Lines

By Frances Ellen Watkins Harper 1825–1911
At the Portals of the Future,
    Full of madness, guilt and gloom,
Stood the hateful form of Slavery,
    Crying, Give, Oh! give me room–

Room to smite the earth with cursing,
    Room to scatter, rend and slay,
From the trembling mother’s bosom
    Room to tear her child away;

Room to trample on the manhood
    Of the country far and wide;
Room to spread o’er every Eden
    Slavery’s scorching lava-tide.

Pale and trembling stood the Future,
    Quailing ‘neath his frown of hate,
As he grasped with bloody clutches
    The great keys of Doom and Fate.

In his hand he held a banner
    All festooned with blood and tears:
‘Twas a fearful ensign, woven
    With the grief and wrong of years.

On his brow he wore a helmet
    Decked with strange and cruel art;
Every jewel was a life-drop
    Wrung from some poor broken heart.

Though her cheek was pale and anxious,
    Yet, with look and brow sublime,
By the pale and trembling Future
    Stood the Crisis of our time.

And from many a throbbing bosom
    Came the words in fear and gloom,
Tell us, Oh! thou coming Crisis,
    What shall be our country’s dooma?

Shall the wings of dark destruction
    Brood and hover o’er our land,
Till we trace the steps of ruin
    By their blight, from strand to strand?

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 Social Commentaries, Race & Ethnicity

 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 Social Commentaries, Race & Ethnicity

POET’S REGION U.S., Southern

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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