The Slave Mother

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Heard you that shriek? It rose
 So wildly on the air,
It seem’d 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 kyrtle vainly tries
 His trembling form to hide.

He is not hers, although 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,
Their 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.

© Frances Ellen Watkins Harper