Charles Lloyd, "The Slave--An Ode" (1795)



THE SLAVE    AN ODE

  POOR Slave! Misfortune's harrass'd child !
    Who liv'st to weep, and breath'st to sigh,
  Oh thou from every friend exil'd,
    And hid from Pity's melting eye!

  Say, when at morning's joyless call,
    Thy daily toil thou goest to bide,
  To writhe in Slavery's hated thrall,
    To wounds of Wealth, and threats of Pride!

  Say, dost thou know unfriended Thing !
    That thousands glittering, gay, and vain,
  Disporting scud aloof on silken wing?   
    And dost thou know that they like thee are men ?
Art thou aware while plung'd in grief's abyss,
That Rapture gilds their hours, add life for them is bliss?

  Oh no ! thou know'st it not    for thee
    Poor wretch ! 'tis one to live and pine  
  For who is blest that is not free ?
    And chains alas ! are ever thine !

  Methinks I see thy hollow eye,
    Thy pleading look, thy gestures meek,
  Methinks I mark thy struggling sigh,
    The big round tear that scalds thy cheek.

  Thy trembling hands their force forget,
    The faint drops course thy feeble frame,
  I mark the pang of Death !    thine eye is set   
    From thy parch'd lips their latest murmurs came   
Yes ! all is o'er    thy griefs have had their scope,
And oe'r thy dying face I mark'd a gleam of hope.

  Come round the corse, ye hard ambitious Great !
    Come round the corse, ye puny sons of Pride !
  Whoe'er ye are that loll in odious state,
    Come look on him who toil'd, who wept, and died !

  His cruel scars, his shatter'd joints behold,
    Ye rosy   featur'd sons of silken Sloth !
  Observe your waxen libs, your robes of gold,
    Then seek the marks of Brotherhood in both !

  If I mistake not Traitors ! much ye blush   
    Rash violators of eternal right !
  May the dark deed confound ye, may it crush
    The monstrous transports of insulting Might !
Oh may you melting view an injur'd slave !
BE FREEDOM CRADLED IN A BONDMAN'S GRAVE !

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Introduction

Charles Lloyd was born in Birmingham in 1775. He was tutored at home and, at the young age of twenty, published his first book of poetry, Poems on Various Subjects. Scarcely a year later, Lloyd met Samuel Taylor Coleridge in Birmingham and immediately became enthralled with him. Lloyd begged Coleridge to tutor him, and Coleridge agreed. Lloyd moved in with him, and in exchange for a yearly stipend, Coleridge taught Lloyd for three hours every morning. During this time, they became very close, and it is believed that Coleridge was referring to Lloyd in his poem, "To a Friend." During this period, Lloyd also became friendly with Charles Lamb. The three even collaborated on a book of poetry, although it eventually led to the demise of the three friendships. It was also around this time that Lloyd began to display signs of mental instability. He then left Coleridge to be with Lamb in London. In 1799, Lloyd married Sophia Pemberton. They moved into a mansion near Ambleside, in the Lake District, and started a family that ultimately produced five sons and four daughters. In 1811, Lloyd began to hallucinate and have odd mental fits. By 1813, he had developed a serious mental affliction. He continued to write, probably as a diversion from his mental troubles, although he produced few noteworthy works during this time. Among them was a novel, Isabel, that wasn't published until 1820. Lloyd was placed in an asylum, but he escaped in 1818 and moved to London with Sophia. During this period, he was actually very productive. In 1819 he published a collection of poems entitled Nugae Canorae, and, in 1821, Desultory Thoughts in London; Titus and Gisippus; and other Poems, as well as others. He and Sophia eventually moved to France where Lloyd died in 1839 in another asylum. Sophia passed away shortly thereafter, and little is known of what became of their nine children. His contemporaries credited Charles Lloyd not with being a great poet, but with possessing a great power of observation and attention to detail, both qualities often associated with acute mental illness.

"The Slave--An Ode" is a powerful poem that decries the practice of colonial slavery. Lloyd is very sympathetic to the plight of the slave, using a stern voice to chastise the wealthy slave owners. In the first four stanzas, Lloyd observes the toil and pain of the slave in comparison to the leisurely and luxurious life of the owners. In the next two, the slave is dying, and in subsequent stanzas, Lloyd challenges the wealthy traders to watch him as he struggles with death and acknowledge their part in his demise. He sharply refers to them as 'Rash violators of eternal right.' Lloyd continues by almost casting a hex on the owners: 'May the dark deed confound ye, may it crush / The monstrous transports of insulting Might!' This openly vindictive tone is a clear indication of Lloyd's strong anti-slavery stance.

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Bibliographical note

Lloyd, Charles, "The Slave--An Ode," Poems on Various Subjects (London: F. Jollie, 1795), pp. 62-64.
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This hypertext was created on November 1, 1999, by Timothy Murphy.