The Ode on the Slave Trade

Samuel Taylor Coleridge

From the translation by J.C.C. May in Poetical Works

O ye who revel in the ills of Slavery, O feeders on the groans of the wretched, insolent sons of Excess, shedders of own brothers’ blood, does not the inescapable Eye see these things? Does not Nemesis threaten fire-breathing reprisal? Do you hear? Or do you not hear? How winds shake the ground at its roots, and the recesses of earth groan beneath, and the depths roar terribly, pledging those below to wrath against the killers!

Rick Wilcox

This week in Chapter Two of Mariner, we see Coleridge’s developing social consciousness as he uses an academic assignment to challenge slavery.  The university offered a prize for a Greek ode in imitation of Sappho, and for Coleridge, the forum was compelling.  He joined his voice with Wilberforce and others for a cause still many years from legal resolution while it was still unpopular (if not dangerous) to do so.

As Malcolm Guite wrote:

Wilberforce introduced the bill a third time in the spring of 1792, right in the midst of the period in which Coleridge was preparing his poem. This may have influenced the Latin title he gave his Greek ode, Sors misera servorum in insulis indiae occidentalis—“The unhappy fate of the slaves in the West Indian islands.” In spite of support from Burke, Fox, Pitt, and Sheridan, in a debate which Burke described as containing “the greatest eloquence ever displayed in the House”—in spite of all that, the anti-slavery bill was again defeated. Le Grice’s account of those evenings in which Coleridge recited Burke refer in fact to 1792, while Coleridge was composing the ode, so it is clear that he was still following the debates in Parliament. Al- though Coleridge was thinking about the topic as early as 1791, and intending to write for the competition, the competition was officially announced in January 1792. Coleridge composed the poem that spring, was awarded the prize, and recited his poem on commencement day, 3 July 1792.

Did you take a public political stand as a youth? 

What were the circumstances?

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John 1:1

In the beginning was the Word,
and the Word was with God,
and the Word was God.