Robert Southey (1774-1843)


Two Poems Concerning the Slave Trade

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A wrinkled crabbed man they picture thee,
Old Winter, with a rugged beard as grey
As the long moss upon the apple-tree;
Blue-lipt, an icedrop at thy sharp blue nose,
Close muffled up, and on thy dreary way
Plodding alone through sleet and drifting snows.
They should have drawn thee by the high-heapt hearth,
Old Winter! seated in thy great armed chair,
Watching the children at their Christmas mirth;
Or circled by them as thy lips declare
Some merry jest, or tale of murder dire,
Or troubled spirit that disturbs the night,
Pausing at times to rouse the mouldering fire,
Or taste the old October brown and bright.

"Go, Valentine..."

Go, Valentine, and tell that lovely maid
Whom fancy still will portray to my sight,
How here I linger in this sullen shade,
This dreary gloom of dull monastic night;
Say, that every joy of life remote
At evening's closing hour I quit the throng,
Listening in solitude the ring-dome's note,
Who pours like me her solitary song;
Say, that of her absence calls the sorrowing sigh;
Say, that of all her charms I love to speak,
In fancy feel the magic of her eye,
In fancy view the smile illume her cheek,
Court the lone hour when silence stills the grove,
And heave the sigh of memory and of love.

To a Goose

If thou didst feed on western plains of yore
Or waddle wide with flat and flabby feet
Over some Cambrian mountain's plashy moor,
Or find in farmer's yard a safe retreat
From gipsy thieves and foxes sly and fleet;
If thy grey quills by lawyer guided, trace
Deeds big with ruin to some wretched race,
Or love-sick poet's sonnet, sad and sweet,
Wailing the rigour of some lady fair;
Or if, the drudge of housemaid's daily toil,
Cobwebs and dust thy pinion white besoil,
Departed goose! I neither know nor care.
But this I know, that thou wert very fine,
Seasoned with sage and onions and port wine.


Let ancient stories round the painter's art,
Who stole from many a maid his Venus' charms,
Till warm devotion fired each gazer's heart
And every bosom bounded with alarms.
He culled the beauties of his native isle,
From some the blush of beauty's vermeil dyes,
From some the lovely look, the winning smile,
From some the languid lustre of the eyes.

Low to the finished form the nations round
In adoration bent the pious knee;
With myrtle wreaths the artist's brow they crowned,
Whose skill, Ariste, only imaged thee.
Ill-fated artist, doomed so wide to seek
The charms that blossom on Ariste's cheek!

"Hold your mad hands..."

Hold your mad hands! for ever on your plain
Must the gorged vulture clog his beak with blood?
For ever must your Niger's tainted flood,
Roll to the ravenous shark his banquet slain?
Hold your mad hands! and learn at length to know,
And turn your vengeance on the common foe,
Yon treacherous vessel and her godless crew!
Let never traders with false pretext fair
Set on your shores again their wicked feet:
With interdict and indignation meet
Repel them, and with fire and sword pursue!
Avarice, the white cadaverous fiend, is there,
Who spreads his toils accursed wide and far,
And for his purveyor calls the demon War.

"High in the air exposed..."

High in the air exposed the slave is hung,
To all the birds of heaven, their living food!
He groans not, though awaked by that fierce sun
New torturers live to drink their parent blood;
He groans not, though the gorging vulture tear
The quivering fiber. Hither look, O ye
Who tore this man from peace and liberty!
Look hither, ye who weigh with politic care
The gain against the guilt! Beyond the grave
There is another world: bear ye in mind,
Ere your decree proclaims to all mankind
The gain is worth the guilt, that there the Slave,
Before the Eternal, "thunder-tongued shall plead
Against the deep damnation of your deed.

Glossed Words (Click on title to return to poem.)


October, October ale.