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 (30 January 1864)
Caroline A. Mason, "Sowing In Hope" National Anti-Slavery Standard (30 January 1864): [4]View Poem Image
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FOR THE ANTI-SLAVERY STANDARD.

SOWING IN HOPE.

     

INSCRIBED TO W. L. G.[1]

     
"My words are poor and weak," I said; "they pass Like summer wind above the summer grass.
"To utter them seems idle and in vain; I cannot hope to gather them again.
"How know I that one link of sin is broke For any word that I have writ or spoke?
"And yet, impelled by some deep, inward voice, I must work on; I have no other choice.
"But oh, my words are poor and weak," I said; "The truth is quick; the utterance cold and dead."
"Nay, nay, not so," he answered; "sow thy seed Unquestioning; God knoweth there is need!
"For every grain of Truth in weakness sown He watches over who protects His own.
"Though buried long, it shall spring up at length, And shake like Lebanon its fruitful strength!"[2]
He said and left me, while I pondered o'er The old-time truths so often heard before.
And while I pondered, unaware there stole A strange, sweet, subtle strength through all my soul.
I rose and went my way, and asked no more If word of mine had any fruit in store—
Content to drop my patient seed, although My hands shall never gather where they strow;
Leaving the harvest, be it great or small, In His dear keeping who is All in All!

Notes

  1. Probably William Lloyd Garrison (1805–1879), abolitionist leader and editor.
     
    For almost thirty-five years, Garrison's Boston-based Liberator (January 1, 1831–December 29, 1865) championed immediate abolition in the strongest terms and advocated a host of other reform causes. By 1831 Garrison had already gained a hero's reputation among abolitionists for serving time in a Baltimore jail as a result of his antislavery journalism. He played a key role in founding the American Anti-Slavery Society in 1833. Ideological differences caused the society to split in 1840; Garrison became the American Anti-Slavery Society's president in 1843.
     
    Prior to the war, Garrison condemned the Constitution as a proslavery document and advocated disunionism. On July 4, 1854, official state support for the return of fugitive slave Anthony Burns prompted him to burn copies of the Constitution and the Fugitive Slave Law. In the wake of John Brown's Harpers Ferry raid, Lincoln's election, and the outbreak of Civil War, he reconsidered both his pacifism and disunionism: "Garrison would not sacrifice his voice for abolition at the culminating moment of the struggle, even if that meant acceptance of the violent measures he had always deplored" (Henry Mayer, All on Fire: William Lloyd Garrison and the Abolition of Slavery [New York: St. Martin's Press, 1998], 520). During the first half of the war, he exerted moral pressure on the administration and greeted the preliminary Emancipation Proclamation with cautious approbation; the Emancipation Proclamation gave him more confidence in Lincoln.
     
    At the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society's annual meeting in January 1864, Garrison defended the president's commitment to emancipation in the face of harsh criticism and affirmed his support for the administration in the lead-up to the presidential election. Prominent society members rejected his arguments and sided with Wendell Phillips, who would replace Garrison as president of the American Anti-Slavery Society. For Garrison, the ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment and the dissolution of the society "would mark the close of a chapter" (587); when his move to dissolve the society was voted down in May 1865, he resigned from the presidency.
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  2. Probably a reference to Psalm 72:16: "There shall be a handful of corn in the earth upon the top of the mountains; the fruit thereof shall shake like Lebanon: and they of the city shall flourish like grass of the earth."Go back
  3. Caroline Atherton (Briggs) Mason (1823–1890), poet. Mason's early poems appeared in local newspapers under the name "Caro." In 1852 she moved with her family from Marblehead to Fitchburg, Massachusetts. Utterance; or Private Voices to the Public Heart, the only collection of Mason's poetry to appear in her lifetime, was published in the same year. She married Fitchburg lawyer Charles Mason in 1853. During the 1850s she contributed poetry to Washington's National Era; her choice of publication suggests that she had antislavery and reform sympathies.
     
    Throughout the war, Mason contributed poems to a host of newspapers, including the Liberator, the New York Independent, the Christian Inquirer, the Fitchburg Daily Sentinel, the Boston Commonwealth and the National Anti-Slavery Standard. She also tackled more explicitly antislavery subjects at this time (see "Our Promise to the Slave," National Anti-Slavery Standard, May 2, 1863). "Sowing in Hope" suggests that she was a friend of Liberator editor Garrison, who apparently encouraged her to have faith in the moral influence of her words. Although she was primarily known as a poet, Mason also wrote "short stories, essays . . . and frequent letters to local newspapers" (Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute, "Briggs Family Papers, 1820–1915: A Finding Aid"). Her husband published a posthumous collection of her verse, The Lost Ring and Other Poems, in 1891.
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