1788
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

The Lovers, an African Eclogue.

Poems chiefly on Slavery and Oppression, with Notes and Illustrations. By Hugh Mulligan.

Hugh Mulligan


In the fourth and concluding eclogue the African lovers, just escaped from a slave-ship, relate the stories of their capture and ill-treatment by the British. Zelma is capable of feeling pity for their oppressors: "What the reward? Oh what the mighty meed! | In foreign lands ye make each other bleed: | Or are ye exiles, doom'd to drag your lives | On hellish schemes — from country and from wives? | No lenient herbs your ulcer'd bodies heal, | The wrathful vengeance you severely feel, | And draw-in pest'lence with your latest breath" p. 28. Bura, however, is roused to anger and is preparing to rise against the slavers when God's vengeance is wreaked upon the wicked.

European Magazine: "The third is an Irish eclogue, confessedly; the scene lying in the western coast of that country. — The fourth is the Slave Trade again; only, as we had it first in Virginia, it is now hashed and served up to us in Guinea. We shall not, however, obtrude any of the 'crambe recocta' on our readers" 13 (June 1788) 416.

The poem had originally appeared in the Gentleman's Magazine in 1784.



TIME — MIDNIGHT.
SCENE — GUINEA.

When Afric's Genius mourn'd an injur'd land,
And wrapt in clouds, her foe's destruction plann'd;
Tremendous, oft she shews her mangled form,
Derides the suff'rers, and enjoys the storm.
She sees the wild, the dread tornado driven
By all th' avenging ministers of Heav'n;
Bids the plague rage, disease in rivers flow,
And on her spoilers pours the cup of woe.

Beneath her ken the British bark was moor'd;
The traders vainly thought their prey secur'd:
What time the watch proclaim'd the midnight sound,
Their sickly mates in horrid slumbers bound;
High o'er the poop two sable Lovers glide,
And toil for freedom on the swelling tide.
The beach now gain'd, they joyful, hand in hand,
With ardent 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 plays 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
Thy humble vot'ries to their injur'd shore.
Now, Zelma, rise, and ere the morning's dawn,
O'er uplands pass we to 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 Heav'n far more could 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, thy wearied limbs now rest,
Receive my soul 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 inhale the cooling breeze:
We'll all our suff'rings, 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 thro' the limpid lake;
Where nightly sports regal'd the sprightly throng,
And plenty smil'd at cheerful labour's song.
To ruthless strangers now a fenceless prey,
And native ruffians yet more fierce than they.

ZELMA.
Once happy land! blest were the blooming bow'rs,
Where youthful virgins tranquil pass'd their hours;
Where Bura sought, well pleas'd, the cooling grove,
And brought each eve the tokens of his love,
The uncouth stranger in that grove is seen,
Frightful in arms, and grim his threat'ning mien.

BURA.
Deceitful men! when first our shores they view'd,
For needful food with plaintive tales they su'd;
Their artful guides, from Ante's faithless strand,
With proffer'd friendship hail'd our happy land:
But in the dread and silent hour of night
Consuming fires the peaceful hamlets 'fright;
Then, like a lion eager for his prey,
Among the throng I boldly forc'd my way.
My strength full well their haughty leader knew,
And from mine arm the pallid dastards flew.
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
You bless'd 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 their balmy sweets entwine
To form a shade, and broad-leav'd plantains join.
My custom late his aged steps to tend,
When dreadful shrieks 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 tott'ring steps, by dire distraction led,
Thro' tangling woods and dreary dells we fled;
But nought 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 half forget my woes.

BURA.
Speak ever thus, and ever thus appear,
No trader's taunts nor shipman's threats I fear;
Such rugged souls no sweet sensations prove,
Who spoils his country, ne'er can taste of love.
Oh, think what trouble rent his throbbing breast,
When lovely Zelma pin'd, and sat distrest!

ZELMA.
Unheard-of crimes and tortures met my eyes,
That call'd for vengeance from th' impartial skies;
My gloomy thoughts 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 his suit, I brav'd the dashing wave.
That morn, thou know'st, when Sestro bold and strong,
(Who to the moon could chaunt the mystic song)
Sprang o'er the prow — breasting the briny waves—
In frantic mood the curst commander raves.
Now the rude engines sent forth sulph'rous flame,
The mortal thunder miss'd its deadly aim,
And happy Sestro gain'd his native shore—

BURA.
Yet what ensu'd must pity's self deplore:
I saw the White, the trembling guard secur'd,
On him his chief's unpitying vengeance pour'd;
The furies rag'd within the tyrant's breast,
While cringing minions act the damn'd behest;
His arms extended to the shrouds were ty'd,
While clotted gore the pale beholders dy'd.
That pow'r who hears the dying victim's pray'rs,
Beneath the knotted whip clos'd all his cares—
What the reward? Oh what the mighty meed!
In foreign lands ye make each other bleed:
Or are ye exiles, doom'd to drag your lives
On hellish schemes — from country and from wives?
No lenient herbs your ulcer'd bodies heal,
The wrathful vengeance you severely feel,
And draw-in pest'lence with your latest breath,
With putrid meals devour the feeds of death.—

ZELMA.
Pining and pale, I view'd the sickly race;
Alas, they're men! tho' crimes their souls debase,
In fev'rous fits they talk of wives and friends;
The hand of death alone their torture ends.
Tho' great the meed, why quit your native land?
The Gods of wrath your forfeit lives demand;
For rav'nous sharks, those messengers of fate,
Around your ship with dread commission wait.—
Know, ere the sun shall burst the cave of night,
Or golden clouds shall tinge the mountain's height,
A warlike chief hath faithful friends prepar'd,
With engines meet to bind the drowsy guard,
Or plunge him headlong in the gloomy deep,
And free the captives while the tyrants 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!
Altho' unus'd to war, inspir'd, I feel
My strength revive — Oh 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 along the decks now gleam,
And gain reflected horror from the stream!
This way they float — mark how the flames ascend—
Just Heav'n! the weak 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 Heav'n, the cause that gave you breath,
Brave ev'ry 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 light'ning breaks;
Tremendous, thus, rebounds the thunder's roar,
When rueful swains their fields and flocks deplore.
The Whites no more at suff'ring wretches smile,
Nor more majestic floats their lofty pile.
See o'er the deep its shatter'd fragments roll,
Our injur'd Gods their dark designs controul.

ZELMA.
Now all their fears, and tears, and suff'rings cease;
The Gods are good, and take their souls to peace:
Guilty and guiltless now are seen no more.
Alas! my love, fly, fly this fatal 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, intemp'rance and a rage for war?
Then, Zelma, haste! to distant wilds we bend;
Content and Peace shall on our steps attend.

[pp. 23-31]