In War Time and Other Poems

Author: John Greenleaf Whittier  | Date: 1864

Show Summary

"At Port Royal" (1861)

BY JOHN GREENLEAF WHITTIER

THE tent-lights glimmer on the land, The ship-lights on the sea; The night-wind smooths with drifting sand Our track on lone Tybee.

At last our grating keels outslide, Our good boats forward swing; And while we ride the land-locked tide, Our negroes row and sing.

For dear the bondman holds his gifts Of music and of song: The gold that kindly Nature sifts Among his sands of wrong;

The power to make his toiling days And poor home-comforts please; The quaint relief of mirth that plays With sorrow’s minor keys.

Another glow than sunset’s fire Has filled the West with light, Where field and garner, barn and byre Are blazing through the night.

The land is wild with fear and hate, The rout runs mad and fast; From hand to hand, from gate to gate, The flaming brand is passed.

The lurid glow falls strong across Dark face’s broad with smiles: Not theirs the terror, hate, and loss That fire yon blazing piles.

With oar-strokes timing to their song, They weave in simple lays The pathos of remembered wrong, The hope of better days, —

The triumph-note that Miriam sung, The joy of uncaged birds: Softening with Afric’s mellow tongue Their broken Saxon words.

SONG OF THE NEGRO BOATMEN

O, praise an’ tanks! De Lord he come To set de people free; An’ massa tink it day ob doom, An’ we ob jubilee. De Lord dat heap de Red Sea waves He jus’ as ’trong as den; He say de word: we las’ night slaves; To-day, de Lord’s freemen. De yam will grow, de cotton blow, We’ll hab de rice an’ corn; O nebber you fear, if nebber you hear De driver blow his horn!

Ole massa on he trabbels gone; He leaf de land behind: De Lord’s breff blow him furder on, Like corn-shuck in de wind. We own de hoe, we own de plough, We own de hands dat hold; We sell de pig, we sell de cow, But nebber chile be sold. De yam will grow, de cotton blow, We’ll hab de rice an’ corn: O nebber you fear, if nebber you hear De driver blow his horn!

We pray de Lord: he gib us signs Dat some day we be free; De Norf-wind tell it to de pines, De wild-duck to de sea; We tink it when de church-bell ring, We dream it in de dream; De rice-bird mean it when he sing, De eagle when he scream. De yam will grow, de cotton blow, We’ll hab de rice an’ corn: O nebber you fear, if nebber you hear De driver blow his horn!

We know de promise nebber fail, An’ nebber lie de word; So, like de ’postles in de jail, We waited for de Lord: An’ now he open ebery door, An’ trow away de key; He tink we lub him so before, We lub him better free. De yam will grow, de cotton blow, He’ll gib de rice an’ corn: O nebber you fear, if nebber you hear De driver blow his horn!

So sing our dusky gondoliers; And with a secret pain, And smiles that seem akin to tears, We hear the wild refrain.

We dare not share the negro’s trust, Nor yet his hope deny; We only know that God is just, And every wrong shall die.

Rude seems the song; each swarthy face, Flame-lighted, ruder still: We start to think that hapless race Must shape our good or ill;

That laws of changeless justice bind Oppressor with oppressed; And, close as sin and suffering joined, We march to Fate abreast.

Sing on, poor hearts! your chant shall be Our sign of blight or bloom, — The Vala-song of Liberty, Or death-rune of our doom!

John Greenleaf Whittier, (Boston, 1864), 51–57.

Related Resources

None available for this document.

Download Options


Title: In War Time and Other Poems

Select an option:

*Note: A download may not start for up to 60 seconds.

Email Options


Title: In War Time and Other Poems

Select an option:

Email addres:

*Note: It may take up to 60 seconds for for the email to be generated.

Chicago: John Greenleaf Whittier, In War Time and Other Poems in American History Told by Contemporaries, ed. Albert Bushnell Hart (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1903), Original Sources, accessed February 23, 2024, http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=AGCU97UCBIBSEY2.

MLA: Whittier, John Greenleaf. In War Time and Other Poems, in American History Told by Contemporaries, edited by Albert Bushnell Hart, Vol. 4, New York, The Macmillan Company, 1903, Original Sources. 23 Feb. 2024. http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=AGCU97UCBIBSEY2.

Harvard: Whittier, JG, In War Time and Other Poems. cited in 1903, American History Told by Contemporaries, ed. , The Macmillan Company, New York. Original Sources, retrieved 23 February 2024, from http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=AGCU97UCBIBSEY2.