To Sir Toby,
To Sir Toby,
A Sugar Planter in the Interior Parts of Jamaica, Near the City of San Jago de la Vega, (Spanish Town), 1784
The Poems of Philip Freneau, ed. Fred Lewis Pattee, II (New Jersey, 1902) : 258-60. PS 755 AZ University of Toronto at Mississauga
1 If there exists a hell – the case is clear –
2 Sir Toby’s slaves enjoy that portion here:
3 Here are no blazing brimstone lakes – ‘tis true;
4 But kindled Rum too often burns as blue;
5 In which some fiend, whom nature must detest,
6 Steeps Toby’s brand, and marks poor Cudjoe’s breast.
7 Here whips on whips excite perpetual fears,
8 And mingles howlings vibrate on my ears:
9 Here nature's plagues abound, to fret and teaze,
10 Snakes, scorpions, despots, lizards, centipees –
11 No art, no care escapes the busy lash;
12 All have their dues -- and all are paid in cash --
13 The eternal driver keeps a steady eye
14 On a black herd, who would his vengeance fly,
15 But chained, imprisoned, on a burning soil,
16 For the mean avarice of a tyrant, toil!
17 The lengthy cart-whip guards this monster’s reign –
18 And cracks, like pistols, from the fields of cane.
19 Ye powers! who formed these wretched tribes, relate,
20 What had they done, to merit such a fate!
22 To see that plenty which they must not taste –
23 Food, which they cannot buy, and dare not steal;
24 Yams and potatoes – many a scanty meal! –
25 One, with a gibbet wakes his negro’s fears,
26 One to the windmill nails him by the ears;
27 One keeps his slave in darkened dens, unfed,
28 One puts the wretch in pickle ere he’s dead:
29 This, from a tree suspends him by the thumbs,
30 That, from his table grudges even the crumbs!
31 O’er yond’ rough hills a tribe of females go,
32 Each with her gourd, her infant, and her hoe;
33 Scorched by a sun that has no mercy here,
34 Driven by a devil, whom men call overseer –
35 In chains, twelve wretches to their labours haste;
36 Twice twelve I saw, with iron collars graced! –
37 Are such the fruits that spring from vast domains?
38 Is wealth, thus got, Sir Toby, worth your pains! –
39 Who would your wealth on terms, like these, possess,
40 Where all we see is pregnant with distress –
41 Angola’s natives scourged by ruffian hands,
42 And toil’s hard product shipp’d to foreign lands.
43 Talk not of blossoms, and your endless spring;
44 What joy, what smile, can scenes of misery bring? –
45 Though Nature, here, has every blessing spread,
46 Poor is the labourer – and how meanly fed! –
47 Here Stygian paintings light and shade renew,
48 Pictures of hell, that Virgil’s pencil drew:
49 Here, surly Charons make their annual trip,
50 And ghosts arrive in every Guinea ship,
51 To find what beasts these western isles afford ,
52 Plutonian scourges, and despotic lords: --
53 Here, they, of stuff determined to be free,
55 Beyond the clouds, in sculking haste repair,
21] "A small negro kingdom near the river Senegal" (poet's note). Back to Line
54] "The mountains northward of Kingston" (poet's note). Back to Line
56] "Alluding to the Independent negroes on the blue mountains, who for a stipulated reward, deliver up every fugitive that falls into their hands, to the English Government" (poet's note). Back to Line
Originally, "The Island Field Hand," National Gazette July 21, 1792.
RPO poem Editors