December 25, 2011

Christmas: to bind them with the chain

Elizabeth Margaret Chandler was born on Christmas Eve. Years later, she wrote her poem "Christmas." Typical for Chandler, the poem appeals directly to women. Also typical for Chandler, she infuses the poem with her Quaker-inherited anti-slavery sentiments:

Mother, when Christmas comes once more,
      I do not wish that you
Should buy sweet things for me again,
      As you were used to do:

The taste of cakes and sugar-plums
      Is pleasant to me yet,
And temptingly the gay shops look,
      With their fresh stores outset.

But I have learn'd, dear mother,
      That the poor and wretched slave
Must toil to win their sweetness,
      From the cradle to the grave.

And when he faints with weariness
      Beneath the torrid sun,
The keen lash urges on his toil,
      Until the day is done.

But when the holy angels' hymn,
      On Judea's plains afar,
Peal'd sweetly on the shepherds' ear,
      'Neath Bethlehem's wondrous star,

They sung of glory to our God,—
      "Peace and good will to men,"—
For Christ, the Saviour of the world,
      Was born amidst them then.

And is it for His glory, men
      Are made to toil,
With weary limbs and breaking hearts,
      Upon another's soil?

That they are taught not of his law,
      To know his holy will,
And that He hates the deed of sin,
      And loves the righteous still?

And is it peace and love to men,
      To bind them with the chain,
And sell them like the beasts that feed
      Upon the grassy plain?

To tear their flesh with scourgings rude,
      And from the aching heart,
The ties to which it fondliest clings,
      For evermore to part?

And 'tis because of all this sin, my mother,
      That I shun
To taste the tempting sweets for which
      Such wickedness is done.

If men to men will be unjust, if slavery must be,
Mother, the chain must not be worn; the scourge be plied for me.

As a side note, I found the last stanza, which switched from quatrain to couplet, very attention-grabbing. I couldn't find the original publication date for certain, but it was collected in 1836, two years after her death. Last year, my Christmas post featured Henry Timrod and the struggle to celebrate amidst Civil War.

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