Carolyn Shuttlesworth
Literature & Culture
Material Type:
Primary Source
Community College / Lower Division, College / Upper Division
Creative Commons Attribution

19th Century: 1854


African American Literature 1619-1926

Frances Watkins Harper (1825-1911)

                                                                       The Slave Mother

Heard you that shriek?  It rose

     So wildly in the air,

It seemed as if a burden'd heart

     Was breaking in despair.


Saw you those hands so sadly clasped-

     The bowed and feeble head-

The shuddering of that fragile form-

     That look of grief and dread?


Saw you the sad, imploring eye?

     Its every glance was pain,

As if a storm of agony

     Were sweeping through the brain.


She is a mother, pale with fear,

     Her boy clings to her side,

And in her kirtle vainly tries

     His trembling form to hide.


He is not hers, though she bore

     For him a mother's pains;

He is not hers, although her blood

     Is coursing through his veins!


He is not hers, for cruel hands

     May rudely tear apart

The only wreath of household love

     That binds her breaking heart.


His love has been a joyous light

     That o'er her pathway smiled,

A fountain gushing ever new,

     Amid life's desert wild.


His lightest word has been a tone

     Of music round her heart,

There lives a streamlet blent in one-

     Oh, Father! must they part?


They tear him from her circling arms,

     Her last and fond embrace.

Oh! never more may her sad eyes

     Gaze on his mournful face.


No marvel, then, these bitter shrieks

     Disturb the listening air;

She is a mother, and her heart

     Is breaking in despair.