George Moses Horton, the Black Bard of North Carolina
Happy National Poetry Month! For our centennial year, we are highlighting iconic publications from our past, including today’s excerpted poem taken from The Black Bard of North Carolina: George Moses Horton and His Poetry, edited by Joan R. Sherman, which collects sixty-two of Horton’s poems.
Enslaved from birth until the close of the Civil War, the self-taught Horton was the first American slave to protest his bondage in published verse and the first black man to publish a book in the South. As a man and as a poet, his achievements were extraordinary.
ON THE PLEASURES OF COLLEGE LIFE
Such are the liberal charms of college life,
Where pleasure flows without a breeze of strife;
And such would be my pain if cast away,
Without the bloom of study to display.
Where brooding Milton’s theme purls sweet along
With Pope upon the gales of epic song;
Where you may trace a bland Demosthenes,
Whose oratoric pen ne’er fails to please.
And Plato, with immortal Cicero,
And with the eloquence of Horace glow;
Now let us take a retrospective view,
And whilst we pause, observe a branch or two.
Geography and Botany unfold
Their famous charms like precious seeds of gold;
Zoology doth all her groups descry,
And with Astronomy we soar on high;
But pen and ink and paper all will fail,
To write one third of this capacious tale.
Zoology, with her delightful strain,
Doth well the different animals explain;
From multipedes to emmets in the dust,
And all the groveling reptiles of disgust;
She well descries the filthy beetle blind,
With insects high and low of every kind;
She with her microscope surveys the mite,
Which ne’er could be beheld by naked sight;
Thence she descends into the boundless deep,
Where dolphins play and monsters slowly creep;
Explores the foaming main from shore to shore,
And hears with awe the d[a]shing sea bull roar;
Traces enormous whales exploding high
Their floods of briny water to the sky;
Describes the quadrupeds of every shape,
The bear, the camel, elephant and ape,
And artful monkey, which but lacks to talk,
And like the human kind uprightly walk.
But nature never yet was half explored,
Though by philosopher and bard adored;
Astronomer and naturalist expire,
And languish that they could ascend no higher;
Expositors of words in every tongue,
Writers of prose and scribblers of song,
Would fail with all their mathematic powers,
And vainly study out their fleeting hours.
Volume Divine! O thou the sacred dew,
Thy fadeless fields see elders passing through;
thy constant basis must support the whole,
The cabinet and alcove of the soul;
It matters not through what we may have pass’d,
To thee for sure support we fly at last;
Encyclopedias we may wander o’er,
And study every scientific lore;
Ancient and modern authors we may read,
The soul must starve or on thy pastures feed.
Theology, thou sweetest science yet,
Beneath whose boughs the silent classics sit,
And thus imbibe the sacred rays divine,
Which make the mitred faculty to shine;
Such is the useful graduate indeed,
Not merely at the bar in law to plead,
Nor a physician best to heal the flesh;
On such a senior let archangels smile,
And all the students imitate his style,
Who bears with joy the mission all divine,
The beams of sanctitude, A Paul benign,
Whose sacred call is to evangelize,
A gospel prince, a legate of the skies,
Whose bright diploma is a deed from heaven
The palm of love, the wreath of sins forgiven.
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