The Slave-Ship.

There was no sound upon the deep,1
The breeze lay cradled there ;2
The motionless waters sank to sleep3
Beneath the sultry air ;4
Out of the cooling brine to leap5
The dolphin scarce would dare.6
Becalm’d on that Atlantic plain7
A Spanish ship did lie ;—8
She stopp’d at once upon the main,9
For not a wave roll’d by :10
And she watch’d six dreary days, in vain,11
For the storm-bird’s fearful cry.12
But the storm came not, and still the ray13
Of the red and lurid sun14
Wax’d hotter and hotter every day,15
Till her crew sank one by one,16
And not a man could endure to stay17
By the helm, or by the gun.18
Deep in the dark and fetid hold19
Six hundred wretches wept ;20
They were slaves, that the cursed lust of gold21
From their native land had swept ;22
And there they stood, the young and old,23
While a pestilence o’er them crept.24
Cramm’d in that dungeon-hold they stood,25
For many a day and night,26
Till the love of life was all subdued27
By the fever’s scorching blight,28
And their dim eyes wept, half tears half blood,—29
But still they stood upright.30
And there they stood, the quick and dead,31
Propp’d by that dungeon’s wall,—32
And the dying mother bent her head33
On her child,—but she could not fall ;—34
In one dread night the life had fled35
From half that were there in thrall.36
The morning came, and the sleepless crew37
Threw the hatchways open wide ;—38
Then the sickening fumes of death up-flew,39
And spread on every side ;—40
And, ere that eve, of the tyrant few,41
Full twenty souls had died.42
They died, the gaoler and the slave,—43
They died with the self-same pain,—44
They were equal then, for no cry could save45
Those who bound, or who wore, the chain ;46
And the robber-white found a common grave47
With him of the negro-stain.48
The Pest-ship slept on her ocean-bed,49
As still as any wreck,50
Till they all, save one old man, were dead,51
In her hold, or on her deck.—52
That man, as life around him fled,53
Bow’d not his sturdy neck.54
He arose,—the chain was on his hands,55
But he climb’d from that dismal place ;56
And he saw the men who forg’d his bands57
Lie each upon his face ;—58
There on the deck that old man stands,59
The lord of all the space.60
He sat him down, and he watch’d a cloud61
Just cross the setting sun,62
And he heard the light breeze heave the shroud63
Ere that sultry day was done ;64
When the night came on, the gale was loud,65
And the clouds rose thick and dun.66
And still the negro boldly walk’d67
The lone and silent ship ;—68
With a step of vengeful pride he stalk’d,69
And a sneer was on his lip,—70
For he laugh’d to think how Death had baulk’d71
The fetters and the whip.72
At last he slept ;— the lightning flash73
Play’d round the creaking mast,74
And the sails were wet with the ocean’s plash,75
But the ship was anchor’d fast,76
Till, at length, with a loud and fearful crash,77
From her cable’s strain she past.78
Away she swept, as with instinct rife,79
O’er her broad and dangerous path,80
And the midnight tempest’s sudden strife81
Had gathering sounds of wrath ;82
Yet on board that ship was no sound of life,83
Save the song of that captive swarth.84
He sang of his Afric’s distant sands,85
As the slippery deck he trod ;86
He fear’d to die in other lands87
’Neath a tyrant master’s rod ;88
And he lifted his hard and fetter’d hands89
In a prayer to the Negro’s God.90
He touch’d not the sail nor the driving helm,91
But he look’d on the raging sea,92
And he joy’d,—for the waves that would overwhelm93
Would leave his spirit free ;94
And he pray’d, that the ship to no Christian realm95
Before the storm might flee.96
He smiled amidst the tempest’s frown,97
He sang amidst its roar ;98
His joy no fear of death could drown,—99
He was a slave no more.100
The helmless ship that night went down101
On Senegambia’s shore !102