Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Robert Southey's poems on slavery

British Poet Laureate Robert Southey passionately implores the inhumane slave trader to awaken to the harsh reality of their actions. In Southey's sonnet 3 from his poets on the slave trade we are made aware of the perspective he gained a citizen of Bristol a slave port in Great Britain. By way of radical literary analysis speaking to the cruelties and inhumanity of the slave trade, Southey explicates his awe over the actions of the slave trader. Clearly moved by the egalitarian principles of the French Revolution, which we glean from his relationship with Samuel Taylor Coleridge and their writings on revolutionary social change, and plans to set up a ‘Pantisocracy’ in New England, Southey does not hold back in describing his sense of empathy with the pain of his "sable brother." Not only does he empathize but he is indignant over the mistreatment he has witnessed. He relays his strong feeling through expressing disapproval of the trader's actions and empathy with the slave's condition.

He begins by narrating the present condition of the slave and speaks of his weariness and battered condition. Southey states, “Oh he is worn with toil,” and goes on to say "the big drops run down his dark cheek." It seems as though Southey intends to be very explicit in his effort to empathize with the slave. He uses the words dark and sable to make it clear he is not talking about a brother of his own race. He also speaks clearly and directly to the slave owner making reference to a "pale tyrant," "inhumane trader," "mangling scourge," and "rod." He presents us with a situation, a slave suffering at the hand of injustice under a literal and figurative scorching sun. He speaks of the sun as being "as pityless as proud Prosperity." His metaphors and personification aim to invoke images that call a revolution to action while simultaneously shaming the actions of those in power. He states, "Oh ye who at your ease Sip the blood-sweeten’d beverage!" He belittles any prosperity gained by the inhumane traders by insinuating the blood of their slaves taints their gain.

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