The Slave Auction

By Frances Ellen Watkins Harper 1825–1911
The sale began—young girls were there,   
   Defenseless in their wretchedness,
Whose stifled sobs of deep despair   
   Revealed their anguish and distress.

And mothers stood, with streaming eyes,
   And saw their dearest children sold;
Unheeded rose their bitter cries,
   While tyrants bartered them for gold.

And woman, with her love and truth—
   For these in sable forms may dwell—
Gazed on the husband of her youth,
   With anguish none may paint or tell.

And men, whose sole crime was their hue,
   The impress of their Maker’s hand,
And frail and shrinking children too,
   Were gathered in that mournful band.

Ye who have laid your loved to rest,
   And wept above their lifeless clay,
Know not the anguish of that breast,
   Whose loved are rudely torn away.

Ye may not know how desolate
   Are bosoms rudely forced to part,
And how a dull and heavy weight
   Will press the life-drops from the heart.

Source: American Poetry: The Nineteenth Century (The Library of America, 1993)

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Poet Frances Ellen Watkins Harper 1825–1911

POET’S REGION U.S., Southern

Subjects Race & Ethnicity, Social Commentaries, Relationships, Family & Ancestors

Poetic Terms Rhymed Stanza

 Frances Ellen Watkins Harper

Biography

Born in Baltimore, poet, fiction writer, journalist, and activist Frances Ellen Watkins Harper was the only child of free African American parents. She was raised by her aunt and uncle after her mother died when Frances was three years old. She attended the Academy for Negro Youth, a school run by her uncle, until the age of 13, and then found domestic work in a Quaker household, where she had access to a wide range of . . .

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Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Race & Ethnicity, Social Commentaries, Relationships, Family & Ancestors

POET’S REGION U.S., Southern

Poetic Terms Rhymed Stanza

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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