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
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Complete Issue: National Anti-Slavery Standard (7 November 1863)
[Unsigned], "The Hero of Gaza" National Anti-Slavery Standard (7 November 1863): [4]View Poem Image
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To the Editor of The National Anti-Slavery Standard.
About four years ago you published in The Standard
the following lines, which I now send for republication (if
you see fit), to prove that devoted anti-slavery persons
sometimes have the gift of prophecy.[1]

THE HERO OF GAZA.[2]

To Dagon's blood-stained alter throng Philistia's brave and fair, In veil, and tiar, and purple robe, In gold and jewels rare.
Dagon demands a sacrifice, And wine must freely flow; For had he not ensnared for them Their hated giant foe?
The wine has flowed, the feast has cloyed, Then shout that Pagan court: "Bring hither Samson from his mill, That he may make us sport."
They brought him, blind, and prison-stained, Low bowed, and soul subdued; Waiting his captor's proud commands Gaza's great hero stood.
He made them sport, while young and old Gazed from the temple's roof, With jibe, and jeer, and mocking laugh, Taunt, menace, and reproof.
Then woke the slumbering soul within, Then roused the hero's pride; Raising his hands and face to heaven, He thus, in anguish, cried:
"Oh, Israel's God, look down on me, Groping in endless night! Restore me once—this only once— My squandered youthful might!"
He seized the columns right and left, And all the giant bowed; Down, down the pondrous ruin crushed On Dagon's shrieking crowd.
He heard the Pagan's dying cry, And mid his anguish smiled, Then died; but o'er his mangled corpse A hecatomb was piled.
Thou, Christian Champion of the North,[3] A better fate is thine, For thou shalt see the blood-stained priests Crushed by their fallen shrine.[4]
The temple totters to its base, The idol waits its doom, Its head of brass and feet of clay Bend to their ready tomb.
And thou with eyes undimmed shalt see, Where stood that reeking dome, A tower for all the world's oppress'd, A refuge and ah ome.

Notes

  1. The note suggests that the National Anti-Slavery Standard published "The Hero of Gaza" in November 1859, during John Brown's imprisonment and trial. The poem did not appear in the Standard at this time. The reader may have misremembered the publication title or date, but the accuracy of these details matters less than the fact that the Standard editor "saw fit" to present the poem as a reprinted text, within the frame of reference supplied by the letter—that is, as an antebellum abolitionist "prophecy" nearing its fulfillment.Go back
  2. Samson, the twelfth Israelite judge, known for his feats of strength and his heroic death. See Judges 13–16 and John Milton's Samson Agonistes. According to Judges 16, Delilah discovered the secret of Samson's extraordinary strength and betrayed him to his Philistine enemies. They took him, blinded and shackled, to the city of Gaza, where he was set at the prison mill (Judges 16:21). The Philistines offered "a great sacrifice unto Dagon their god" in thanksgiving (16:23). During their celebration, they called for Samson to be brought from prison: he "made them sport" then prayed for the strength to avenge his injuries. Samson toppled the pillars of the temple, bringing down the roof on the Philistine nobility and on his own head (Judges 16:27).Go back
  3. Militant abolitionist John Brown (1800–1859).Go back
  4. As a "Christian hero," Brown will witness the destruction of slaveholders ("blood-stained priests") and American slavery from heaven. In the poem's Brown-Samson analogy, slavery replaces Dagon as the false idol. In late 1863 the National Anti-Slavery Standard's Concord correspondent saw the destruction anticipated by the poet as a process which was well underway: "all persons held as slaves" in rebel states had been declared free on January 1, 1863, and the ravages of war had decimated the South. In this improvised war narrative, victory for abolitionism and the Union is a foregone conclusion.Go back