The Dying Slave

written by William Lisle Bowles

The Dying Slave

— William Lisle Bowles

Faint-gazing on the burning orb of day,
When Afric's injured son expiring lay,
His forehead cold, his labouring bosom bare,
His dewy temples, and his sable hair,
His poor companions kissed, and cried aloud,
Rejoicing, whilst his head in peace he bowed:--
Now thy long, long task is done,
Swiftly, brother, wilt thou run,
Ere to-morrow's golden beam
Glitter on thy parent stream,
Swiftly the delights to share,
The feast of joy that waits thee there.
Swiftly, brother, wilt thou ride
O'er the long and stormy tide,
Fleeter than the hurricane,
Till thou see'st those scenes again,
Where thy father's hut was reared,
Where thy mother's voice was heard;
Where thy infant brothers played
Beneath the fragrant citron shade;
Where through green savannahs wide
Cooling rivers silent glide,
Or the shrill cicalas sing
Ceaseless to their murmuring;
Where the dance, the festive song,
Of many a friend divided long,
Doomed through stranger lands to roam,
Shall bid thy spirit welcome home!
Fearless o'er the foaming tide
Again thy light canoe shall ride;
Fearless on the embattled plain
Thou shalt lift thy lance again;
Or, starting at the call of morn,
Wake the wild woods with thy horn;
Or, rushing down the mountain-slope,
O'ertake the nimble antelope;
Or lead the dance, 'mid blissful bands,
On cool Andracte's yellow sands;
Or, in the embowering orange-grove,
Tell to thy long-forsaken love
The wounds, the agony severe,
Thy patient spirit suffered here!
Fear not now the tyrant's power,
Past is his insulting hour;
Mark no more the sullen trait
On slavery's brow of scorn and hate;
Hear no more the long sigh borne
Murmuring on the gales of morn!
Go in peace; yet we remain
Far distant toiling on in pain;
Ere the great Sun fire the skies
To our work of woe we rise;
And see each night, without a friend,
The world's great comforter descend!
Tell our brethren, where ye meet,
Thus we toil with weary feet;
Yet tell them that Love's generous flame,
In joy, in wretchedness the same,
In distant worlds was ne'er forgot;
And tell them that we murmur not;
Tell them, though the pang will start,
And drain the life-blood from the heart,--
Tell them, generous shame forbids
The tear to stain our burning lids!
Tell them, in weariness and want,
For our native hills we pant,
Where soon, from shame and sorrow free,
We hope in death to follow thee!

About the poet


William Lisle Bowles

Bowles was born at Northamptonshire and educated at Trinity College, Oxford, receiving his Batchelor of Arts in 1786 and Master of Arts in 1792. He was ordained deacon in 1788. He served as curate at Wiltshire (1788), rector at Chicklade (1795), Dumbleton (1797) and Bremhill, Wiltshire (1804). He became prebendary (1804) and canon residentiary (1828) at Salisbury Cathedral. Though he mostly led a city life as a clergyman and magistrate, his writings reveal a longing for rural retirement. Though his first work was well received by the early romantic poets, most of his work is no longer read. He is remembered for his long public argument with Byron, known as the "Pope-Bowles controversy", in which Byron, along with others like Thomas Campbell, ardently defended Pope's greatness and true rank...

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