By George Moses Horton
Esteville begins to burn;
The auburn fields of harvest rise;
The torrid flames again return,
And thunders roll along the skies.
Perspiring Cancer lifts his head,
And roars terrific from on high;
Whose voice the timid creatures dread;
From which they strive with awe to fly.
The night-hawk ventures from his cell,
And starts his note in evening air;
He feels the heat his bosom swell,
Which drives away the gloom of fear.
Thou noisy insect, start thy drum;
Rise lamp-like bugs to light the train;
And bid sweet Philomela come,
And sound in front the nightly strain.
The bee begins her ceaseless hum,
And doth with sweet exertions rise;
And with delight she stores her comb,
And well her rising stock supplies.
Let sportive children well beware,
While sprightly frisking o’er the green;
And carefully avoid the snare,
Which lurks beneath the smiling scene.
The mistress bird assumes her nest,
And broods in silence on the tree,
Her note to cease, her wings at rest,
She patient waits her young to see.
Source: African-American Poetry of the Nineteenth Century: An Anthology (University of Illinois Press, 1992)
Born a slave on William Horton’s tobacco plantation, George Moses Horton taught himself to read. Around 1815 he began composing poems in his head, saying them aloud and “selling” them to buyers at the weekly Chapel Hill farmers market. As his fame spread, he gained the attention of Caroline Lee Whiting Hentz, a novelist and professor’s wife who transcribed his poetry and helped publish it in the newspaper. With her assistance, Horton published his first collection of poetry, The Hope of Liberty (1829), becoming the first African American to publish a book in the South—and the only one to publish it while still in slavery. After 68 years as a slave, he settled in Philadelphia for 17 years of freedom before his death. His poetry explores faith, love, and slavery while celebrating the rural beauty of Chatham County, home of the plantation on which Horton spent much of his life.
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Of Tribulation, these are They,
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— Emily Dickinson
in the split geode
a Santa’s grotto
every surface —
like sea urchins’ —
in the doorways
sleepers from the womb
to make of anything succulent