January 22, 2012

The earth for his pillow, his curtain the skies

Sarah Louisa Forten published only a couple handfuls of poems, usually inspired by her anti-slavery leanings. Among her earliest known works is "The Grave of the Slave," published in William Lloyd Garrison's abolitionist newspaper The Liberator on January 22, 1831. In much of her work, Forten plays with the humanity of her subjects despite their inhumane treatment. In this poem, she assets that death for an enslaved person is a substitute for true freedom:

The cold storms of winter shall chill him no more,
His woes and his sorrows, his pains are all o'er;
The sod of the valley now covers his form,
He is safe in his home at last, he feels not the storm.

The poor slave is laid all unheeded and lone,
Where the rich and the poor find a permanent home;
Not his master can rouse him with voice of command;
He knows not, he hears not, his cruel demand.

Not a tear, not a sigh to embalm his cold tomb,
No friend to lament him, no child to bemoan;
Not a stone marks the place, where he peacefully lies,
The earth for his pillow, his curtain the skies.

Poor slave! shall we sorrow that death was thy friend,
The last, and the kindest, that heaven could send?
The grave to the weary is welcomed and blest;
And death, to the captive, is freedom and rest.

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