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The Slave's Dream -- Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Guest poem sent in by Rajarshi Bandyopadhyay
(Poem #629) The Slave's Dream
 Beside the ungathered rice he lay,
   His sickle in his hand;
 His breast was bare, his matted hair
   Was buried in the sand.
 Again, in the mist and shadow of sleep,
   He saw his Native Land.

 Wide through the landscape of his dreams
   The lordly Niger flowed;
 Beneath the palm-trees on the plain
   Once more a king he strode;
 And heard the tinkling caravans
   Descend the mountain-road.

 He saw once more his dark-eyed queen
   Among her children stand;
 They clasped his neck, they kissed his cheeks,
   They held him by the hand!--
 A tear burst from the sleeper's lids
   And fell into the sand.

 And then at furious speed he rode
   Along the Niger's bank;
 His bridle-reins were golden chains,
   And, with a martial clank,
 At each leap he could feel his scabbard of steel
   Smiting his stallion's flank.

 Before him, like a blood-red flag,
   The bright flamingoes flew;
 >From morn till night he followed their flight,
   O'er plains where the tamarind grew,
 Till he saw the roofs of Caffre huts,
   And the ocean rose to view.

 At night he heard the lion roar,
   And the hyena scream,
 And the river-horse, as he crushed the reeds
   Beside some hidden stream;
 And it passed, like a glorious roll of drums,
   Through the triumph of his dream.

 The forests, with their myriad tongues,
   Shouted of liberty;
 And the Blast of the Desert cried aloud,
   With a voice so wild and free,
 That he started in his sleep and smiled
   At their tempestuous glee.

 He did not feel the driver's whip,
   Nor the burning heat of day;
 For Death had illumined the Land of Sleep,
   And his lifeless body lay
 A worn-out fetter, that the soul
   Had broken and thrown away!
-- Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
For some reason, 'Reverie of Mahomed...Tank' reminded me of another dream
poem, 'The Slave's Dream' by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. I guess it is the
same idea of the poet trying to 'live' another person's feelings, especially
a person from a different culture/race. [An interesting twist to the theme,
and not one I'd thought of -m.]

I think 'The Slave's dream' is a great poem because of the way it draws the
reader emotionally into itself...and the way it seems to control the
emotions. Initially we feel pity, sadness, at the present condition of the
slave, and then the nostalgic feeling of pride and glory when he thinks of
his royal past. And finally, it ends on a note of triumph and hope.



Hope's 'Reverie of Mahomed' was part of the current 'Dream' theme: poem #627

For a biography of Longfellow, see poem #172

48 comments: ( or Leave a comment )

Haydn and Jeanne said...

Dear ?,
Saw the film Amistad last night and my wife told me about a very moving poem she used to read over end over again as a little girl. Then we found it on your web site. Thanks. The last verse is the most moving, the contrast between his former life and reality is stark.

anne.milne said...

studied a long time ago at primary school-this poem made a deep impression. Great to re-read and re-think.

Rob Laking said...

I've just come back from hospital where my 87-year-old mother is,
temporarily I think: she had a fall but it doesn't seem that the injury is
serious. Her greatest injury is simply old age. She has been drifting in and
out of sleep she tells me and fragments of poetry and blank verse she
learned as a girl at school or a young woman come into her head unbidden.
Amongst others, she remembered the opening stanza of this Longfellow poem. I
wrote it down, telling her I would look it up (God bless Google). I agree
with another comment: it's of its time in sentimentality but an honest
attempt to see through another's eyes and in the end not a sad poem -
triumphal almost. I liked it because she remembered it, and it gave her


John Black said...

Rob Laking's comment brought a tear to my eye when I read it this
lunchtime. I visited my Mum last week in the residential home where she
has lived for the past few years. She is 82 and sadly well past her best
before date. She was recalling her favourite poem and claimed I had a
book containing it in the loft and asked that I found it. OK, so I've
found it now but just in case I thought I would do a search on the web.

The final line of Rob's comment just seemed so appropriate....

John Black

Mr Denis Hayward said...

Remembered snippets of this poem from Primary
School and was thrilled to find it again - made a big impression on a small child

Jamal Mohamed (jmohamed) said...

I was talking to my wife couple of hours ago about a Poem I read in my
Primary School that left an indelible mark in my mind....thanks for
helping me relive my child hood memory 'The Slave's dream' by Henry

Ajit Hutheesing said...

I am not sure why this email is addressed to ssiyer since the website
suggested it was Rajarshri Bandyopadhyay. But, it does not really matter.

I grew up in Bombay and other parts of India. My mother was Jawaharlal
Nehru's sister, Krishna Nehru. The Nehru family had been close to
Rabindranath Tagore and Sarojini Naidu - both great poets - and I was made
to recite their poetry as India was going through its struggle for
independence. We also read many other great poets and literary giants -
Keats, Yeats, Longfellow, John Donne - and on and on.

As an 8,9,10 year old, one of the poems that stuck in my head was The
Slave's Dream. It reminded us again and again of the giants of India's
freedom movement who were subjected to servitude in prison - I lost one of
my relatives, Ranjit Pandit (Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit's husband) following a
prolonged imprisonment, and almost lost my father, Raja Hutheesing, at the
same time. Through all this, poems like The Slaves Dream put in perspective
our losses - enlightened Indians being treated as common criminals. But, in
the end, it was a human experience that may well have built the character of
our leaders - if not the wisdom of their political and economic policies !!

I have been searching for the The Slave's Dream for many years, and I am not
sure why the web did not deliver it to me until today. I thank Rajarshi and
others who brought this beautiful poem back to me in all its literary and
emotional content.

I hope I shall be in contact with those of you who share not only the values
represented in this lament from Longfellow - but in the application of these
to illuminate the current predicament of declining social and economic
values which we have to endure.



Maria V said...

i always remember this poem, we learned it in school,and all through the years i thought about it often,sometimes it can relate to things we go through in life,thanks for posting it.

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