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The poem “Freedom to the Slave” by Henry Louis Vivian Derozio. The poem was written in the year 1827. He was only 17 when he wrote this poem. This poem was published in the same year in a volume called “Poems”. The poem describes the feelings of a man who is freed from slavery. Through this poem, he has tried to give a clear picture of the evil side of slavery. The poet suggests that even a thought gets arrested when having a slave life. In the last few lines, he salutes the people who fought and shed blood for the freedom of the nation.
About the poet:
Henry Louis Vivian Derozio was a poet, philosopher, and teacher. He was a teacher at Hindu College in Calcutta in the 1820s. Derozio was considered as one of the forerunners of the Bengal Renaissance. Derozio was the first “national” poet of modern India. His patriotic poetry plays a significant mark in the history of Indian writing in English.
The poem “Freedom to the Slave” contains 28 lines in total. It is written as a single stanza. Yet each of the four lines from the poem forms a quatrain and presents a single idea. So, the poem can be analyzed by taking each quatrain. But lines 9-16 depict a single picture.
Point of view:
The poem is written in a third person point of view in a specific part of the poem. The part begins with line 7 and ends with line 16. These lines describe how a slave enjoys freedom after suffering so much. Thus, the poet has chosen to write it from the third person point of view to emphasize happiness to the readers.
"He knelt no more; his thoughts were raised; He felt himself a man. He looked above—the breath of heaven Around him freshly blew; He smiled exultingly to see The wild birds as they flew, He looked upon the running stream That 'neath him rolled away; Then thought on winds, and birds, and floods, And cried, 'I'm free as they!'"
The poet has used iambic tetrameter and iambic trimeter alternatively throughout the poem. The first line of the poem is written in iambic tetrameter and the following line is written in iambic trimeter.
The poem “Freedom to the Slave” by Henry Louis Vivian Derozio begins with an epigraph by Thomas Campbell. Through the epigraph, he has given a hint about the main theme of the poem. The poem describes the feelings of a man who is freed from his slavery. The poet says that the first moment a man heard that he was free, his heart started to beat in a proud way. He is happy to hear that he is free. The hidden feelings and thoughts of the man started to emerge. For the first time, he felt fresh air blowing around him. Even the things he noted around him like birds and running stream hinted at his state of mind then. The man is happy to even think of the word freedom. He says even the word “freedom” brightens his soul with eternal flame. In the last eight lines, he talks about the people who fought for the freedom of their nation. He salutes the people who shed blood for freedom of lives.
“And as the slave departs, the man returns.”
The epigraph of “Freedom to the Slave” is taken from Thomas Campbell’s poem “The Pleasures of Hope”. The poet Derozio has used this and given readers an idea regarding the main concept of the poem. Campbell says that when a slave is freed from the chain of slavery, he becomes a man. Because a slave feels inferior. So when he gets the freedom, he is born again.
How felt he when he first was told A slave he ceased to be; How proudly beat his heart, when first He knew that he was free!—
This stanza hints at the first moment for the slave to hear that he is free from then. After hearing this, he was so happy. This was the first time his heart started beating as a proud man. The emotion in this stanza is carried in a good way by the poet.
The noblest feelings of the soul To glow at once began; He knelt no more; his thoughts were raised; He felt himself a man.
Here, the poet describes the feelings of the soul, which suffered a lot in his lifetime. His feelings started to rise the very moment he heard that he was free. The line “He knelt no more; his thoughts were raised;” shows how pitiful his condition is. Even though his thoughts were arrested when he was a slave, now they have begun to rise. He is happy and feels like being himself. Being himself makes him proud.
He looked above—the breath of heaven Around him freshly blew; He smiled exultingly to see The wild birds as they flew, He looked upon the running stream That 'neath him rolled away; Then thought on winds, and birds, and floods, And cried, 'I'm free as they!'
The man is looking at the sky. He feels the fresh air blowing around him. His happiness can be seen through his smile. He feels cheerful watching the birds fly in the sky. He then looked at the running stream. The picture of fresh air, flying birds, and a running stream reflected his state of mind. He cried with emotion and said, “I’m free as they!”
Lines 17 -20:
Oh Freedom! there is something dear E'en in thy very name, That lights the altar of the soul With everlasting flame.
The poet in this stanza describes the voice of the man who is unslaved. The man tells us that even the term “freedom” holds the capacity to brighten his soul with eternal flame.
Success attend the patriot sword, That is unsheathed for thee! And glory to the breast that bleeds, Bleeds nobly to be free!
In this stanza, the poet is trying to evoke the spirit of freedom in the minds of readers. The poet feels emotional when thinking of the patriotic people who fought bravely with swords to free their country from colonizers. He praises the hearts of those who lost their lives to free their nation. The poet respects their spirit of freedom in this stanza.
Blest be the generous hand that breaks The chain a tyrant gave, And, feeling for degraded man, Gives freedom to the slave.
The poet, in the final stanza, blessed the people who came forward to shatter slavery. The poet says that empathy for the slave provides the chance of giving freedom to the slave. Once empathy takes over our minds, the idea of rescuing them follows. In this way, the poet blesses all the people who joined hands to break the chain of slavery.