The issue of freedom and the right of a human being to it has been actual for centuries. There was the belief that some people were born to be free while the rest of the world should serve them, being just slaves, deprived of any rights and is doomed to spend the rest of their life in the chains of slavery. This approach was popular for the major part of the history of humanity. However, with the development of society, human thought and tolerance new ideas started to obtain popularity.
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More and more people began to think about the disgusting nature of slavery and the right of any person to be free and choose his own destiny. The mass movement for the abolishment of slavery stared at the end of the 18th century. Society had changed enough to understand the need for this process. However, not everyone was for it.
That is why there were many lively discussions in society. Progressive layers of it tried to prove the necessity of change. Throughout history being the voice of people, poets also joined this discussion. The topic of the abolition of slavery had become one of the main issues for the poets and their works at the end of the 18th century.
That is why it is possible to say that a great number of different poems had the same motif of their works. it is possible to compare and analyze literature of that time on the basis of such works as William Blake’s The Little Black Boy, William Cowper’s The Negro’s Lament, Robert Burn’s The Slave’s Lament and Phyllis Wheatley’s On Being Brought From Africa to America and To the Right Honorable William, Earl of Dartmouth. At first gaze, it becomes obvious that the main issue of this works is the same.
They all are devoted to the topic of slavery. All poets speak against this institution, devoting their works to it. However, these poems have some other common traits. Blake describes the story of a young black boy, underlining his identity “I am black, but O! my soul is white” (Blake 2). The same do Cowper, Burns, and Whitley in their works. It becomes clear, that all these authors want to show the society at that time that black people are the same as a white, there is no difference between them and that all people have equal rights.
It was the first important step to do in their attempt to abolish slavery. There is also one more common motif. It is the topic of home. All heroes of the poems grieve about their Motherland, underlining that they were taken by force. “Forced from home and all its pleasures / Afric’s coast I left forlorn” (1-2) says the heroin Cowpers The Negro Complaint. The main character of the Slaves Lament revoices ” It was in sweet Senegal that my foes did me enthrall” (Burns 1).
In Wheatleys poem, the hero says with bitter irony “Twas mercy brought me from my Pagan land” (“On Being Brought from Africa to America” 1). All these people are slaves, and they do not want to leave their native country. However, they were forced as white people left them no chance to stay. The authors want to show the cruelty of society which promotes actions like that just to be supplied with a cheap workforce.
However, there are, of course, some differences and unique peculiarities in each work. In The Negro Complaint, William Cowper, a noted abolitionist, underlines the inhuman character of the slave trade. “Men from England bought and sold me, / Paid my price in paltry gold; / But, though slave they have enrolled me, / Minds are never to be sold” (Cowper 5-8).
The author wants to show the impossibility of treating a human being as a good, stressing the fact that it is impossible to sell the mind of a person and his soul. Cowper ends his poem with strong words “Prove that you have human feelings, / Ere you proudly question ours!” (55-56), appealing to society to change its point of view.
Burns poem The Slave’s Lament is different from the rest of the poems as it is made in the form of a song. A reader can imagine that he/she hears how bitterly cries a slave, being afraid of his future. Constant repetitions of the vowel o help to create more complete image of this poem, promoting its acknowledgment as a bitter and hopeless song of a slave who has to spend the rest of his life serving to white people.
Another side of the problem is revealed in the poem The Little Black Boy by Blake. One of the main motifs of the poem is the innocence of people who become slaves. Blake chooses a child as the main character of his work as it is always taken as a symbol of innocence. Moreover, this child is very pious. This fact makes the whole impression even stronger. The boy believes that he and a white boy are the same for God and the only difference is the color of their skin.
However, it is also the gift from God, as black color is obtained due to the influence of the sun, while God lives there “Look on the rising sun: there God does live / And gives his light, and gives his heat away” (Blake 9-10). The author wants to show that black people are innocent and the difference in appearance should not be the taken as the ground for discrimination.
At last, there are two poems by Phillis Wheatley, which also touch the problem of the abolition of slavery. Her poem On Being Brought from Africa to America is not long, though, very impressive work.
It is written in an unusual way as a black person thanks people who took him from his land and made him know that he is savage and not the same as they are. The third stanza of the poem To the Right Honorable William, Earl of Dartmouth is also devoted to this issue. The hero explains his love for freedom by all troubles and horrors which he had to survive and overcome.
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Having analyzed the poems, it is possible to come to certain conclusions. It should be said, that the movement for abolishing slavery was very strong at the end of the 18th century. Poets, being main representatives of ideas actual for the current age, tried to promote further development of this movement by underlining the unfair and inhumane character of slavery. Their main aim was to show that people are all the same and there is no difference between them and slavery should remain in the past of humanity.
Blake, W. The Little Black Boy. 1789. Web.
Burns, R. The Slaves Lament. 1792. Web.
Cowper, W. The Negros Complaint. 1788. Web.
Wheatley, P. On Being Brought from Africa to America. 1768. Web.
—. To the Right Honorable William, Earl of Dartmouth. 1773. Web.