Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, THE SAILOR WHO SERVED IN THE SLAVE-TRADE, by ROBERT SOUTHEY



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THE SAILOR WHO SERVED IN THE SLAVE-TRADE, by             Poet's Biography
First Line: He stopt, -- it surely was a groan
Last Line: O god, deliver me!
Subject(s): Forgiveness; Murder; Prayer; Regret; Sailing & Sailors; Shame; Slavery; Violence; Clemency; Serfs


HE stopt, ... it surely was a groan
That from the hovel came!
He stopt and listened anxiously,
Again it sounds the same.

From yonder hovel sure it came, ...
And now he hastens there,
And thence he hears the name of Christ
Amid a broken prayer.

And entering in the outhouse then,
A sailor there he sees,
His hands were lifted up to Heaven,
And he was on his knees.

Nor did the sailor so intent
His entering footsteps heed,
But now the Lord's prayer said, and now
His half-forgotten creed.

And often on his Saviour call'd
With many a bitter groan,
And in such anguish as could spring
From deepest guilt alone.

He ask'd the miserable man
Why he was kneeling there,
And what the crime had been that caus'd
The anguish of his prayer.

Oh, I have done a cursed thing!
It haunts me night and day,
And I have sought this lonely place
Here undisturb'd to pray.

I have no place to pray on board,
So I came here alone,
That I might freely kneel and pray,
And call on Christ and groan.

If to the main-mast head I go,
The wicked one is there,
From place to place, from rope to rope,
He follows everywhere.

I shut my eyes, ... it matters not ...
Still still the same I see, ...
And when I lie me down at night,
'Tis always day with me.

He follows, follows everywhere,
And every place is hell!
O God ... and I must go with him
In endless fire to dwell.

He follows, follows everywhere,
He's still above ... below,
Oh tell me where to fly from him!
Oh tell me where to go!

But tell me, quoth the stranger then,
What this thy crime hath been,
So haply I may comfort give
To one that grieves for sin.

Oh I have done a cursed deed!
The wretched man replies,
And night and day, and everywhere,
'Tis still before my eyes.

I sail'd on board a Guinea-man
And to the slave-coast went;
Would that the sea had swallowed me
When I was innocent!

And we took in our cargo there,
Three hundred negro slaves,
And we sail'd homeward merrily
Over the ocean waves.

But some were sulky of the slaves
And would not touch their meat,
So therefore we were forced by threats
And blows to make them eat.

One woman, sulkier than the rest,
Would still refuse her food, ...
O Jesus God! I hear her cries ...
I see her in her blood!

The captain made me tie her up,
And flog while he stood by,
And then he curs'd me if I staid
My hand to hear her cry.

She groan'd, she shriek'd ... I could not spare,
For the captain he stood by ...
Dear God! that I might rest one night
From that poor woman's cry.

She twisted from the blows—her blood,
Her mangled flesh I see—
And still the captain would not spare—
Oh, he was worse than me!

She could not be more glad than I
When she was taken down,
A blessed minute! 'twas the last
That I have ever known!

I did not close my eyes all night
Thinking what I had done;
I heard her groans, and they grew faint,
About the rising sun.

She groan'd and groan'd, but her groans grew
Fainter at morning tide,
Fainter and fainter still they came,
Till at the noon she died.

They flung her overboard;—poor wretch!
She rested from her pain,—
But when—O Christ! O blessed God!
Shall I have rest again!

I saw the sea close over her,
Yet she is still in sight;
I see her twisting everywhere
I see her day and night.

Go where I will, do what I can,
The wicked one I see—
Dear Christ, have mercy on my soul,—
O God, deliver me!





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