logotype

Poems

To sir toby

Sugar Planter in the Interior Parts of Jamaica, Near the City of San Jago de la Vega, (Spanish Town), 1784

´The motions of his spirit are black as night,
And his affections dark as Erebus.´
-Shakespeare

If there exists a hell—the case is clear—
Sir Tobyfs slaves enjoy that portion here:
Here are no blazing brimstone lakes—ftis true;
But kindled rum too often burns as blue;
In which some fiend, whom nature must detest,
Steeps Tobyfs brand, and marks poor Cudjoefs breast.
Here whips on whips excite perpetual fears,
And mingled howlings vibrate on my ears:
Here naturefs plagues abound, to fret and teaze,
Snakes, scorpions, despots, lizards, centipedes—
No art, no care escapes the busy lash;
All have their dues—and all are paid in cash—
The eternal driver keeps a steady eye
On a black herd, who would his vengeance fly,
But chained, imprisoned, on a burning soil,
For the mean avarice of a tyrant toil!
The lengthy cart-whip guards this monsterfs reign—
And cracks, like pistols, from the fields of cane.
Ye powers! who formed these wretched tribes, relate,
What had they done, to merit such a fate!
Why were they brought from Eboefs sultry waste,
To see that plenty which they must not taste—
Food, which they cannot buy, and dare not steal;
Yams and potatoes—many a scanty meal! —
One, with a gibbet wakes his negrofs fears,
One to the windmill nails him by the ears;
One keeps his slave in darkened dens, unfed,
One puts the wretch in pickle ere hefs dead:
This, from a tree suspends him by the thumbs,
That, from his table grudges even the crumbs!
Ofer yondf rough hills a tribe of females go,
Each with her gourd, her infant, and her hoe;
Scorched by a sun that has no mercy here,
Driven by a devil, whom men call overseer—
In chains, twelve wretches to their labours haste;
Twice twelve I saw, with iron collars graced! —
Are such the fruits that spring from vast domains?
Is wealth, thus got, Sir Toby, worth your pains!—
Who would your wealth on terms, like these, possess,
Where all we see is pregnant with distress—
Angolafs natives scourged by ruffian hands,
And toilfs hard product shippfd to foreign lands.
Talk not of blossoms, and your endless spring;
What joy, what smile, can scenes of misery bring?—
Though Nature, here, has every blessing spread,
Poor is the labourer—and how meanly fed!—
Here Stygian paintings light and shade renew,
Pictures of hell, that Virgilfs pencil drew:
Here, surly Charons make their annual trip,
And ghosts arrive in every Guinea ship,
To find what beasts these western isles afford,
Plutonian scourges, and despotic lords: —
Here, they, of stuff determined to be free,
Must climb the rude cliffs of the Liguanee;
Beyond the clouds, in sculking haste repair,
And hardly safe from brother traitors there. —

1784       1792

 

Title: originally published in the National Gazette (July 21, 1792) as gThe Island Field Handh.
Epigraph: from The Merchant of Venice, 5.1.79. Freneau substitutes the word gblackh for gdullh in the original.

l. 6. Cudjoe: common name for a slave. gThis passage has a reference to the West Indian custom (sanctioned by law) of branding a newly imported salve on the breast, with a red hot iron, as evidence of the purchaserfs property.h (Freneaufs note)
l. 21. Eboe: gA small negro kingdom near the river Senegal.h (Freneaufs note)
l. 41. Angola: Portuguese colony in West Africa.
l. 47. Stygian: refers to the river Styx in Greek mythology, which souls must cross to reach the underworld.
l. 48. gSee Aeneid, Book 6th—and Fenelonfs Telemachus, Book 18.h (Freneaufs note)
l. 49. Charon: in Greek mythology, the character who ferries souls across the River Styx to Hades.
l. 50. Guinea ships: slave ships from West Africa.
l. 54. Liguanee: gThe mountains northward of Kingston.h (Freneaufs note).
l. 56. brother traitors: gAlluding to the Independent negroes on the blue mountains, who for a stipulated reward, deliver up every fugitive that falls into their hands, to the English Government.h (Freneaufs note)