deep a wound will stab the mind;
121 How far the spirit can endure
122 Calamity, that hopes no cure!
123 Ye! who can selfish cares forego,
124 To pity those which others know,
125 As light that from its centre strays
126 To glad all nature with its rays,
127 O, ease the pangs ye stoop to share,
128 And rescue millions from despair!
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129 For you, while morn in graces gay
130 Wakes the fresh bloom of op'ning day,
131 Gilds with her purple light your dome,
132 Renewing all the joys of home,
133 Of that dear shed which first ye knew,
134 Where first the sweet affections grew;
135 Whose charm alike the heart can draw,
136 If form'd of marble or of straw;
137 Whether the voice of pleasure calls,
138 And gladness echoes through its walls,
139 Or to its hallow'd roof we fly
140 With those we love to pour the sigh;
141 The load of mingled pain to bear,
142 And soften every pang we share!
143 Ah, think how desolate his state,
144 How he the cheerful light must hate,
145 Whom, sever'd from his native soil,
146 The morning wakes to fruitless toil
147 To labours hope shall never cheer,
148 Or fond domestic joy endear!
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149 Poor wretch! on whose despairing eyes
150 His cherish'd home shall never rise!
151 Condemn'd, severe extreme, to live
152 When all is fled that life can give:
153 And ah, the blessings valued most
154 By human minds, are blessings lost!
155 Unlike the objects of the eye,
156 Enlarging as we bring them nigh;
157 Our joys at distance strike the breast,
158 And seem diminish'd when possest.
159 Who from his far-divided shore
160 The half-expiring captive bore?
161 Those whom the traffic of their race
162 Has robb'd of every human grace;
163 Whose harden'd souls no more retain
164 Impressions nature stamp'd in vain:
165 As streams that once the landscape gave
166 Reflected on the trembling wave,
167 Their substance change when lock'd in frost,
168 And rest in dead contraction lost;
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169 Who view, unmoved, the look that tells
170 The pang that in the bosom dwells;
171 Heed not the nerves that terror shakes,
172 The heart convulsive anguish breaks;
173 The shriek that would their crimes upbraid,
174 But deem despair a part of trade.
175 Such only for detested gain
176 The barb'rous commerce would maintain;
177 The gen'rous sailor, he who dares
178 All forms of danger, while he bears
179 The British flag o'er sultry seas,
180 And spreads it on the Polar breeze;
181 He to whose guardian arm we owe
182 Each blessing that the happy know;
183 Whatever charms the soften'd heart,
184 Each cultur'd grace, each finer art,
185 E'en thine, most lovely of the train!
186 Sweet Poetry, thy heav'n-taught strain,
187 His breast, where nobler passions burn,
188 In honest poverty, would spurn
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189 The wealth oppression can bestow,
190 And scorn to wound a fetter'd foe!
191 When borne at length to Western lands,
192 Chain'd on the beach the captive stands,
193 Where Man, dire merchandize! is sold,
194 And barter'd life is paid for gold!
195 In mute affliction, see him try
196 To read his new possessor's eye;
197 If one blest glance of mercy there,
198 One half-form'd tear may check despair!
199 Ah, if that eye with sorrow sees
200 His languid look, his quiv'ring knees,
201 Those limbs which scarce their load sustain,
202 That form consum'd in wasting pain,
203 Such sorrow fills his ruthless eye
204 Who sees the lamb he doom'd to die;
205 In pining sickness yield his life,
206 And thus elude the sharpen'd knife.
207 Or if where savage habit steels
208 The vulgar mind, one bosom feels
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209 The sacred claim of helpless woe
210 If pity in that soil can grow!
211 Yet why on one poor chance must rest
212 The int'rest of a kindred breast?
213 Why yield to passion's wayward laws
214 Humanity's devoted cause?
215 Ah ye, who one fix'd purpose own,
216 Whose untir'd aim is self alone;
217 Who think in gold the essence lies
218 From which extracted bliss shall rise;
219 Does fleeting life proportion bear
220 To all the wealth ye heap with care?
221 When soon your days in rapid flight
222 Shall sink in death's terrific night,
223 Then seize the moments in your power,
224 To Mercy consecrate the hour!
225 Risk something in her cause at last,
226 And thus atone for all the past.
227 Does avarice, your god, delight
228 With agony to feast his sight?
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229 Does he require that victims slain,
230 And human blood his altars stain?
231 Ah, not alone of power possest
232 To check each virtue of the breast:
233 As when the numbing frosts arise
234 The charm of vegetation dies;
235 His sway the harden'd bosom leads
236 To cruelty's remorseless deeds;
237 Like the blue lightning, when it springs
238 With fury on its livid wings,
239 Darts to its goal with baleful force,
240 Nor heeds that ruin marks its course!
241 O, Eloquence! prevailing art!
242 Whose force can chain the list'ning heart;
243 The throb of sympathy inspire,
244 And kindle every great desire;
245 With magic energy control,
246 And reign the sov'reign of the soul!
247 That dreams, while all its passions swell,
248 It shares the power it feels so well:
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249 As visual objects seem possest
250 Of those clear hues by light imprest.
251 O, skill'd in every grace to charm,
252 To soften, to appal, to warm,
253 Fill with thy noblest rage the breast,
254 Bid on those lips thy spirit rest,
255 That shall, in Britain's Senate, trace
256 The wrongs of AFRIC'S captive race!
257 But Fancy o'er the tale of woe
258 In vain one heighten'd tint would throw;
259 For ah, the truth is all we guess
260 Of anguish in its last excess!
261 Fancy may dress in deeper shade
262 The storm that hangs along the glade;
263 Spreads o'er the ruffled stream its wing,
264 And chills awhile the flowers of spring;
265 But where the wint'ry tempests sweep
266 In madness o'er the darken'd deep,
267 Where the wild surge, the raging wave,
268 Point to the hopeless wretch a grave;
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269 And death surrounds the threat'ning shore
270 Can fancy add one horror more?
271 Lov'd BRITAIN! whose protecting hand,
272 Stretch'd o'er the globe, on AFRIC'S strand
273 The honour'd base of freedom lays,
274 Soon, soon the finish'd fabric raise!
275 And when surrounding realms would frame,
276 Touch'd with a spark of gen'rous flame,
277 Some pure, ennobling, great design,
278 Some lofty act, almost divine,
279 Which earth may hail with rapture high,
280 And heav'n may view with fav'ring eye,
281 Teach them to make all nature free,
282 And shine by emulating thee!

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Title (in Source Edition): ON THE BILL WHICH WAS PASSED IN ENGLAND FOR REGULATING THE SLAVE-TRADE; A SHORT TIME BEFORE ITS ABOLITION.
Themes: liberty
Genres: ode; occasional poem

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Poems on various subjects: with introductory remarks on the present state of science and literature in France. London: G. and W. B. Whittaker, 1823, pp. [166]-180. 

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The text has been typographically modernized, but without any silent modernization of spelling, capitalization, or punctuation. The source of the text is given and all editorial interventions have been recorded in textual notes. Based on the electronic text originally produced by the ECCO-TCP project, this ECPA text has been edited to conform to the recommendations found in Level 5 of the Best Practices for TEI in Libraries version 3.0.

Other works by Helen Maria Williams