"To Sir Toby" [1]

A Sugar Planter in the Interior Parts of Jamaica, Near the City of San
Jago de la Vega, (Spanish Town) 1784


"The motions of his spirit are black as night,
And his affections dark as Erebus."
- Shakespeare [2]

If there exists a hell - the case is clear -
Sir Toby's slaves enjoy that portion here:
Here are no blazing brimstone lakes - 'tis true;
But kindled rum too often burns as blue;
In which some fiend, whom nature must detest,
Steeps Toby's brand, and marks poor Cudjoe's [3] breast.

Here whips on whips excite perpetual fears,
And mingled howlings vibrate on my ears:
Here Nature's plagues abound, to fret and tease,
Snakes, scorpions, despots, lizards, centipedes -
No art, no care escapes the busy lash;
All have their dues - and all are paid in cash -
The eternal driver keeps a steady eye
On a black herd, who would his vengeance fly,
But chained, imprisoned, on a burning soil,
For the mean avarice of a tyrant toil! [4]
The lengthy cart-whip guards this monster's reign -
And cracks, like pistols, from the fields of cane.

Ye powers! who formed these wretched tribes, relate,
What had they done, to merit such a fate!
Why were they brought from Eboe's [5] sultry waste
To see that plenty which they must not taste -
Food, which they cannot buy, and dare not steal;
Yams and potatoes - many a scanty meal! -

One, with a gibbet [6] wakes his negro's fears,
One to the windmill nails him by the ears;
One keeps his slave in darkened dens, unfed,
One puts the wretch in pickle ere he's dead:
This, from a tree suspends him by the thumbs,
that, from his table grudges even the crumbs!

O'er yond' rough hills a tribe of females go,
Each with her gourd [7], her infant, and her hoe;
Scorched by a sun that has no mercy here,
Driven by a devil, whom men call overseer -
In chains, twelve wretches to their labors haste;
Twice twelve I saw, with iron collars graced! -

Are such the fruits that spring from vast domains?
Is wealth, thus got, Sir Toby, worth your pains! -
Who would your wealth on terms, like these, possess,
Where all we see is pregnant with distress -
Angola's [8] natives scourged by ruffian hands,
And toil's hard product shipped to foreign lands.

Talk not of blossoms, and your endless spring;
What joy, what smile, can scenes of misery bring? -
Though Nature, here, has every blessing spread,
Poor is the laborer - and how meanly fed! -

Here Stygian [9] paintings light and shade renew,
Pictures of hell, that Virgil's [10] pencil drew:
Here, surly Charons [11] make their annual trip,
And ghosts arrive in every Guinea ship, [12]
To find what beasts these western isles afford,
Plutonian [13] scourges, and despotic lords: -

Here, they, of stuff determined to be free,
Must climb the rude cliffs of the Liguanee; [14]
Beyond the clouds, in sculking haste repair,
And hardly safe from brother traitors [15] there.-

- END -

Notes: From The Norton Anthology of American Literature, Fourth Edition Volume 1

1. First published in the Daily Advertiser, February 1, 1791, titled The Island Field Negro. The text used here is the 1809 version.
2. The Merchant of Venice 5.1.79. Freneau has substituted the word black for the "dull." "Erebus": in Greek mythology the region beneath the earth through which the dead must pass before entering Hades.
3. "Cudge" or "Cudjoe" was a common name for a slave. "This passage has a reference to the West Indian custom (sanctioned by law) of branding a newly imported slave on the breast, with a red hot iron, as evidence of the purchaser's property" [Freneau's note].
4. Lines 13 - 16 were added in 1809.
5. "A small Negro kingdom near the river of Senegal" [Freneau's note].
6. Gallows.
7. Water cup.
8. West African Portuguese colony.
9. Hellish; taken from the river Styx over which, in Greek mythology, souls of the dead must cross.
10. "See Aeneid, Book 6th. - and Fenelon's Telemachus, Book 18" [Freneau's note]. Aeneas descends to the underworld in the sixth book of the Latin poet Virgil's (70-19 B.C.) epic. Francois de Salignac de la Mothe-Fenelon (1651-1715) was a theologian and the author of Telemaque (1699), a didactic romance concerning the son of Ulysses as he searches for his father.
11. In Greek mythology, Charon ferries the souls of the dead over the river Styx to Hades.
12. Slave ships from West Africa.
13. Hellish; in Greek mythology Pluto was the god of the underworld.
14. "The mountains northward of the kingdom" [Freneau's note].
15. "Alluding to the Independent negroes in the blue mountains, who, for a stipulated reward, deliver up every fugitive that falls into their hands, to the English Government" [Freneau's note].

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"Prayer for Peace"

(for organs)
to Georges and Claude Pompidou

(b. 1906)

"...Sicut et nos dimittimus debitoribus nostris"


Lord Jesus, at the end of this book, which I offer You
As a ciborium of sufferings
At the beginning of the Great Year, in the sunlight
Of Your peace on the snowy roofs of Paris
- Yet I know that my brothers' blood will once more redden
The yellow Orient on the shores of the Pacific
Ravaged by storms and hatred
I know that this blood is the spring libation
The Great Tax Collectors have used for seventy years
To fatten the Empire's lands
Lord, at the foot of this cross - and it is no longer You
Tree of sorrow but, above the Old and New Worlds,
Crucified Africa,
And her right arm stretches over my land
And her left side shades America
And her heart is precious Haiti, Haiti who dared
Proclaim Man before the Tyrant
At the feet of my Africa, crucified for four hundred years
And still breathing
Let me recite to You, Lord, her prayer of peace and pardon.


Lord God, forgive white Europe!
Yes, it is true, Lord, that for four centuries of enlightenment
She has thrown her spit and her baying watchdogs on my lands
And Christians, renouncing Your light and Your gentle heart
Have lighted their camps with my parchments,
Tortured my followers, deported my doctors and scientists.
Their gunpowder crumbled in a flash our proud fortresses and hills
And their cannons blasted through the loins of empires
As vast as the clear day, from the Western Horn to the Eastern sky
And they have burned intangible forests like hunting grounds,
Dragging out Ancestors and spirits by their peaceful beards.
And they have turned their mystery into a Sunday entertainment
For the sleepwalking bourgeois.
Lord, forgive those who turned Askias into guerilla fighters,
My princes into sergeants, my house servants into "boys,"
My peasants into wage earners, and my people
Into a race of the working class.
For You must forgive those who hunted down my children
Like wild elephants. And they disciplined them
With whips and turned into black hands those whose hands were white.
For You must forget those who exported ten million
Of my sons in the leperous holds of their ships
That killed two hundred million more.
And they have made a lonely old age for me
In the forest of my nights and the savanna of my days.
Lord, the window of my eyes has grown cloudy
And now the serpent of hatred rears its head in my heart,
The serpent I thought was dead . . .


Kill it, Lord, For I must continue my journey,
And I want to pray especially for France.
Lord, among white nations, place France at the Father's right hand.
Oh, I know she, too, is Europe, that she has snatched my children
Like a cattle-rustling brigand from the north
To fatten her lands with sugarcane and cotton,
Since black sweat is fertilizer.
She, too, has brought death and guns into my blue villages,
Setting my people against one another, like dogs
Fighting over a bone
She has treated resisters like bandits, and spat
Upon heads that were filled with great plans.
Yes, Lord, forgive France, who says to follow straight ahead
While she takes the devious path,
Who invites me to her table and makes me bring my own bread,
Who gives with her right hand and takes back half with the left.
Yes, Lord, forgive France, who hates occupying forces
And yet imposes such strict occupation on me
Who offers a hero's welcome to some, and treats
The Senegalese like mercenaries, the Empire's black watchdogs,
Who is the Republic, but
Hands over whole countries to Big Business
That has turned my Mesopotamia and my Congo
Into a vast cemetery under the white sun.


Oh, Lord, take from my memory France that is not France,
This mask of meanness and hate on the face of France
This mask of meanness and hate that I can only hate
- And I can surely hate Evil
For I have a great weakness for France.
Bless this shackled nation who twice freed her hands
And opened her kingdoms to the poor
Who turned the slaves of the day into free men and equal brothers
Bless this nation that brought me Your Good News, Lord,
And opened my heavy-lidded eyes to the light of faith.
It has opened my heart to knowledge of the world, showed me
The rainbow of the new faces of my brothers.
And I greet you, my brothers: you, Mohammed Ben Abdallah,
You, Razafymahatratra, and you there, Pham-Manh-Tuong,
You from pacific seas and you from enchanted forests
I greet all of you with my catholic heart.
Ah, I know that more than one of Your messengers
Hunted down my priests like wild game and slaughtered
Sacred images. We might have had an understanding,
For those images were our Jacob's ladder
From earth to Your heaven,
The clear-oil lamp for us to await the dawn,
The stars foreshadowing the sun.
And I know that many of your missionaries have blessed
Weapons of violence and traded in banker's gold
But traitors and fools have always existed.


O bless this nation, Lord, who seeks her own face
Under the mask, yet barely recognizes it
Who seeks You in the cold and the hunger
Gnawing at their bones and guts
And the fiancée mourns her widowhood, the young man
Sees his youth stolen away
The wife laments the absent eye of her husband,
And the mother searches the rubble for her child's dream.
O bless this people who break their bonds,
Bless this people at bay who defy the hungry mob of
Bullies and torturers. And with them bless
All the peoples of Europe, all the peoples of Africa,
And all the peoples of Africa, and all the peoples of America
Who sweat blood and suffering. And in the midst
Of these millions of waves, see the surging heads
Of my people. And give their warm hands
A band of brotherly hands so they can embrace the land

Paris, January 1945

Black Hosts/Hosties Noires (1948)

Taken from The Collected Poetry, by Léopold Sédar Senghor, translated and with an Introduction by Melvin Dixon (Charlottesville and London: University Press of Virginia, 1991). Used without permission.

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"Where Are the Men Seized in this Wind of Madness?"

By Alda do Espirito Santo (b. 1926);
São Tomé poet

[in The Penguin Book of Modern African Poetry,
edited by Gerald Moore and Ulli Beier]

Blood falling in drops to the earth
men dying in the forest
and blood falling, falling...
on those cast into the sea...
Fernão Dias for ever in the story
of Ilha Verde, red with blood,
of men struck down
in the vast arena of the quay.
Alas the quay, the blood, the men,
the fetters, the lash of beatings
resound, resound, resound
dropping in the silence of prostrated lives
of cries, and howls of pain
from men who are men no more,
in the hands of nameless butchers.
Zé Mulato in the story of the quay
shooting men in the silence
of bodies falling.
Alas Zé Mulato, Zé Mulato,
The victims cry for vengeance
The sea, the sea of Fernão Dias
devouring human lives
is bloody red.
- We are arisen -
Our eyes are turned to you.
Our lives entombed
in fields of death,
men of the Fifth of February
men fallen in the furnace of death
imploring pity
screaming for life,
dead without air, without water
they will arise
from the common grave
and upright in the chorus of justice
cry for vengeance....

The fallen bodies in the froest,
the homes, the homes of men
destroyed in the gulf
of ravening fire,
lives incinerated,
raise the unaccustomed chorus of justice
crying for vengeance.
And all you hangmen
all you torturers
sitting in the dock:
- What have you done with my people?...
- What do you answer?
- Where is my people?...
And I answer in the silence
of voices raised
demanding justice....
One by one, through all the line....
For you, tormentors,
forgiveness has no name.
Justice shall be heard.
And the blood of lives fallen
in the forests of death,
innocent blood
drenching the earth
in a silence of terrors
shall make the earth fruitful,
crying for justice.
It is the flame of humanity
singing of hope
in a world without bonds
where liberty
is the fatherland of men....

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