Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, HOW LONG?, by JAMES MONROE WHITFIELD



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HOW LONG?, by             Poet's Biography
First Line: How long, o gracious god! How long
Last Line: Exult in glorious liberty.
Subject(s): Emancipation Movement & Proclamation; Antislavery Movement - United States


How long, O gracious God! how long,
Shall power lord it over right?
The feeble, trampled by the strong,
Remain in slavery's gloomy night?
In every region of the earth,
Oppression rules with iron power;
And every man of sterling worth,
Whose soul disdains to cringe or cower
Beneath a haughty tyrant's nod,
And, supplicating, kiss the rod
That, wielded by oppression's might,
Smites to the earth his dearest right, --
The right to speak, and think, and feel,
And spread his uttered thoughts abroad,
To labor for the common weal,
Responsible to none but God, --
Is threatened with the dungeon's gloom,
The felon's cell, the traitor's doom,
And treacherous politicians league
With hireling priests, to crush and ban
All who expose their vile intrigue,
And vindicate the rights of man.
How long shall Afric' raise to thee
Her fettered hand, O Lord! in vain,
And plead in fearful agony
For vengeance for her children slain?
I see the Gambia's swelling flood,
And Niger's darkly rolling wave,
Bear on their bosoms, stained with blood,
The bound and lacerated slave;
While numerous tribes spread near and far,
Fierce, devastating, barbarous war,
Earth's fairest scenes in ruin laid,
To furnish victims for that trade,
Which breeds on earth such deeds of shame,
As fiends might blush to hear or name.

The same unholy sacrifice
Where'er I turn bursts on mine eyes,
Of princely pomp, and priestly pride,
The people trampled in the dust,
Their dearest, holiest rights denied,
Their hopes destroyed, their spirit crushed:
But when I turn the land to view,
Which claims, par excellence, to be
The refuge of the brave and true,
The strongest bulwark of the free,
The grand asylum for the poor,
And trodden down of every land,
Where they may rest in peace, secure,
Nor fear the oppressor's iron hand, --
Worse scenes of rapine, lust, and shame,
Then e'er disgraced the Russian name,
Worse than the Austrian ever saw,
Are sanctioned here as righteous law.
Here might the Austrian butcher make
Progress in shameful cruelty,
Where women-whippers proudly take
The meed and praise of chivalry.
Here might the cunning Jesuit learn,
Though skilled in subtle sophistry,
And trained to persevere in stern
Unsympathizing cruelty,
And call that good, which, right or wrong,
Will tend to make his order strong:
He here might learn from those who stand
High in the gospel ministry,
The very magnates of the land
In evangelic piety,
That conscience must not only bend
To everything the church decrees,
But it must also condescend,
When drunken politicians please
To place their own inhuman acts
Above the "higher law" of God,
And on the hunted victim's tracks
Cheer the malignant fiends of blood,
To help the man-thief bind the chain
Upon his Christian brother's limb,
And bear to slavery's hell again
The bound and suffering child of Him
Who died upon the cross, to save
Alike, the master and the slave.
While all the oppressed from every land
Are welcomed here with open hand,
And fulsome praises rend the heaven
For those who have the fetters riven
Of European tyranny,
And bravely struck for liberty;
And while from thirty thousand fanes
Mock prayers go up, and hymns are sung,
Three million drag their clanking chains,
"Unwept, unhonored, and unsung:"
Doomed to a state of slavery,
Compared with which the darkest night
Of European tyranny,
Seems brilliant as the noonday light.
While politicians void of shame,
Cry this is law and liberty,
The clergy lend the awful name
And sanction of the Deity,
To help sustain the monstrous wrong,
And crush the weak beneath the strong.

Yet to the eye of him who reads
The fate of nations past and gone,
And marks with care the wrongful deeds
By which their power was overthrown, --
Worse plagues than Egypt ever felt
Are seen wide-spreading through the land,
Announcing that the heinous guilt
On which the nation proudly stands,
Has risen to Jehovah's throne,
And kindled his Almighty ire,
And broadcast through the land has sown
The seeds of a devouring fire;
Blasting with foul pestiferous breath
The fountain springs of mortal life,
And planting deep the seeds of death,
And future germs of deadly strife;
And moral darkness spreads its gloom
Over the land in every part,
And buries in a living tomb
Each generous prompting of the heart.

How long, O Lord! shall such vile deeds
Be acted in thy holy name,
And senseless bigots o'er their creeds
Fill the whole world with war and flame?
How long shall ruthless tyrants claim
Thy sanction to their bloody laws,
And throw the mantle of thy name
Around their foul, unhallowed cause?
How long shall all the people bow
As vassals of the favored few,
And shame the pride of manhood's brow, --
Give what to God alone is due,
Homage to wealth and rank and power,
Vain shadows of a passing hour?
Oh, for a pen of living fire,
A tongue of flame, an arm of steel!
To rouse the people's slumbering ire,
And teach the tyrants' hearts to feel.
O Lord! in vengeance now appear.
And guide the battles for the right,
The spirits of the fainting cheer,
And nerve the patriot's arm with might;
Till slavery's banished from the world,
And tyrants from their power hurled;
And all mankind, from bondage free,
Exult in glorious liberty.






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