Roden Berkeley Wriothesley Noel

(1834-1894 / England)

The Slave-Trade - Poem by Roden Berkeley Wriothesley Noel

I HAVE come to pleasant places on my way:
Angels beholding might be lured from heaven!
And in the course of my long wandering
I have return'd once more to visit them.
Alas! how changed!
. . . Bowery villages roll volumed clouds
Of fiery smoke, staining the limpid light;
Rich harvests, charr'd, or trampled, or ungarner'd
Idly luxuriant, meet the mournful eye.
While, even beside a golden, rich array
Of bounteous corn, a few starved boys and women,
Gaunt as yon skeletons around them strewn,
Crawl; listless, hopeless famine in their eyes;
All that were dear, slain, tortured, or expell'd
By arm'd assaults of the fierce slave-driver.
And ah! these skeletons! the tales they tell!
Beside fair river-banks, beside wreck'd huts,
Under green trees, under red rocks, in caves,
Ghastly anatomies, in attitudes
Of mortal anguish, writhed, and curl'd, and twisted,
Mutually clasp'd in transports of despair!

In one closed cabin, when mine eyes conform
To its faint twilight, on a rude raised bed
Appear two skeletons in mouldering weeds;
The head of one fallen from its wooden pillow;
And piteous between them a small form
Of a starved child, nestled by sire and mother.
The dead, and living wounded, and the babes,
Are flung by those contemptuous conquerors
To feed loathsome hyenas, that assemble
Through lurid smoke of sunset, gaunt and grey;
With obscene screaming vultures, heavily
Wheeling, or swooping; rending the live prey.
One infant darling, weeping, wilder'd, still
Solicits the cold breast of a dead mother!

I have seen Lualaba's mighty rolling water
Red with the blood of a blithe innocent people,
Who, unforeboding slant-eyed treachery,
Chaffer'd, and bought and sold, as was their wont,
In a populous fair by the worn river-marge.
And there was a melody of mandolin,
And dulcet flute; with dancing, and warm love
Of gay young lovers, under broad brown eaves,
Sheltering from a hot ascending day;
Where clear young laughter blent deliciously
With falling notes of bowery turtle-doves,
Mantled in hues of tender summer cloud.
Hearken! &mdash a rush! a trample of arm'd men!
A sudden deafening crash of musketry!
Hundreds of blithe love-dreaming youths and maidens,
Bathed in their own life-blood, and one another's,
Fall with one last death-quivering embrace:
While women in rude violating arms
Of strangers struggle; and the flower of men
Strain their necks impotent in yokes of iron,
Grappled around them by their insolent foes.
Hundreds in panic blind - man, woman, child -
Plunge among waters of deep Lualaba;
Whose drowning bodies the swift current hurries;
These, maim'd swollen corpses, drifting far away,
Hideously-croaking famish'd alligators
Fight for possession; lashing furious trains,
Pulling asunder human trunks and limbs!

But follow ye the stolen journeying slave!
Behold her toiling shackled, starved, and goaded
Upon her weary way through wild and wood,
Under the sunblaze; till her bleeding feet
Refuse their office; till she faints and falls!
Whom the tormentors, with a curse and jeer,
Torture to sense of cruel life once more:
Two burdens doth she carry; one, her babe:
She cannot bear them both; they snatch the babe
From her, for all the wailing and wrung hands;
Tossing it crush'd upon a mossy stone.
They goad her on; full blinding tears have darken'd
All the parch'd earth; she cannot stumble far -
Now shouts arise to kill her - it is done!
Christ saith to Satan, 'Hold! the child shall sleep!'

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Poem Submitted: Thursday, April 22, 2010

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