W. C., "The Negro's Imprecation" (1799-1800)



THE NEGRO'S IMPRECATION

___________

NOW had Selene climb'd her argent throne,
And in the east with peerless splendor shone;
The clouds of heaven awhile forgot to rove,
And not a zephyr fann'd the plantain grove;
Each living orb that through the blue profound
Of trackless ether runs its mazy round,
On the hush'd earth its placid glories shed,
When Oyeo, starting from his rushy bed,
All wet with tears, from sleep perturb'd awoke,
And, breathing many a curse, these solemn ac-
   cents spoke:

      Tyrant vile! The Negro's foe!
      Thou who boast'st the skin of snow,
      And the lips of coral hue:
      Thou whose veins are ting'd with blue*;
      Curst oppressor! Monster foul!
      Thou who riot'st o'er the bowl,
      Whilst thy vassals, heirs of pain,
      hopeless drag the galling chain;
           Thy fate thou soon shall meet!
      Ere again the planets shine,
      Fell perdition shall be thine;
      Thine, despair of frantic mien,
      Thine, corporeal tortures keen,
      Thine, the terror-stricken soul,
      Thine, the eyes that wildly roll;
      Till the work of death be done,
      And thy course of triumph run,
          Our vengeance be compleat!

Think'st thou the God thou taught me to revere,
  The God(thou said'st) who dwells enshrin'd above,
Heeds not the wrongs poor Oyeo suffers here?
  But on thy cruel tribe looks down with partial love?

      Spirits of the sable dead!
      Ye that once in sorrow bled;
      Ye that once, with struggling breath,
      Welcom'd glad the stroke of death;
      Ye that oft, when day's last beam
      Gilds no more the western stream,
      Shrouded in night's mystic veil,
      On the wind's broad pinions sail
          Along the sombre skies!
      Spirits! mark the white man's doom,
      Issuing forth from time's dark womb!
      Spirits! to his startled ear,
      Yelling tones of horror bear!
      Hover round his couch of rest,
      Visions dire his soul molest!
      Spirits of our brethren! hear,
      And from viewless depths of air
          Arise! Arise! Arise!

"The hour is come!" So Liberty proclaims,
  As from yon hills methinks she bends her way;
And pointing to the tyrant's couch, exclaims--
  "Oyeo! revenge! revenge! Lo there thy des-
        tin'd prey!"

*It is worthy of remark, that the blue veins of European natives
have always at first appeared strange to the Indians, who
considered it as a new mode of tatooing, or painting.

Lynn.                                                 W.C.

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Notes on the poem

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Introduction

W.C., a still-anonymous poet, published "A Negro's Imprecation" as part of a collection entitled The Meteors, which appeared in two volumes in 1799 and 1800. Originally printed as a serial in 12 issues, The Meteors collects together various genres of popular poetry. The author/editors have no pretensions to high art   in the words of the preface to the second volume, "the bulk of the work has been literally written for the press" by authors with primary vocations other than poetry. Another editorial note explains the title: "We think it not improper to explain, that one chief reason for the title prefixed to the following pages, originated in a forboding apprehension, that the Work may be as transitory as the phenomenon from whence it takes its name." The poems tend to be comedic or satiric, though a few serious works are interspersed throughout. "The Negro's Imprecation" is one of only two anti-slavery works in The Meteors; the other is entitled "An African Song: versified from Mr. Park's Travels." This work is much less vituperative than "The Negro's Imprecation," and instead wishes to "make both black and white a-kin." This work is signed, in ink, with the name "Sharpe." Most of the poems are signed in this way, though other authors are only identified by initials. W. C., in fact, is the only author whose initials appear in type rather than script. In the preface to the second volume, the authors explicitly refuse to name themselves. They apparently felt(with some justification) that their work was not significant or important enough to merit any explicit claims to authorship.

W. C. appears to have lived in Lynn, though it is not clear if this place-name indicates King's Lynn (also known as Lynn Regis), a town located north of London on the Channel coast. This author contributed other poems to The Meteors, though "The Negro's Imprecation" seems to be his or her best work. W. C. seems particularly enamored of Thomas Chatterton; that poet's name appears in two other W. C. contributions to The Meteors ("Sonnet on Chatterton" and "The Triumph of Genius"). Two candidates for the post of W. C. (William Currie and William Cooper) appear in the the list of subscribers from Lynn in the 9th edition of the Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano.

"The Negro's Imprecation" begins innocently in a West Indian plantantion paradise, but rapidly becomes vengeful and angry upon the awakening of Oyeo, an incantatory, predatory slave. He calls upon the spirits of dead slaves to take their vengeance on the tyrant planters; they seem sure to succeed, with Liberty guiding them. Oyeo's ironic invocation of God plays against the common abolitionist concern with evangelizing the Caribbean slaves. This poem also points out a common concern with uprising and revolution in this period: the American revolution, the French revolution, the Irish uprising of 1798, the Polish uprising (see William Stanley Roscoe's "On the Last Regiment") and the slave revolt at Santo Domingo (beginning 1791) were all fresh in the British imperial memory.

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Bibliographical Note

W. C., "The Negro's Imprecation," The Meteors (London: A. & J. Black, Leadenhall Street and H. D. Symonds, Paternoster Row, 1799-1800), volume 2, pp. 53-56.
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This hypertext was created on October 30, 1999, by Wayne E. Logue IV.