“A Poem on the African Slave Trade”, Mary Birkett Card

The campaigns to end slavery were often taken up by women’s societies, and it was their insistence on the immediate end to slavery which prompted the National Anti-Slavery Society to remove its call for a gradual end to slavery. Mary Birkett Card was just one of the many dedicated female abolitionists, and like many before her, took to writing poetry to express her disgust with the slave trade. (Further information on women and abolition campaigns can be found here.

Below is an extract from the poem “A Poem on the African Slave Trade”, with the full poem accessible here.

Thy voice which spreads pale desolation round,
While trembling myriads groan beneath the sound,
Thy voice more rude than Boreas’ chilling breath,
Calls thousands forth to feel a living death!
Which in hoarse thunders bids injustice rise!
While oft beneath the strokes the suff’rer dies:
Yes! thy infernal voice impels my song,
And o’er my soul its crude ideas throng;
A sorrowing sympathy surrounds my heart,
And mild compassion bleeds in every part.
Mov’d at the dire distress my brethren know
My mind in vain participates their woe;
In vain for them I raise the fervent sigh;
Ah! still they bleed! – they languish! – still they die!

How little think the giddy and the gay
While sipping o’er the sweets of charming tea,
How oft with grief they pierce the manly breast,
How oft their lux’ry robs the wretch of rest,
And that to gain the plant we idly waste
Th’extreme of human mis’ry they must taste!

Yes! ‘tis no lying fable I relate,
Th’extreme of human mis’ry is their fate!

( 3 )

Let sordid traders call it what they will,
Men must be men, possest with feelings still;
And little boots a white or sable skin,
To prove a fair inhabitant within.

There are, oh! scandal to the Christian name,
Who fierce of blood, and lost to sense of shame,
Dare lave their hands impious in human gore,
And barter living souls for lust of ore;
More rav’nous than the foulest beasts of prey,
They but from Nature’s powerful cravings slay;
More cruel than the thief, whose murd’rous knife
At once deprives the trembling wretch of life:
Him poverty, perchance, first taught to stray,
And strongly urg’d her too prevailing plea;
Yet him the justice of our laws condemn:
Beasts we destroy, but seldom think of them.
Strange paradox! we view with shrinking eye,
The murd’rer’s crime, and bid him justly die;
But when our traders snatch a thousand lives,
No pain, no punishment on them derives;
The guilt’s diminish’d, as increas’d its size,
And they are clear – at least in mortal eyes.


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