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Anti-Slavery Poems
Yorktown

by John Greenleaf Whittier

Dr. Thacher, surgeon in Scammel's regiment, in his description of the
siege of Yorktown, says: "The labor on the Virginia plantations is
performed altogether by a species of the human race cruelly wrested from
their native country, and doomed to perpetual bondage, while their
masters are manfully contending for freedom and the natural rights of
man. Such is the inconsistency of human nature." Eighteen hundred slaves
were found at Yorktown, after its surrender, and restored to their
masters. Well was it said by Dr. Barnes, in his late work on Slavery:
"No slave was any nearer his freedom after the surrender of Yorktown
than when Patrick Henry first taught the notes of liberty to echo among
the hills and vales of Virginia."

From Yorktown's ruins, ranked and still,
Two lines stretch far o'er vale and hill
Who curbs his steed at head of one?
Hark! the low murmur: Washington!
Who bends his keen, approving glance,
Where down the gorgeous line of France
Shine knightly star and plume of snow?
Thou too art victor, Rochambeau!
The earth which bears this calm array
Shook with the war-charge yesterday,

Ploughed deep with hurrying hoof and wheel,
Shot-sown and bladed thick with steel;
October's clear and noonday sun
Paled in the breath-smoke of the gun,
And down night's double blackness fell,
Like a dropped star, the blazing shell.

Now all is hushed: the gleaming lines
Stand moveless as the neighboring pines;
While through them, sullen, grim, and slow,
The conquered hosts of England go
O'Hara's brow belies his dress,
Gay Tarleton's troop rides bannerless:
Shout, from thy fired and wasted homes,
Thy scourge, Virginia, captive comes!

Nor thou alone; with one glad voice
Let all thy sister States rejoice;
Let Freedom, in whatever clime
She waits with sleepless eye her time,
Shouting from cave and mountain wood
Make glad her desert solitude,
While they who hunt her quail with fear;
The New World's chain lies broken here!

But who are they, who, cowering, wait
Within the shattered fortress gate?
Dark tillers of Virginia's soil,
Classed with the battle's common spoil,
With household stuffs, and fowl, and swine,
With Indian weed and planters' wine,
With stolen beeves, and foraged corn,--
Are they not men, Virginian born?

Oh, veil your faces, young and brave!
Sleep, Scammel, in thy soldier grave
Sons of the Northland, ye who set
Stout hearts against the bayonet,
And pressed with steady footfall near
The moated battery's blazing tier,
Turn your scarred faces from the sight,
Let shame do homage to the right!

Lo! fourscore years have passed; and where
The Gallic bugles stirred the air,
And, through breached batteries, side by side,
To victory stormed the hosts allied,
And brave foes grounded, pale with pain,
The arms they might not lift again,
As abject as in that old day
The slave still toils his life away.

Oh, fields still green and fresh in story,
Old days of pride, old names of glory,
Old marvels of the tongue and pen,
Old thoughts which stirred the hearts of men,
Ye spared the wrong; and over all
Behold the avenging shadow fall!
Your world-wide honor stained with shame,--
Your freedom's self a hollow name!

Where's now the flag of that old war?
Where flows its stripe? Where burns its star?
Bear witness, Palo Alto's day,
Dark Vale of Palms, red Monterey,
Where Mexic Freedom, young and weak,
Fleshes the Northern eagle's beak;
Symbol of terror and despair,
Of chains and slaves, go seek it there!

Laugh, Prussia, midst thy iron ranks
Laugh, Russia, from thy Neva's banks!
Brave sport to see the fledgling born
Of Freedom by its parent torn!
Safe now is Speilberg's dungeon cell,
Safe drear Siberia's frozen hell
With Slavery's flag o'er both unrolled,
What of the New World fears the Old?

1847.
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