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The Witnesses

by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, American Romantic poet, was born in Portland, Maine, on February 27, 1807, and died on March 22, 1882. Longfellow moved to Cambridge, Massachusetts in December, 1836. He is considered a Fireside Poet, or part of a group of New England authors that wrote material very suitable to be read as entertainment to members of a family, often read aloud in front of a residential fireplace.

Longfellow was a mild abolitionist, and Witnesses a sample of his poems about the injustice of slavery.


In Ocean's wide domains, 
Half buried in the sands, 
Lie skeletons in chains, 
With shackled feet and hands.

Beyond the fall of dews, 
Deeper than plummet lies, 
Float ships, with all their crews, 
No more to sink nor rise.

There the black Slave-ship swims, 
Freighted with human forms, 
Whose fettered, fleshless limbs 
Are not the sport of storms.

These are the bones of Slaves; 
They gleam from the abyss; 
They cry, from yawning waves, 
"We are the Witnesses!"

Within Earth's wide domains 
Are markets for men's lives; 
Their necks are galled with chains, 
Their wrists are cramped with gyves.

Dead bodies, that the kite 
In deserts makes its prey; 
Murders, that with affright 
Scare school-boys from their play!

All evil thoughts and deeds; 
Anger, and lust, and pride; 
The foulest, rankest weeds, 
That choke Life's groaning tide!

These are the woes of Slaves; 
They glare from the abyss; 
They cry, from unknown graves, 
"We are the Witnesses!


— The Complete Works of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, By Henry W. Longfellow


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