The Contrast

- 1825-1911

They scorned her for her sinning,
   Spoke harshly of her fall,
Nor lent the hand of mercy
   To break her hated thrall.

The dews of meek repentance
   Stood in her downcast eye:
Would no one heed her anguish?
   All pass her coldly by?

From the cold, averted glances
   Of each reproachful eye,
She turned aside, heart-broken,
   And laid her down to die.

And where was he, who sullied
   Her once unspotted name;
Who lured her from life’s brightness
   To agony and shame?

Who left her on life’s billows,
   A wrecked and ruined thing;
Who brought the winter of despair
   Upon Hope’s blooming spring?

Through the halls of wealth and fashion
   In gaiety and pride,
He was leading to the altar
   A fair and lovely bride!

None scorned him for his sinning,
   Few saw it through his gold;
His crimes were only foibles,
   And those were gently told.

*            *            *            *            *            *

Before him rose a vision,
   A maid of beauty rare;
Then a pale, heart-broken woman,
   The image of despair.

Next came a sad procession,
   With many a sob and tear;
A widow’d, childless mother
   Totter’d by an humble bier.

The vision quickly faded,
   The sad, unwelcome sight;
But his lip forgot its laughter,
   And his eye its careless light.

A moment, and the flood-gates 
   Of memory opened wide;
And remorseful recollection
   Flowed like a lava tide.

That widow’s wail of anguish
   Seemed strangely blending there,
And mid the soft lights floated
   That image of despair.

*            *            *            *            *            *

More by Frances Ellen Watkins Harper

Bible Defence of Slavery

Take sackcloth of the darkest dye,
   And shroud the pulpits round!
Servants of Him that cannot lie,
   Sit mourning on the ground.

Let holy horror blanch each cheek,
   Pale every brow with fears;
And rocks and stones, if ye could speak,
   Ye well might melt to tears!

Let sorrow breathe in every tone,
   In every strain ye raise;
Insult not God's majestic throne
   With th' mockery of praise.

A "reverend" man, whose light should be
   The guide of age and youth,
Brings to the shrine of Slavery
   The sacrifice of truth!

For the direst wrong by man imposed,
   Since Sodom's fearful cry,
The word of life has been unclos'd,
   To give your God the lie.

Oh! when ye pray for heathen lands,
   And plead for their dark shores,
Remember Slavery's cruel hands
   Make heathens at your doors!

Learning to Read

Very soon the Yankee teachers 
    Came down and set up school; 
But, oh! how the Rebs did hate it,— 
    It was agin' their rule. 

Our masters always tried to hide 
    Book learning from our eyes; 
Knowledge didn't agree with slavery—
    'Twould make us all too wise. 

But some of us would try to steal 
    A little from the book, 
And put the words together, 
    And learn by hook or crook. 

I remember Uncle Caldwell, 
    Who took pot-liquor fat 
And greased the pages of his book, 
    And hid it in his hat. 

And had his master ever seen 
    The leaves up on his head, 
He'd have thought them greasy papers, 
    But nothing to be read. 

And there was Mr. Turner's Ben, 
    Who heard the children spell, 
And picked the words right up by heart, 
    And learned to read 'em well. 

Well, the Northern folks kept sending 
    The Yankee teachers down; 
And they stood right up and helped us, 
    Though Rebs did sneer and frown. 

And, I longed to read my Bible, 
    For precious words it said; 
But when I begun to learn it, 
    Folks just shook their heads, 

And said there is no use trying, 
    Oh! Chloe, you're too late; 
But as I was rising sixty, 
    I had no time to wait. 

So I got a pair of glasses, 
    And straight to work I went, 
And never stopped till I could read 
    The hymns and Testament. 

Then I got a little cabin—
    A place to call my own— 
And I felt as independent 
    As the queen upon her throne.

The Crocuses

They heard the South wind sighing
    A murmur of the rain;
And they knew that Earth was longing
    To see them all again.
While the snow-drops still were sleeping
    Beneath the silent sod;
They felt their new life pulsing
    Within the dark, cold clod.
Not a daffodil nor daisy
    Had dared to raise its head;
Not a fairhaired dandelion
    Peeped timid from its bed;
Though a tremor of the winter
    Did shivering through them run;
Yet they lifted up their foreheads
    To greet the vernal sun.
And the sunbeams gave them welcome,
    As did the morning air—
And scattered o’er their simple robes
    Rich tints of beauty rare.
Soon a host of lovely flowers
    From vales and woodland burst;
But in all that fair procession
    The crocuses were first.
First to weave for Earth a chaplet
    To crown her dear old head;
And to beauty the pathway
    Where winter still did tread.
And their loved and white haired mother
    Smiled sweetly ’neath the touch,
When she knew her faithful children
    Were loving her so much.