Scholarly Editing

The Annual of the Association for Documentary Editing

2013, Volume 34

"Will not these days be by thy poets sung": Poems of the Anglo-African and National Anti-Slavery Standard, 1863–1864

Edited by Elizabeth Lorang and R. J. Weir
page 1 page 2 page 3 page 4
Complete Issue: National Anti-Slavery Standard (12 September 1863)
Maria Lowell, "Africa" National Anti-Slavery Standard (12 September 1863): [4]View Poem Image
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AFRICA.[1]

           
She sat where the level sands Sent back the sky's fierce glare; She folded her mighty hands, And waited with calm despair, While the red sun dropped down the streaming air.
Her throne was broad and low, Builded of cinnamon;— Huge ivory, row on row, Varying its columns dun, Barred with the copper of the setting sun.
Up from the river came The low and sullen roar Of lions, with eyes of flame, That haunted its reedy shore, And the neigh of the hippopotamus, Trampling the watery floor.
Her great dusk face no light From the sunset-glow could take; Dark as the primal night; Ere over the earth God spake; It seemed for her a dawn could never break.
She opened her massy lips, And sighed with a dreary sound, As when, by the sands' eclipse, Bewildered men are bound, And, like a train of mourners, The columned winds sweep round.
She said: "My torch at fount of day I lit, now smouldering in decay; Through futures vast I grope my way.
"I was sole Queen the broad earth through; My children round my knees upgrew, And from my breast sucked Wisdom's dew.
"Day after day to them I hymned; Fresh knowledge still my song o'erbrimmed, Fresh knowledge which no time had dimmed.
"I sang of Numbers; soon they knew The spell they wrought, and as the blue Foretold the stars in order due;—
"Of Music; and they fain would rear Something to tell its influence clear; Uprose my Memnon,[3] with nice ear,
"To wait upon the morning air, Until the sun rose from his lair Swifter, at greet of lutings rare.
"I sang of Forces whose great bands Could knit together feeble hands To uprear Thought's supreme commands;
"Then, like broad tents, beside the Nile, They pitched the Pyramids' great pile; Where light and shade divided smile;
"And on white walls, in stately show, Did Painting with fair movement go, Leading the long procession slow.
"All laws that wondrous nature taught, To serve my children's skill I brought, And still for fresh devices sought.
"What need to tell? they lapsed away, Their great light quenched in twilight gray, Within their winding tombs they lay;
"And centuries went slowly by, And looked into my sleepless eye, Which only turned to see them die.
"The winds like mighty spirits came, Alive and pure and strong as flame, At last to lift me from my shame;
"For oft I heard them onward go, Felt in the air their great wings row, As down they dipped in journeying slow.
"Their course they steered above my head, One strong voice to another said, 'Why sits she here so drear and dead?
"'Her kingdom stretches far away; Beyond the utmost verge of day Her myriad children dance and play.'
"Then throbbed my mother's heart again, Then knew my pulses finer pain, Which wrought like fire within my brain.
"I sought my young barbarians, where A mellower light broods on the air, And heavier blooms swing incense rare.
"Swart-skinned, crisp-haired, they did not shun The burning arrows of the sun; Erect as palms stood every one.
"I said—These shall live out their day In song and dance and endless play; The children of the world are they.
"Nor need they delve with heavy spade; Their bread on emerald dishes laid, Sets forth a banquet in each shade.
"Only the thoughtful bees shall store Their honey for them evermore; They shall not learn such toilsome lore;
"Their finest skill shall be to snare The birds that flaunt along the air, And deck them in their feathers rare.
"So centuries went on their way, And brought fresh generations gay On my savannahs green to play.
"There came a change. They took my free, My careless ones, and the great sea Blew back their endless sighs to me.
"With earthquake shudderings oft the mold Would gape; I saw keen spears of gold Thrusting red hearts down, not yet cold,
"But throbbing wildly; dreadful groans Stole upward through Earth's ribbed stones, And crept along through all my zones.
"I sought again my desert bare, And still they followed on the air, And still I hear them everywhere.
"So sit I dreary, desolate, Till the slow-moving hand of Fate Shall lift me from my sunken state."
Her great lips closed upon her moan; Silently sate she upon her throne, Rigid and black, as carved in stone.

Notes

  1. "Africa" had appeared in the Anglo-African one week earlier, in its issue of September 5, 1863. The text of the poem is virtually identical in both printings; in line 13, the Standard offers "dusk," where the Anglo-African text may read "dark."Go back
  2. Abolitionist and poet (1821–1853). Born Maria White, she took part in Margaret Fuller's "Conversations" between 1839 and 1844, and was an active member of the Boston Female Anti-Slavery Society. She began to publish poetry in 1834 and married James Russell Lowell in 1844. "Africa," one of her many antislavery poems, appeared in the National Anti-Slavery Standard and Anglo-African (September 5, 1863) almost a decade after her death. The poem was first published in 1849, in the Liberty Bell—a giftbook that the Anti-Slavery Society produced for sale at its annual bazaar.Go back
  3. King of the Ethiopians and the son of Eos (goddess of the dawn). He was slain by Achilles during the Trojan War. Nineteenth-century classicist Charles Anthon wrote that a "famous statue [of Memnon, in Egypt] was said to utter, when it was struck by the first beams of the sun, a sound like the snapping asunder of a musical string" (Charles Anthon, A Classical Dictionary [New York: Harper, 1841], 820).Go back