November 2, 2012

I have learn'd too much of woe and wrong

Elizabeth Margaret Chandler had a difficult life from the beginning. Her mother died only two days after her birth and her father, unable to care for the child, sent her off to live with her grandmother. He died only a few years later. Raised in Philadelphia, Chandler was a devout Quaker who became a published writer at age 16.

The grandmother who raised her died in 1827. In 1830, Chandler moved to Tecumseh, Michigan. She died there four years later on November 2, 1834 after long bouts of ill health. She was 26 years old. Throughout her tragic and short life, she insisted that slavery was a moral wrong that had to be abolished quickly. Much of her writing (mostly poems, but also essays) focused on freeing enslaved people. After her death, her works were collected and published, with profits donated to the abolitionist cause. Chandler noted that her own life was fine compared to the plight of slaves, as she says in her poem "Reminiscence":

Away and away to memory's land!
To seize the past with a daring hand,
And bear it back from oblivion's bowers,
To brighten again this dull world of ours.

There's many a walk beneath summer skies,
Starry and blue as some earthly eyes;
There's many an eve by the winter's hearth,
Sparkling all over with friendship and mirth.

There's many a ramble through wood and glen,
Away from the sight and the haunts of men;
There's climbing of rocks, and gathering flowers,
And watching the stream through summer showers

There's many an hour that quickly went,
In the boughs of the old hill grape-vine spent;
There's many a ride, and many a walk,
And many a theme of friendly talk.

How freshly comes to the spirit back,
The merry light of its early track!—
But let it pass, for around my brow
Far deeper thoughts are gathering now.

I have learn'd too much of woe and wrong,
Of hearts all crush'd by oppression strong,
To deem the earth, as in other days,
A fairy theme for a poet's lays.

How may I linger within the bowers,
Bedight with memory's fairy flowers,
While woman's cry, as she drains the cup
Of her bitter lot, to the sky goes up?

How may I joy in my better fate,
While her heart is bleeding and desolate?—
Or give my thoughts to their blissful dreams,
While no bright ray on her darkness gleams?

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