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The Runaway Slave at Pilgrim’s Point (Elizabeth Barrett Browning"

Published onAug 06, 2010
The Runaway Slave at Pilgrim’s Point (Elizabeth Barrett Browning"
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“The Runaway Slave at Pilgrim’s Point” by Elizabeth Barrett Browning


“The Runaway Slave at Pilgrim’s Point”1

I.

I stand on the mark beside the shore
⁠Of the first white pilgrim's bended knee,
Where exile turned to ancestor,
⁠And God was thanked for liberty.
I have run through the night, my skin is as dark,
I bend my knee down on this mark . .
⁠I look on the sky and the sea.

II.

O pilgrim-souls, I speak to you!
⁠I see you come out proud and slow
From the land of the spirits pale as dew . .
⁠And round me and round me ye go!
O pilgrims, I have gasped and run
All night long from the whips of one
⁠Who in your names works sin and woe.

III.

And thus I thought that I would come
⁠And kneel here where I knelt before,
And feel your souls around me hum
⁠In undertone to the ocean's roar;
And lift my black face, my black hand,
Here, in your names, to curse this land
⁠Ye blessed in freedom's evermore.

IV.

I am black, I am black;
⁠And yet God made me, they say.
But if He did so, smiling back
⁠He must have cast his work away
Under the feet of his white creatures,
With a look of scorn,—that the dusky features
⁠Might be trodden again to clay.

V.

And yet He has made dark things
⁠To be glad and merry as light.
There's a little dark bird, sits and sings;
⁠There's a dark stream ripples out of sight;
And the dark frogs chant in the safe morass,
And the sweetest stars are made to pass
⁠O'er the face of the darkest night.

VI.

But we who are dark, we are dark!
⁠Ah God, we have no stars!
About our souls in care and cark
⁠Our blackness shuts like prison-bars:
The poor souls crouch so far behind,
That never a comfort can they find
⁠By reaching through the prison-bars.

VII.

Indeed we live beneath the sky, . .
⁠That great smooth Hand of God, stretched out
On all His children fatherly,
⁠To bless them from the fear and doubt,
Which would be, if, from this low place,
All opened straight up to His face
⁠Into the grand eternity.

VIII.

And still God's sunshine and His frost,
⁠They make us hot, they make us cold,
As if we were not black and lost:
⁠And the beasts and birds, in wood and fold,
Do fear and take us for very men!
Could the weep-poor-will or the cat of the glen
⁠Look into my eyes and be bold?

IX.

I am black, I am black!—
⁠But, once, I laughed in girlish glee;
For one of my colour stood in the track
⁠Where the drivers drove, and looked at me—
And tender and full was the look he gave:
Could a slave look so at another slave?—
⁠I look at the sky and the sea.

X.

And from that hour our spirits grew
⁠As free as if unsold, unbought:
Oh, strong enough, since we were two,
⁠To conquer the world, we thought!
The drivers drove us day by day;
We did not mind, we went one way
⁠And no better a liberty sought.

XI.

In the sunny ground between the canes,
⁠He said "I love you" as he passed:
When the shingle-roof rang sharp with the rains,
⁠I heard how he vowed it fast:
While others shook, he smiled in the hut
As he carved me a bowl of the cocoa-nut
⁠Through the roar of the hurricanes.

XII.

I sang his name instead of a song;
⁠Over and over I sang his name—
Upward and downward I drew it along
⁠My various notes; the same, the same!
I sang it low, that the slave-girls near
Might never guess from aught they could hear,
⁠It was only a name.

XIII.

I look on the sky and the sea—
⁠We were two to love, and two to pray,—
Yes, two, O God, who cried to Thee,
⁠Though nothing didst Thou say.
Coldly Thou sat'st behind the sun!
And now I cry who am but one,
⁠How wilt Thou speak to-day?—

XIV.

We were black, we were black!
⁠We had no claim to love and bliss:
What marvel, if each turned to lack?
⁠They wrung my cold hands out of his,—
They dragged him . . where? . . I crawled to touch
His blood's mark in the dust! . . not much,
⁠Ye pilgrim-souls, . . though plain as this!

XV.

Wrong, followed by a deeper wrong!
⁠Mere grief's too good for such as I.
So the white men brought the shame ere long
⁠To strangle the sob of my agony.
They would not leave me for my dull
Wet eyes!—it was too merciful
⁠To let me weep pure tears and die.

XVI.

I am black, I am black!
⁠I wore a child upon my breast . .
An amulet that hung too slack,
⁠And, in my unrest, could not rest:
Thus we went moaning, child and mother,
One to another, one to another,
⁠Until all ended for the best:

XVII.

For hark! I will tell you low . . low . .
⁠I am black, you see,—
And the babe who lay on my bosom so,
⁠Was far too white . . too white for me;
As white as the ladies who scorned to pray
Beside me at church but yesterday;
⁠Though my tears had washed a place for my knee.

XVIII.

My own, own child! I could not bear
⁠To look in his face, it was so white.
I covered him up with a kerchief there;
⁠I covered his face in close and tight:
And he moaned and struggled, as well might be,
For the white child wanted his liberty—
⁠Ha, ha! he wanted his master right.

XIX.

He moaned and beat with his head and feet,
⁠His little feet that never grew—
He struck them out, as it was meet,
⁠Against my heart to break it through.
I might have sung and made him mild—
But I dared not sing to the white-faced child
⁠The only song I knew.

XX.

I pulled the kerchief very close:
⁠He could not see the sun, I swear
More, then, alive, than now he does
⁠From between the roots of the mangles . . where?
. . I know where. Close! a child and mother
Do wrong to look at one another,
⁠When one is black and one is fair.

XXI.

Why, in that single glance I had
⁠Of my child's face, . . I tell you all,
I saw a look that made me mad . .
⁠The master's look, that used to fall
On my soul like his lash . . or worse!—
And so, to save it from my curse,
⁠I twisted it round in my shawl.

XXII.

And he moaned and trembled from foot to head,
⁠He shivered from head to foot;
Till, after a time, he lay instead
⁠Too suddenly still and mute.
I felt beside a stiffening cold . .
I dared to lift up just a fold, . .
⁠As in lifting a leaf of the mango-fruit.

XXIII.

But my fruit . . ha, ha!—there, had been
⁠(I laugh to think on't at this hour! . .)
Your fine white angels, who have seen
⁠Nearest the secret of God's power, . .
And plucked my fruit to make them wine,
And sucked the soul of that child of mine,
⁠As the humming-bird sucks the soul of the flower.

XXIV.

Ha, ha, for the trick of the angels white!
⁠They freed the white child's spirit so.
I said not a word, but, day and night,
⁠I carried the body to and fro;
And it lay on my heart like a stone . . as chill.
—The sun may shine out as much as he will:
⁠I am cold, though it happened a month ago.

XXV.

From the white man's house, and the black man's hut,
⁠I carried the little body on.
The forest's arms did round us shut,
⁠And silence through the trees did run:
They asked no question as I went,—
They stood too high for astonishment,—
⁠They could see God sit on his throne.

XXVI.

My little body, kerchiefed fast,
⁠I bore it on through the forest . . on :
And when I felt it was tired at last,
⁠I scooped a hole beneath the moon.
Through the forest-tops the angels far,
With a white sharp finger from every star,
⁠Did point and mock at what was done.

XXVII.

Yet when it was all done aright, . .
⁠Earth, 'twixt me and my baby, strewed, . .
All, changed to black earth, . . nothing white, . .
⁠A dark child in the dark,—ensued
Some comfort, and my heart grew young:
I sate down smiling there and sung
⁠The song I learnt in my maidenhood.

XXVIII.

And thus we two were reconciled,
⁠The white child and black mother, thus:
For, as I sang it, soft and wild
⁠The same song, more melodious,
Rose from the grave whereon I sate!
It was the dead child singing that,
⁠To join the souls of both of us.

XXIX.

I look on the sea and the sky!
⁠Where the pilgrims' ships first anchored lay,
The free sun rideth gloriously;
⁠But the pilgrim-ghosts have slid away
Through the earliest streaks of the morn.
My face is black, but it glared with a scorn
⁠Which they dare not meet by day.

XXX.

Ah!—in their 'stead, their hunter sons!
⁠Ah, ah! they are on me—they hunt in a ring—
Keep off! I brave you all at once—
⁠I throw off your eyes like snakes that sting!
You have killed the black eagle at nest, I think:
Did you never stand still in your triumph, and shrink
⁠From the stroke of her wounded wing?

XXXI.

(Man, drop that stone you dared to lift!—)
⁠I wish you, who stand there five a-breast,
Each, for his own wife's joy and gift,
⁠A little corpse as safely at rest
As mine in the mangles!—Yea, but she
May keep live babies on her knee,
⁠And sing the song she liketh best.

XXXII.

I am not mad: I am black.
⁠I see you staring in my face—
I know you, staring, shrinking back—
⁠Ye are born of the Washington-race:
And this land is the free America:
And this mark on my wrist . . (I prove what I say)
⁠Ropes tied me up here to the flogging-place.

XXXIII.

You think I shrieked then? Not a sound!
⁠I hung, as a gourd hangs in the sun.
I only cursed them all around,
⁠As softly as I might have done
My very own child!—From these sands
Up to the mountains, lift your hands,
⁠O slaves, and end what I begun!

XXXIV.

Whips, curses; these must answer those!
⁠For in this Union, you have set
Two kinds of men in adverse rows,
⁠Each loathing each: and all forget
The seven wounds in Christ's body fair;
While He sees gaping everywhere
⁠Our countless wounds that pay no debt.

XXXV.

Our wounds are different. Your white men
⁠Are, after all, not gods indeed,
Nor able to make Christs again
⁠Do good with bleeding. We who bleed . . .
(Stand off!) we help not in our loss!
We are too heavy for our cross,
⁠And fall and crush you and your seed.

XXXVI.

I fall, I swoon! I look at the sky:
⁠The clouds are breaking on my brain;
I am floated along, as if I should die
⁠Of liberty's exquisite pain—
In the name of the white child, waiting for me
In the death-dark where we may kiss and agree,
White men, I leave you all curse-free
⁠In my broken heart's disdain!

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