Amelia Alderson Opie, "The Lucayan's Song" (1808)



   "Several vessels (says Dr. Robertson) were fitted
out for the Lucayos, the commanders of which informed
the natives, with whose language they were now well
acquainted, that they came from a delicious country in
which their departed ancestors resided, by whom they
were sent to invite them to partake of the bliss which
they enjoyed. That simple people listened with wonder
and credulity, and, fond of visiting their relations and
friends in that happy region, followed the Spaniards
with eagerness. By this artifice above 40,000 were
decoyed into Hispaniola, to share in the sufferings of
that island, and its wretched race of men."

THE ARGUMENT.

Affecting particulars of the poor Lucayans when
there.


  "Many of them in the anguish of despair refuse
all sustenance, retire to desert caves and woods, and
silently give up the ghost. Others, repairing to the
sea-coast on the northern side of Hispaniola, cast
many a longing look to that part of the ocean where
they suppose their own islands situated, and as the
sea breeze rises eagerly inhale it
, believing it has lately
visited their own happy valleys, and comes fraught
with the breath of those they love, their wives and
children. With this idea they continue for hours on
the coast, till nature becomes utterly exhausted; when,
stretching out their arms towards the ocean, as if to
take a last embrace of their distant country and rela-
tions, they sink down, and expire without a groan."

 

THE LUCAYAN'S SONG.

____________

HAIL, lonely shore! hail, desert cave!
To you, o'erjoyed, from men I fly,
And here I'll make my early grave....
For what can misery do but die?

Sad was the hour when, fraught with guile,
Spain's cruel sons our valleys sought;
Unknown to us the Christian's wile,
Unknown the dark deceiver's thought.

They said, that here, for ever blest,
Our loved forefathers lived and reigned;
And we, by pious fondness prest,
Believed the flattering tales they feigned.

But when we learnt the mournful truth....
No, I'll the horrid tale forbear:
For on our trusting, blighted youth,
My brethren, who will drop a tear!

Thou treasure of these burning eyes,
Where wave thy groves, dear native isle?
Methinks where yon blue mountains rise,
'Tis there thy precious valleys smile!

Yes....yes....these tears of joy that start,
The softly-soothing truth declare:
Thou whisperest right, my beating heart....
My loved regretted home is there!

But then its trees that wave so high,
The glittering birds that deck each grove,
I cannot, cannot hence descry,
Nor, dearer far, the forms I love.

Yet still the winds that cool my brow,
And o'er these murmuring waters come,
A joy that mocks belief bestow;
For sure they lately left my home.

Then deeply I'll the breeze inhale,
To life it yet imparts one joy,
Methinks your breath has filled the gale,
My faithful love, my prattling boy!

My prattling boy, my beauteous wife!
Say, do you still my name repeat,
And only bear the load of life
In hopes that we once more may meet!

My love! in dreams thou still art nigh,
But changed and pale thou seemest to be;
Yet still the more thou charmest my eye,
I think thee changed by love for me:....

While oft, to fond remembrance true,
I see thee seek the sparkling sand,
In hopes the little bark to view
That bears me to my native land.

But never more shall Zama's eye
Her loved returning husband see,
Nor more her locks of ebon dye
Shall Zama fondly braid for me.

Yet still, with hope chastised by fear,
Watch for my bark from yonder shore,
And still, my Zama, think me near,
When this torn bosom throbs no more.

Yet surely hope, each day deceived,
At length to daring deeds will fire;
The Spaniard's tale no more believed,
My fate will fearful doubts inspire.

And then, blest thought! across the main
Thou'lt haste, thy injured love to find,
All danger scorn, all fears disdain,
And gladly trust the waves and wind.

Ha! even now the distant sky
Seems by one spot of darkness crost;
Yes, yes, a vessel meets my eye!....
Or else I gaze in phrensy lost!

It hither steers!........No....beating breast,
Too well I see what bade thee glow;
The sea-bird hastening to its nest,
To taste a joy I ne'er shall know.

Moment of hope, too bright to last,
Thou hast but deepened my despair;
But woe's severest pangs are past,
For life's last closing hours are near.

'Twas morn when first this beach I sought,
Now evening's shadows fill the plain;
Yet here I've stood entranced in thought,
Unheeding thirst, fatigue or pain.

'Tis past....I faint....my throbbing brow
Cold clammy drops I feel bedew;
Dear native shore! where art thou now?....
Some Spaniard shuts thee from my view.

Monster, away! and let me taste
That joy in death, in life denied!
Still let me o'er the watery waste
Behold the hills which Zama hide!

Alas! I rave! no foe is near;
'Tis death's thick mist obscures my sight;
Those precious hills, to memory dear,
No more shall these fond eyes delight!

But sent from thee, my native shore,
Again that precious breeze is nigh....
Zama, I feel thy breath once more,
And now content, transported, die!

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Notes on the poem

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Introduction

While not one of Romanticism's most renowned literary figures, Amelia Alderson Opie is notable for leading many lives, fulfilling many roles and wielding influence in an era in which women's roles were still tightly circumscribed. As a daughter, she faithfully returned to her father's side in his old age and remained with him until his death. As a socialite, she entertained and befriended a host of literary and political luminaries including Mary Wollstonecraft, William Godwin and Elizabeth Inchbald. As a devout Quaker, she was devoted to a number of charitable causes and was particularly active in the anti-slavery campaign. But it was as a wife, to painter Thomas Opie, that Amelia Alderson Opie found and filled yet another role, as a writer: in order to encourage his socialite wife to stay at home, Thomas Opie urged her to pursue her writing seriously. Opie found greater success as a fiction writer than a poet during her lifetime and it is her seemingly conservative "moral tales" which earn her attention from contemporary critics, who find in her stories a redefinition of women's domestic and public roles. Nevertheless, Opie did publish a sizeable body of poetry, including a number of widely circulated anti-slavery poems. The two most anthologized are "The Negro Boy's Tale" (1802) and "The Black Man's Lament, or How to Make Sugar" (1826).

"The Lucayan's Song" is less well known than Opie's other anti-slavery poems, perhaps because it is ostensibly about a Native American displaced from his Caribbean home and enslaved by Spaniards. Opie's preface attributes the poem's inspiration to an excerpt from Bryan Edwards' history of the West Indies, which argued against Britain's leadership in abolishing the slave trade. This reference, along with the inclusion of several familiar themes of anti-slavery poetry--the separation of families, nostalgia for the homeland and the slave who finds life not worth living--place the poem well within the tradition of abolitionist verse.

"The Lucayan's Song" was first published in 1808 in Opie's second volume of poems, The Warrior's Return, and Other Poems. It is reproduced here from a facsimile reprint of the British first edition.

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Bibliographical note

Opie, Amelia Alderson, "The Lucayan's Song," The Warrior's Return and Other Poems (London: Longman, Hurst, 1808), pp. 69-79.
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This hypertext was created on October 24, 1999, by Anne Lutz.