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Anti-Slavery Poems
The Rendition

by John Greenleaf Whittier

On the 2d of June, 1854, Anthony Burns, a fugitive slave from Virginia,
after being under arrest for ten days in the Boston Court House, was
remanded to slavery under the Fugitive Slave Act, and taken down State
Street to a steamer chartered by the United States Government, under
guard of United States troops and artillery, Massachusetts militia and
Boston police. Public excitement ran high, a futile attempt to rescue
Burns having been made during his confinement, and the streets were
crowded with tens of thousands of people, of whom many came from other
towns and cities of the State to witness the humiliating spectacle.

I heard the train's shrill whistle call,
I saw an earnest look beseech,
And rather by that look than speech
My neighbor told me all.

And, as I thought of Liberty
Marched handcuffed down that sworded street,
The solid earth beneath my feet
Reeled fluid as the sea.

I felt a sense of bitter loss,--
Shame, tearless grief, and stifling wrath,
And loathing fear, as if my path
A serpent stretched across.

All love of home, all pride of place,
All generous confidence and trust,
Sank smothering in that deep disgust
And anguish of disgrace.

Down on my native hills of June,
And home's green quiet, hiding all,
Fell sudden darkness like the fall
Of midnight upon noon.

And Law, an unloosed maniac, strong,
Blood-drunken, through the blackness trod,
Hoarse-shouting in the ear of God
The blasphemy of wrong.

"O Mother, from thy memories proud,
Thy old renown, dear Commonwealth,
Lend this dead air a breeze of health,
And smite with stars this cloud.

"Mother of Freedom, wise and brave,
Rise awful in thy strength," I said;
Ah me! I spake but to the dead;
I stood upon her grave!

6th mo., 1854.
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