Robert Southey

(1774 - 1843 / Bristol / England)

The Sailor, Who Had Served In The Slave Trade. - Poem by Robert Southey

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

It surely from the hovel comes!
And now he hastens there,
And thence he hears the name of Christ
Amidst a broken prayer.

He entered in the hovel now,
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,
In such heart-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 wicked 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 every where.

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 every where,
And every place is Hell!
O God--and I must go with him
In endless fire to dwell.

He follows follows every where,
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.

O I have done a cursed deed
The wretched man replies,
And night and day and every where
'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 negroe 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 was still in sight;
I see her twisting every where;
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!

To morrow I set sail again
Not to the Negroe shore--
Wretch that I am I will at least
Commit that sin no more.

O give me comfort if you can--
Oh tell me where to fly--
And bid me hope, if there be hope,
For one so lost as I.

Poor wretch, the stranger he replied,
Put thou thy trust in heaven,
And call on him for whose dear sake
All sins shall be forgiven.

This night at least is thine, go thou
And seek the house of prayer,
There shalt thou hear the word of God
And he will help thee there!


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Poem Submitted: Thursday, April 8, 2010



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