Toussaint to his Troops

In the voice of the famous Haitian slave leader, this poem celebrates black resistance.


WHETHER forced from burning shores,
Where the tawny lion roars ;
Whether doom’d, with stripes and chains,
Here to dress your native plains
Men of noble bearing, say,
Shall we crouch to Gallia’s sway -,
Shall we wield again the hoe,
Taste again the cup of woe?
Or shall we rouse, and, with the lightning’s force,
Blast the relentless foe, and desolate his course ?

When the world’s eternal Sire
Placed on high yon glorious fire,
Were the splendid beams design’d
For a part of human kind ?
No ! ye sable warriors, no!
All that live partake the glow:
Thus, on man, the impartial God
Light, and winds, and rains bestow’d j
And widely thus were pour’d his dearest rights,
And he who slights the gift—the Almighty donor slights.

Now with canvass white as foam,
See the vaunted legions come,
Nerved by freedom, once they rose
And o’erwhelm’d a world of foes :
Now by freedom nerved no more,
Lo ! the miscreants seek our shore ;
Yes, the French, who waste their breath,
Chaunting liberty or death,
Sweep the blue waves at usurpation’s word,
And bring, oh, fiends accursed! oppression or the sword.

Men, whose famish’d sides have felt
Strokes by dastard drivers dealt ;
Men, whose sorrowing souls have borne
Wrong and outrage, toil and scorn;
Men, whose wives the pallid brood
Have, by torturing arts, subdu’d ;
Friends of Toussaint ! warriors brave !
Call to mind the mangled slave
And, oh ! remember, should your foes succeed,
That not yourselves alone, but all you love, must bleed!

Fathers ! shall the tiny race,
Objects of your fond embrace,
They who ‘neath the tamarind tree,
Oft have gaily climb’d your knee,
Fathers, shall those prattlers share,
Pangs that slaves are doom’d to bear?
Shall their mirth and lisping tones
Be exchanged for shrieks and groans ?
And shall those arms that round your necks have twined
Be to the twisted thong and endless toil consign’d !

Towering spirits! Ye who broke
Slavery’s agonizing yoke
Ye, who like the whirlwind rush’d,
And your foes to atoms crush’d ;
Ye, who from Domingo’s strand,
Swept the daring British band;
Ye, oh warriors ! ye, who know
Freedom’s bliss and slavery’s woe,
Say! shall we bow to Bonaparte’s train,
Or with unshaken nerves yon murderous whites disdain ?

From those eyes that round me roll,
Wildly flash the indignant soul;
On those rugged brows I see,
Stern unyielding liberty.
Yes ! your daring aspects show,
France shall soon repent the blow;
Soon shall famish’d sharks be fed;
Vultures soon shall tear the dead;
Oh glorious hour ! now, now, yon fiends defy,
Assert great nature’s cause, live free, or bravely die.

NOTE: This poem is incredibly distinctive, in that – unlike other ‘abolitionist’ poetry, it invokes and celebrates the voice of black resistance, even of vengeance, rather than either lamenting the fate of black slaves or merely offering sympathy.

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