Heard you that shriek? It rose So wildly on the air, It seemed as if a burden'd heart Was breaking in despair. Saw you those hands so sadly clasped-- The bowed and feeble head-- The shuddering of that fragile form-- That look of grief and dread? Saw you the sad, imploring eye? Its every glance was pain, As if a storm of agony Were sweeping through the brain. She is a mother pale with fear, Her boy clings to her side, And in her kirtle vainly tries His trembling form to hide. He is not hers, although she bore For him a mother's pains; He is not hers, although her blood Is coursing through his veins! He is not hers, for cruel hands May rudely tear apart The only wreath of household love That binds her breaking heart. His love has been a joyous light That o'er her pathway smiled, A fountain gushing ever new, Amid life's desert wild. His lightest word has been a tone Of music round her heart, Their lives a streamlet blent in one-- Oh, Father! must they part? They tear him from her circling arms, Her last and fond embrace. Oh! never more may her sad eyes Gaze on his mournful face. No marvel, then, these bitter shrieks Disturb the listening air: She is a mother, and her heart Is breaking in despair.
Frances Ellen Watkins Harper - 1825-1911
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.