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Frances Ellen Watkins (1825-1911)

The Slave Mother


              1Heard you that shriek? It rose
              2   So wildly on the air,
              3It seemed as if a burden'd heart
              4   Was breaking in despair.

              5Saw you those hands so sadly clasped --
              6   The bowed and feeble hand --
              7The shuddering of that fragile form --
              8   That look of grief and dread?

              9Saw you the sad, imploring eye?
            10   Its every glance was pain,
            11As if a storm of agony
            12   Were sweeping through the brain.

            13She is a mother, pale with fear,
            14   Her boy clings to her side,
            15And in her kirtle vainly tries
            16   His trembling form to hide.

            17He is not hers, although she bore
            18   For him a mother's pains;
            19He is not hers, although her blood
            20   Is coursing through his veins!

            21He is not hers, for cruel hands
            22   May rudely tear apart
            23The only wreath of household love
            24   That binds her breaking heart.

            25His love has been a joyous light
            26   That o'er her pathway smiled,
            27A fountain gushing ever new,
            28   Amid life's desert wild.

            29His lightest word has been a tone
            30   Of music round her heart,
            31Their lives a streamlet blent in one --
            32   Oh, Father! must they part?

            33They tear him from her circling arms,
            34   Her last and fond embrace.
            35Oh! never more may her sad eyes
            36   Gaze on his mournful face.

            37No marvel, then, these bitter shrieks
            38   Disturb the listening air;
            39She is a mother, and her heart
            40   Is breaking in despair.


Online text copyright © 2003, Ian Lancashire for the Department of English, University of Toronto.
Published by the Web Development Group, Information Technology Services, University of Toronto Libraries.

Original text: Frances Ellen Watkins, Poems on Miscellaneous Subjects (Boston: J. B. Yerrinton, 1854): 6-8. Nendeln/Liechtenstein: Kraus Reprint, 1971. PS 1799 H7P7 1854a.
First publication date: 1854
RPO poem editor: Ian Lancashire
RP edition: RPO 1998.
Recent editing: 2:2002/3/7

Rhyme: abcb


Other poems by Frances Ellen Watkins