Leigh Hunt, "The Negro Boy. A Ballad." (1801)



Paupertas onus visa est grave.

Cold blows the wind, and while the tear
   Bursts trembling from my swollen eyes,
The rain's big drop, quick meets it there,
   And on my naked bosom flies!
                     O pity, all ye sons of Joy,
                     The little wand'ring Negro-boy.

These tatter'd clothes, this ice-cold breast
   By Winter harden'd into steel,
These eyes, that know not soothing rest,
   But speak the half of what I feel!
                     Long, long, I never new one joy,
                     The little wand'ring Negro-boy!

Cannot the sigh of early grief
   Move but one charitable mind?
Cannot one hand afford relief?
   One Christian pity, and be kind?
                     Weep, weep, for thine was never joy,
                     O little wand'ring Negro-boy!

Is there a good which men call Pleasure?
   O Ozmyn, would that it were thine!
Give me this only precious treasure;
   How it would soften grief like mine!
                     Then Ozmyn might be call'd, with joy,
                     The little wand'ring Negro-boy!

My limbs these twelve long years have borne
   The rage of ev'ry angry wind:
Yet still does Ozmyn weep and mourn,
   Yet still no ease, no rest can find!
                     Then death, alas, must soon destroy
                     The little wand'ring Negro-boy!

No sorrow e'er disturbs the rest,
   That dwells within the lonely grave;
Thou best resource, the wo-wrung breast
   E'er ask'd of Heav'n, or Heav'n e'er gave!
                     Ah then, farewell, vain world, with joy
                     I die the happy Negro-boy!

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Notes on the poem

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From adolescence until his death, Leigh Hunt dedicated himself to succeeding as a journalist, a critic, a novelist, a playwrite, an essayist and a poet. James Henry Leigh Hunt (1784-1859) was born in Southgate, England, the son of Isaac, a metropolitan preacher, and Mary Shewell. Constrained by sickness at an early age, Hunt attended Christ's Hospital School, which later served as subject matter for his work. By the tender age of seventeen, Hunt's body of poetical work was expansive. His father secured subscribers from his congregation, and in 1801 Junvenilia; or A Colletion of Poems, written between the ages of twelve and sixteen was published. Throughout his life Hunt served as a writer and editor for numerous publications; often the journals and papers were created by Hunt and his siblings. These journalistic endeavors included publications such as The News, The Examiner, The Reflector, The Indicator, The Companion and The Chat of the Week. Hunt's style of journalism was honest, yet controversial, empasizing liberal politics. Due to a retort in The Examiner regarding the Prince Regent of England, Hunt and his brother were imprisoned for two years. In 1809 Hunt married Marianne Kent. Though Hunt wrote voluminous amounts, he consistently struggled economically, and often suffered from illness. His friends and colleagues aided him by securing both pensions and royal grants to provide for him in later years. Hunt continued to write through his declining years, producing his distinguished autobiography in 1850, and finally a series of papers for The Spectator published just a week before his death. His death in Putney, England, resulted from his lifelong illnesses and sheer exhaustion. A portion of his own poem, "Abou-ben-Adhem," is inscribed over his grave, stating, "Write me as one who loves his fellow-men."

"The Negro Boy. A Ballad" is one of Hunt's early poems from Juvenilia. Hunt's ballad, written in the first person, depicts the plight of the "wand'ring Negro-boy." Hunt writes of the poverty and desperation of a Negro child through vivid imagery and with poignant style. Hunt concludes his ballad by attributing relief and peace to the death of the "wand'ring negro-boy," as sorrow cannot penetrate the grave, and heaven is the only salvation from a harsh world. In later years Hunt rejected his early poetical works, decribing them as juvenile and "good for nothing." Critics regard Hunt as a fair, but not brilliant writer compared to his contemporaries. However, works such as "The Negro-boy. A Ballad" (written between the ages of twelve and sixteen) exemplify Hunt's exceptional talent as an adolescent and his undeniable skill as a poet.

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Bibliographical note

Hunt, Leigh, "The Negro Boy. A Ballad," Juvenilia; or A Collection of Poems (London: J. Whiting, 1801), pp. 55-56.
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This hypertext was created on November 2, 1999, by Courtney McCraw.