Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, CHIVALRY AND SLAVERY, SELECTION, by JOHN BURKE



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CHIVALRY AND SLAVERY, SELECTION, by            
First Line: It chanced that in a southern state
Last Line: * * *
Subject(s): American Civil War; Cruelty; Death; Emancipation Movement & Proclamation; Slavery; United States - History; Dead, The; Antislavery Movement - United States; Serfs


II

It chanced that in a Southern State,
Which one 'twere bootless to relate,
Two slaves were, under the pretense
Of some -- by no means grave -- offense,
Pinned down and fastened to the ground,
Their backs by scourging made one wound;
Then on the bleeding, mangled flesh
Were knots of pitch-pine, cut afresh,
Ignited: each to each was near,
The bubbling blood-streams to ensear;
Nor till the tortured victims died,
Were wrath and vengeance satisfied.
The overseer, and not the master,
Was the foul cause of this disaster;
In sham arrest, he broke parole!
The guilt lies still upon his soul,
His body safe: for Alabama,
Or for the coast of the Grand Lama,
For aught we know, he left; we leave him.
Can he repent, so Heaven forgive him! !
What the unpardonable sin is,
Not very easy to explain is:
Some say the callousness of Pharaoh,
And some the cruelty of Nero,
Some one thing say, and some another;
But though the point excite such pother,
The sin, we think, is found in both --
In Rome and Egypt, will and oath --
Cause and effect, combined in one,
A cruel will, a heart of stone!

III

Bound down and pinioned, as we've stated,
Another (so authenticated)
O'er the stark bodies of his slaves
With threats and furious vengeance raves;
Flatways a saw descending hacks
And lacerates their subject backs,
By atmospheric pressure denting
The stricken part; thence raised by force,
It scatters in its upward course,
A mince of dripping flesh and blood!
Can such atrocities, O God!
Begin, thy lightning not preventing?
The wretch who thus his negroes treated,
Had all such chattels sequestrated,
And by an act of legislation
Condemned, disfranchised, by the nation
Or State (we rather should have said),
Is now politically dead!

IV

Two hands beneath a cotton-press
Were placed; the martyr -- was he less? --
Thus left all night to writhe in pain,
Lived till the morning dawned again.
Enters the master: his poor slave
Now turns his head, relief to crave.
"What! damn you! grin," the tyrant cries,
"In with him; press!" The victim sighs
His last brief litany, and dies!

V

We knew a youth, his name was Daves,
His father owned a score of slaves --
It may be more, it may be less;
We might in either acquiesce,
Although to have them overrated
Gives less offense than understated.
No man of property so proud as
He who of slaves a numerous crowd has;
So true it is men often boast
Of that which ought to shame them most.
Our youth was graduate of a college,
And had, 'twas thought, imbibed some knowledge --
Not a great deal, we may presume,
Nor think it too much to assume
That graduating is no test
Infallible of what is best,
Or for the body of the Soul,
As evidenced in self-control,
Or rather want of it, in schools
Where rods ne'er reach the backs of fools!

VI

By power, licentiousness and drink,
This hopeful heir had, we think,
His head and heart alike corrupted.
One act of his is here reported:
He tutored thus his overseer,
His negroes' flesh with whips to tear:
"Rise on your feet, as I on mine --
You so a better purchase gain --
Then, jerking, bring the thong toward you;
The practice soon will well reward you!"

VII

On whisky-cask, bound down with rope,
And taut as any iron hoop,
He rolled a hapless slave around,
His back one wide and ghastly wound,
His blood fast streaming to the ground.
The tyrant's dogs, without control,
Lap fiercely up the crimson pool,
While bellowing cattle spurn the gutter
Infuriate, as from scent of slaughter.
The beardless Nero sank exhausted,
So long the sickening torture lasted:
He sank, we said, but soon upstarted,
And to the whisky-bottle darted.
Thence, quick returning, he renewed
His work of blood; but what ensued?
How long the victim lived we know not,
And what we know not, we avow not;
But this we know, that, bending double,
His after life was pain and trouble;
He rather crawled than walked as man,
Till death released him from his pain.
And this we know, his wicked master,
Or urged by drink or something worse,
From crime to crime went fast and faster,
Till suicide cut short his course.
Thy snow-white cotton, Carolina,
Was blood-stained by this fell hyena!

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