Tuesday, December 04, 2007

John Greenleaf Whittier on John Randoph of Roanoke

The poet John Greenleaf Whittier was a Quaker and forceful advocate of abolition. Yet he penned a moving tribute to John Randolph of Roanoke. Even more surprising is the fact that the poem included three stanzas praising Randolph's attitude toward slavery and his slaves:

He held his slaves, yet made withal
No false and vain pretences,
Nor paid a lying priest to seek
For Scriptural defences.
His harshest words of proud rebuke,
His bitterest taunt and scorning,
Fell fire-like on the Northern brow
That bent to him in fawning.

He held his slaves; yet kept the while
His reverence for the Human;
In the dark vassals of his will
He saw but Man and Woman!
No hunter of God’s outraged poor
His Roanoke valley entered;
No trader in the souls of men
Across his threshold ventured.

And when the old and wearied man
Lay down for his last sleeping,
And at his side, a slave no more,
His brother-man stood weeping,
His latest thought, his latest breath,
To Freedom’s duty giving,
With failing tongue and trembling hand
The dying blest the living.

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