1784
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

The Lovers, an African Eclogue.

Gentleman's Magazine 54 (March 1784) 199-200.

Hugh Mulligan


After Thomas Chatterton's "African Eclogues." The poem is signed "H. M., Liverpool." Bura has been rescued from a British slave ship by his lover Zelma; the pair lament the sufferings brought upon their country by the perfidious Europeans. The night sky lights up as the ship is enveloped in flames: "The Whites no more at suffering wretches smile, | No more majestic floats their lofty pile" p. 200. "The Lovers" follows two other slave eclogues by the Rev. George Gregory of Liverpool which had appeared in the Gentleman's Magazine in the two preceding months.



In Volta's flood the British bark was moor'd;
Th' unfeeling traders thought their prey secur'd;
What time the watch proclaim'd the midnight sound,
The sickly crew in flatt'ring slumbers bound:
When o'er the poop two sable lovers glide,
And pant for freedom on the swelling tide.

The beach now gain'd, they joyful, hand in hand,
With glowing souls salute their native strand;
In mutual raptures on each other gaze;
Till Bura thus began with words of praise.

BURA.
Hail, heav'nly orb! blest be thy gen'rous beam,
Whose living light play'd o'er the peaceful stream:
And thou, O spirit of the liquid plain!
At whose command the monsters of the main
Obedient wait — blest be thy strength that bore
Thine humble votaries to their shrubby shore.
Now, Zelma, rise, and, ere this light's withdrawn,
We'll o'er the uplands pass the verdant lawn,
Far from the haunts of ruffian beach-men stray,
Or where the Whites with blood have mark'd their way.—
The Gods survey us, and 'tis meet we share
In pain and peril if we claim their care.

ZELMA.
Much Bura saw; yet, heaven! thou more didst see,
Of what I dar'd for liberty and thee.
Support me, love! support my feeble frame,
Nor let a woman's weakness meet thy blame.
Think how against the tyrant's wiles I strove,
Us'd every art t' evade his lawless love.—
Now all is hush'd, our weary'd limbs we'll rest,
My soul I'll pour into thy constant breast.
Yon verdant bank near that palmetto's shade
Invites our stay.

BURA.
—Come, then, thou lovely maid;
And now the wand'ring moon glides thro' the trees,
And sultry plains enjoy this cooling breeze,
We'll all our sufferings, all our woes relate,
The captive's thraldom and our country's fate.
Once happy land! where all were free and blest,
And love and friendship sooth'd each care to rest:
Where age rejoic'd to see his offspring take
The quaint meander through the limpid lake;
Where nightly sports regal'd the sprightly throng,
And Plenty smil'd at cheerful Labour's song.
To ruthless strangers now an easy prey,
And native ruffians far more fierce than they.

ZELMA.
Once happy land! blest were thy blooming bowers,
Where youthful virgins pass'd their pleasing hours;
Where thou, impatient, sought'st the cooling grove,
And brought'st each eve the tokens of thy love.
Now in that grove the uncouth stranger's seen,
Frightful his arms, ghastly his threatening mien.

BURA.
Deceitful men! when first our flocks they view'd,
With plaintive tales they sued for needful food;
Their artful guides, from ANTE'S faithless strand,
With proffer'd friendship hail'd our happy land;
But in the silent hour of peaceful night,
Consuming fires th' unwary hamlets fright,
When, like a lion eager for his prey,
Amongst the bloody throng I forc'd my way:
My strength full well their haughy leader knew,
When from my single arm the dastards slew.
Why need I say what swarms from ambush rose?
How dragg'd in chains by these unfeeling foes
O'er trackless sands, till on the Volta's tide
Thou blest my sight, my life, my better guide.

ZELMA.
Fast by the rock from whence our riv'let flows,
My pensive sire that eve had sought repose,
Where pendent shrubs entwine their balmy sweets,
Upon that bank whose flowers the margin meets.
My custom late his aged steps to tend,
When harsh uproars the vales and woodlands rend.
Struck dumb with fear, I saw their strange attire,
When high in air they wav'd the dreadful fire.
Thus down the steep the foaming floods appear,
When sudden storms destroy the plenteous year.
With tottering steps, by dire distraction led,
Thro' tangling woods and dreary dells we fled;
Nor aught avail'd — beset by fresh alarms,
They tore me fainting from a father's arms.
Nor need I now my sorrows here disclose,
Since blest with thee I shall forget my woes.

BURA.
Speak ever thus, and ever thus appear;
No trader's taunts nor shipmen's threats we fear;
Such rugged souls no sweet sensations prove,
Who spoils his country ne'er can taste of love.
Alas! what horrors fill'd my sinking soul,
To see such monsters rais'd above controul!
Unheard-of crimes and tortures met mine eyes,
That call'd for vengeance from th' impartial skies.
O, think what troubles tore my throbbing breast,
When thou, my Zelma, pin'd and sat distrest.

ZELMA.
My frantic throughts oft sunk me in despair;
Blown by the winds thro' seas we knew not where;
And, worse than all, to be their passion's slave;
T' avoid such lust I brav'd the dashing wave.
But know, ere morn, a warlike chief's prepar'd
With engines meet — he'll seize the drowsy guard,
And plunge him headlong in the gloomy deep,
Then free our friends, while yet the ruffians sleep.
My love-fraught bosom, ever prone to fear,
Still kept the precious secret from thine ear.

BURA.
Too timid maid, — when could I better die,
Than thus for friendship, love, and liberty?
In all his aims still may that chief succeed!
Methinks I see the cruel tyrants bleed.
What! tho' unus'd to war, inspir'd I feel
My strength revive. O! for the pointed steel,
To hurl swift vengeance on the pallid foe!

ZELMA.
Hark, Bura! heard'st thou not the scream of woe,
Where sinks the moon beneath yon dusky hill?
Behold the bark! — what fears my bosom fill!
What moving fires around the decks now gleam,
And gain reflected horror from the stream!
This way they float; mark! how the flames ascend:
Just heaven, the old and innocent defend!

BURA.
The Gods are rous'd — hark! now their thunders roll,
And now shall shrink each trembling tyrant's soul.
O friends! O countrymen! be greatly bold,
For justice strike, nor thus be tamely sold;
You fight for heaven, the CAUSE that gave you breath;
Brave every fear, and challenge manly death.
Would I were there! — to clasp me thus forbear.—

ZELMA.
Why shook the earth? behold the darken'd air!

BURA.
Thus, rapt in clouds, the lofty mountain shakes
When from the skies the vivid lightning breaks.
Tremendous thus rebounds the thunder's roar,
When rueful swains their fields and flocks deplore.
The Whites no more at suffering wretches smile,
No more majestic floats their lofty pile.

ZELMA.
Now all their fears, and tears, and sufferings cease;
The Gods are good, and take their souls to peace.
Guilty and guiltless now are seen no more:
Alas! my love, we'll fly this deathful shore.

BURA.
The barren beach, ye sons of rapine, prize.
Yes, fertile fields and groves shall meet our eyes.
Say, what are all your treasures, brought from far,
But vice, intemperance, and a rage for war?
Then, Zelma, haste, to distant wilds we'll bend;
Content and Peace shall on our steps attend.
See ruddy clouds o'ertop the mountain's height,
The sun, now glorious, bursts the cave of night.

[pp. 199-200]