December 9, 2011

Forten: Their works shall live

The Philadelphia-born Sarah Louisa Forten (a relative of the more famous Grimké sisters) was of many mixed races: Caucasian, African, and Native American. Her father was a supporter of William Lloyd Garrison's Liberator newspaper and her mother was a member of an anti-slavery society. As she grew up, Forten's home was opened to such well-known abolitionists as John Greenleaf Whittier.

Her own poems in support of the anti-slavery movement were published as early as 1831, often under the pseudonym "Ada." About the same time, "Ada" was used as the pen name of at least one other writer, leaving it difficult to authenticate some of Forten's works. One, "The Separation," is dated December 9, 1833 and was written after witnessing an abolitionist convention in Philadelphia, though the poem's content is not explicitly anti-slavery:

"Friend after friend departs."
And they are gone — that little band
Of friends — the firm and true!
We feel the void which absence makes,
With joy, and sorrow too.
We joy that duties call them forth,
Clad in an armor bright;
With shield of faith, their surest guard,
And sword of truth and light.
We bid God speed their parting steps,
And bless the righteous cause: —
Where'er the path of duty points,
May duty never pause.
And yet, we sorrow most of all
And from the heart deplore
That we perchance on earth again
May see these friends no more.
Their works shall live when other deeds,
Which ask a nation's fame,
Have sunk beneath Time's whelming wave,
Unhonored and unnamed.

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