‘Address to Slavery’ by Samuel Wright was published in The Weekly Anglo-African on 18th February 1860. It is an impassioned address to the personified “slavery”.
Samuel Wright presents the theme of slavery in his poem, ‘Address to Slavery’. This poem features an address to “slavery” to pose some thought-provoking questions. Moreover, this poem contains a voice, sympathetic to the plight of slaves all around the European countries. However, this voice is of a speaker who requests his country’s officials to abolish this cruel custom of slavery. For making this poem, more heart-touching the poet uses several literary devices. Apart from that, the speaker of the poem is thoughtful, not infuriated. His address is to the slavers to unsettle their belief regarding slavery.
Summary of Address to Slavery
In this poem, Wright addresses “slavery” for bringing in the main idea. Here, the poet requests the judges and magistrates to return the slaves, their freedom, and land. They toil hard throughout the day, under the scorching sun. Besides, they relentlessly give back to society. For this reason, one should understand their pain as well as their importance. Treating them as slaves and ransacking their liberty cannot be appreciated. So, the poet appeals to free them from “proud slavery’s chain” and return their “sweet comfort of freedom.”
Structure of Address to Slavery
Wright’s poem consists of four quatrains. Each quatrain contains four rhyming lines. Here, the poet uses the AABB rhyme scheme that goes on throughout the poem. In each quatrain, the poet focuses on a singular idea. Apart from that, in each line, there are a total of 11 syllables. The stress falls on, in most of the lines, on the second foot of each syllable. Hence, the overall poem is written in iambic pentameter. However, in this poem, one can find some trochaic feet. Along with that, there are some metrical variations in this poem.
Literary Devices in Address to Slavery
Wright’s poem ‘Address to Slavery’ begins with an apostrophe. Here, the poet invokes the spirit of “slavery” before beginning his heartfelt prayer to this idea. Besides, treating “slavery” as a living entity is a kind of literary device, known as personification. Thereafter, the poet uses a metonymy in the “loud voice of reason”. Here, voice-bearers are none other than human beings, able to distinguish good and bad. However, in this case, they are rather passive concerning slavery. Thereafter, “lovers of Mammon”, is a metaphor for greedy men. Besides, there are two rhetorical questions in the second quatrain. In the phrase, “they labor and toil” the poet uses tautology. The line, “While the sun pours upon them its hot scorching rays,” contains a pathetic fallacy. The poet also uses a simile in this poem.
Analysis of Address to Slavery
Slavery, O Slavery! I cannot conceive
Why judges and magistrates do not relieve
My down-trodden people from under thy hand,
Restore them their freedom, and give them their land.
This poem begins with an address to slavery. In the beginning, the poet, Samuel Wright invokes slavery and tells the abstract what he thinks regarding human subjugation. The poetic persona of the poem cannot conceive why judges and magistrates do not relieve the downtrodden people. The downtrodden remain shackled under the aegis of the rulers. Therefore, the speaker requests slavery to restore them their freedom and give them their land back. With this impassioned address, the poet concludes the first stanza.
The loud voice of reason incessantly cries,
Ye lovers of Mammon, when will ye be wise?
How long will misanthropy reign in your hearts?
Behold the poor slaves, and consider their smarts.
In the second section, the poet ironically refers to the idea of the “loud voice of reason.” Here, the poet refers to the humans who are sympathetic to others. Their voice, symbolizing “reason”, incessantly cries due to the prominence of slavery. Thereafter, the poet refers to human beings as “lovers of Mammon”. Here, the poet uses an allusion to the Biblical concept of wealth. According to the New Testament of the Bible “mammon” means money, material wealth, and any entity that promises wealth. Therefore, here the poet refers to materialistic men.
The poet asks them when they will be wise and think reasonably. Thereafter, the poet implicitly says that misanthropy reigns in their hearts. Misanthropy means hatred toward humans. Thereafter, the poet gives the reason why he has said so. According to him, if one looks at the sorrowful condition of the poor slaves and considers their contribution to society, any reasonable man will free them of their bondage. Here, “smarts” means mental pain or suffering.
Upon the plantation they labor and toil,
Exert all their strength to enrichen the soil,
While the sun pours upon them its hot scorching ray,
Without intermission the whole livelong day.
In the third section of ‘Address to Slavery’, the poet says the slaves work relentlessly upon the plantation. Here, the poet introduces the theme of colonialism. The slaves exert their strength to enrich the soil. It means they work hard to grow crops on fields. Thereafter, the poet makes use of imagery to depict their toil. Here, the poet refers to the scorching rays of the sun pouring upon the heat on them. Here, the poet makes use of pathetic fallacy. To intensify the effect of the line, the poet adds another image in the last line of this section. He says that the sun pours its scorching rays on them “without intermission the whole livelong day.”
Hope God by His power will save them at last,
And bring them as Israel in ages that’s past,
Out of the reach of proud slavery’s chain,
To enjoy the sweet comfort of freedom again.
The speaker hopes at last that one day God will save them. He will redeem them from their sufferings as King David assisted the Israelites. Here, the poet uses another biblical allusion. Moreover, the poet thinks that one day God will take the slaves away out of the reach of “proud slavery’s chain.” Here, the poet uses synecdoche in the quoted phrase. Through this phrase, the poet refers to the slavers. Besides, “chain” is a symbol of enslavement too. In the last line, the poet says after their emancipation, they can again enjoy the “sweet comfort of freedom.” Here the poet personifies “freedom”.
Historical Context of Address to Slavery
‘Abolition to Slavery’ was published in The Weekly Anglo-African, on February 18, 1860. This poem is written by Samuel Wright who lived in 1860. He is not a well-known poet. However, several writers flourished during the American Civil War who supported the abolitionist cause. Wright was one of them. Moreover, the slaves, former slaves, and liberal Americans wrote poems that were published in black-owned newspapers. The first African-American newspaper in the United States was “Freedom’s Journal”. This poem was published in one such journal featuring the abolitionist’s works.
Here is a list of a few poems that similarly feature the themes present in Samuel Wright’s poem ‘Address to Slavery’.
- Abolition of Slavery in the District of Columbia, 1862 by John Greenleaf Whittier – This poem describes how God will do justice to the slaves by bringing them out of the shackles of slavery.
- The Negro Girl by Mary Darby Robinson – This poem is a lyrical tale of a negro girl Zelma and her lover Draco, who was sold as a slave. Here, Robinson presents their tragic destiny.
- No Master by William H. Davies – This poem presents the idea of slavery through the story of a man leaving his job for the sake of inner freedom.
- To Toussaint L’Ouverture by William Wordsworth – In this sonnet, Wordsworth, the fountainhead of romanticism in England, talks about the anti-slavery revolutionary, Toussaint L’Ouverture.