A Billet Doux

George Moses Horton

DEAR MISS: Notwithstanding the cloud of doubts which overshadows the mind of adoring fancy, when I trace that vermillion cheek, that sapphire eye of expressive softness, and that symmetrical form of grace, I am constrained to sink into a flood of admiration beneath those heavenly charms. Though, dear Miss, it may be useless to introduce a multiplicity of blandishments, which might either lead you into a field of confusion, or absorb the truth of affection in the gloom of doubts; but the bell of adulation may be told from the distance of its echo, and cannot be heard farther than seen. Dear Miss, whatever may be the final result of my adventurous progress, I now feel a propensity to embark on the ocean of chance, and expand the sail of resolution in quest of the distant shore of connubial happiness with one so truly lovely. Though, my dearest, the thunders of parental aversion may inflect the guardian index of affection from its favorite star, the deviated needle recovers its course, and still points onwards to its native poll. Though the waves of calumny may reverberate the persevering mind of the sailing lover, the morning star of hope directs him through the gloom of trial to the object of his choice.

My brightest hopes are mix'd with tears,
Like hues of light and gloom;
As when mid sun-shine rain appears,
Love rises with a thousand fears,

To pine and still to bloom.
When I have told my last fond tale
In lines of song to thee,
And for departure spread my sail,
Say, lovely princess, wilt thou fail
To drop a tear for me?

O, princess, should my votive strain
Salute thy ear no more,
Like one deserted on the main,
I still shall gaze, alas! but vain,
On wedlock's flow'ry shore.


About this poem:
George Moses Horton holds the distinction of being the first African American to publish a book, and the only to publish while living in slavery.

More by George Moses Horton

On Hearing of the Intention of a Gentleman to Purchase the Poet's Freedom

When on life's ocean first I spread my sail,
I then implored a mild auspicious gale;
And from the slippery strand I took my flight,
And sought the peaceful haven of delight.

Tyrannic storms arose upon my soul,
And dreadful did their mad'ning thunders roll;
The pensive muse was shaken from her sphere,
And hope, it vanished in the clouds of fear.

At length a golden sun broke through the gloom,
And from his smiles arose a sweet perfume--
A calm ensued, and birds began to sing,
And lo! the sacred muse resumed her wing.

With frantic joy she chaunted as she flew,
And kiss'd the clement hand that bore her through;
Her envious foes did from her sight retreat,
Or prostrate fall beneath her burning feet.

'Twas like a proselyte, allied to Heaven--
Or rising spirits' boast of sins forgiven,
Whose shout dissolves the adamant away,
Whose melting voice the stubborn rocks obey.

'Twas like the salutation of the dove,
Borne on the zephyr through some lonesome grove,
When Spring returns, and Winter's chill is past,
And vegetation smiles above the blast.

'Twas like the evening of a nuptial pair,
When love pervades the hour of sad despair--
'Twas like fair Helen's sweet return to Troy,
When every Grecian bosom swell'd with joy.

The silent harp which on the osiers hung,
Was then attuned, and manumission sung;
Away by hope the clouds of fear were driven,
And music breathed my gratitude to Heaven.

Hard was the race to reach the distant goal,
The needle oft was shaken from the pole;
In such distress who could forbear to weep?
Toss'd by the headlong billows of the deep!

The tantalizing beams which shone so plain,
Which turned my former pleasures into pain--
Which falsely promised all the joys of fame,
Gave way, and to a more substantial flame.

Some philanthropic souls as from afar,
With pity strove to break the slavish bar;
To whom my floods of gratitude shall roll,
And yield with pleasure to their soft control.

And sure of Providence this work begun--
He shod my feet this rugged race to run;
And in despite of all the swelling tide,
Along the dismal path will prove my guide.

Thus on the dusky verge of deep despair,
Eternal Providence was with me there;
When pleasure seemed to fade on life's gay dawn,
And the last beam of hope was almost gone.

The Slave's Complaint

Am I sadly cast aside,
On misfortune's rugged tide?
Will the world my pains deride
               Forever?
			   
Must I dwell in Slavery's night,
And all pleasure take its flight,
Far beyond my feeble sight,
               Forever?
			   
Worst of all, must hope grow dim,
And withhold her cheering beam?
Rather let me sleep and dream
               Forever!

Something still my heart surveys,
Groping through this dreary maze;
Is it Hope?--they burn and blaze
               Forever!
			   
Leave me not a wretch confined,
Altogether lame and blind--
Unto gross despair consigned,
               Forever!
			   
Heaven! in whom can I confide?
Canst thou not for all provide?
Condescend to be my guide
               Forever:
			   
And when this transient life shall end,
Oh, may some kind, eternal friend
Bid me from servitude ascend,
               Forever! 

On Liberty and Slavery

Alas! and am I born for this,
   To wear this slavish chain?
Deprived of all created bliss,
   Through hardship, toil, and pain!
   
How long have I in bondage lain,
   And languished to be free!
Alas! and must I still complain--
   Deprived of liberty.

Oh, Heaven! and is there no relief
   This side the silent grave--
To soothe the pain--to quell the grief
   And anguish of a slave?
   
Come, Liberty, thou cheerful sound,
   Roll through my ravished ears!
Come, let my grief in joys be drowned,
   And drive away my fears.
   
Say unto foul oppression, Cease:
   Ye tyrants rage no more,
And let the joyful trump of peace,
   Now bid the vassal soar.
   
Soar on the pinions of that dove
   Which long has cooed for thee,
And breathed her notes from Afric's grove,
   The sound of Liberty.
   
Oh, Liberty! thou golden prize,
   So often sought by blood--
We crave thy sacred sun to rise,
   The gift of nature's God!
   
Bid Slavery hide her haggard face,
   And barbarism fly:
I scorn to see the sad disgrace
   In which enslaved I lie.
   
Dear Liberty! upon thy breast,
   I languish to respire;
And like the Swan upon her nest,
   I'd to thy smiles retire.
   
Oh, blest asylum--heavenly balm!
   Unto thy boughs I flee--
And in thy shades the storm shall calm,
   With songs of Liberty!

Related Poems

Confetti Allegiance: Love Letter to Jim Brodey

Confetti Allegiance

Is there a deceased poet who was alive in your lifetime but you never met, and you wish you had met? A poet you would LOVE to correspond with, but it's too late? Take notes about this missed opportunity. What is your favorite poem by this poet? Write it on unlined paper by hand (no typing). If we were gods we wouldn't need to invent beautiful poems, and that's why our lives are more interesting, and that's why the gods are always meddling in our affairs out of boredom. It's like the fascination the rich have with the poor, as Alice Notley says, "the poor are more interesting than others, almost uniformly." This poem was written by a human poet, and we humans love our poets, if we have any sense. Does something strike flint in you from the process of engaging your body to write this poem you know and love? Notes, notes, take notes.

The poet for me in doing this exercise is Jim Brodey and his poem "Little Light," which he wrote in the bathtub while listening to the music of Eric Dolphy, masturbating in the middle of the poem, "while the soot-tinted noise of too-full streets echoes / and I pick up the quietly diminishing soap & do / myself again." Take your handwritten version of the poem and cut it into tiny confetti. Heat olive oil in a frying pan and toss the confetti poem in. Add garlic, onion, parsnip, whatever you want, pepper it, salt it, serve it over noodles or rice. Eat the delicious poem with a nice glass of red wine, pausing to read it out loud and toast the poet, "MANY APOLOGIES FOR NOT TOASTING YOU WHEN YOU WERE ALIVE!" Take notes while slowly chewing the poem. Chew slowly so your saliva breaks the poem down before it slides into your belly to feed your blood and cells of your body. Gather your notes, write your poem.


                                                Love Letter to Jim Brodey

                                                                        Dear Jim
                                                                        for
                                                                those whose
                                                acid trips were a success
                                                only twice
                                                I've met men who
                                                are high exactly
                                                as they are sober
                                                both became my lovers

                                                both died one like
                                        you died Jim he
                                played music too
                                loud at parties to
                                gather us into a
                                single frequency feel
                                healed for the length
                                of a song

                                                nothing works forever
                                there was something in
                                the air that year Jim
                                and you put it there

                                        a rapt center in
                                           pivot looking
                                                   to face
                                                    love again
                                        learning to
                        accept what's offered
                        without guilt

                                        to be reminded
                                                of nothing
                my favorite day not dragging
                        the dead around

                                                they're looking
                                        for Lorca in the Valley
                                                    of the Fallen

                                        Franco's thugs would understand
                                "developing countries" means
                                getting them ready for 
                                mining diamonds drilling oil
                                teaching them to make a
                                decent cup of coffee for
                                visiting executives

                                                if I'm not going
                                        to live like this
                                        anymore I must will
                                        every cell to
                                                        stand away

                                                the History of Madness
                                        725 pages is too much to
                                        not be normal

                                                scorn is very
                                        motivating

                                                        I'm vegetarian unless
                                                angels are on the
                                                menu mouth watering
                                                deep fried wings
                                                shove greasy bones in
                                                their trumpets

                                        the cost of
                                                scorn is
                                                often unexpected

                                        I see my fascist
                                neighbor from downstairs
                                "Did my boyfriend and
                                I make too much
                                noise last night?"
                                his glare the
                                YES that keeps
                                me smiling