The Slave’s Lament
I’ve been posting a poem a day for National Poetry Month. Yesterday I posted The Reward by John Greenleaf Whittier. Whittier was a staunch abolitionist. In fact, I had a hard time fiinding a poem that did not mention the evils of slavery. One of Whittier’s great influences was Robert Burns.
I’ve written about Burns before (Way Post-Romantic, What’s Important) and I’m sure I’ll write about him again. He is one of my favorite poets and one of the strongest influences, along with William Blake, of my own work. Like Whittier, Burns wrote often of freedom and liberty:
- ‘By Oppression’s woes and pains,
By your sons in servile chains!
We will drain our dearest veins,
But they shall be free.
(from Scots Wa Hae)
There is one poem of Burns that deals directly with slavery:
Burns, however, is most known for his songs. I’m probably in the minority when I make a distinction between poetry and lyrics. I admit there is some bluring of the line: Songs of Innosence and Experience, Lyrical Ballads, etc… There are also lyricists who write poetic songs; Oscar Hamerstien is one, but I would not consider him nor Bob Dylan a poet. Robert Burns, however, is a poet first who collected and wrote folksongs in his native Scotland; as the Grimm brothers did with folk tales in Germany. I would consider Burns’s songs poetry. They stand up on their own; they are not dependant on the tune, although, it is rather enjoyable to hear them sung.