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The long poem Moses: The Story Of The Nile by Frances Ellen Watkins Harper has great significance for Christian African American readers. It was published fourteen years after her first poetry collection and it chronicles the life and times of Moses,the Hebrew patriarch. The poem highlights the sacrifices Moses made in order to free all of the the Israelite slaves. Considered by many reviewers to be a non racial work, the poem's emphasis on leadership and self-sacrifice does seem to chime with Harper's often-stated hopes for black leadership and unity.
This poem was written in blank verse and is an example of Harper's finest poetry written at her peak. Harper carefully held together a narrative of over seven hundred lines which extended a tale from the bible. She added to the story of Moses by including the viewpoints of both his 'mothers.' This means that his Hebrew birth mother and his new adoptive Egyptian mother were both represented in the poem. This development has cultural significance for African Americans because it sets down as a piece of literature the bible tale that developed a new angle to Christianity which highlighted the trauma of slavery.
She used the imagery of Jesus Christ set in the context of the Old Testament and in so doing melded two iconic Biblical characters together. For Christian African Americans this was powerful reading. Harper, a radical writer, celebrated orator and social activist, was a very popular black poet of the nineteenth century. In the context of today's literary treasury, her works are considered transitional. Concerned at the human cost of slavery, she also considered the wider global significance of the unpleasant trade. She wrote against the use of slaves, but also broke free from the purely propagandistic mode of the slavery protest poets. In this way Harper was a ground breaker as she was an early example of African American writers highlighting national and global issues. She spoke as a voice for Christian African Americans who wanted to rise above complaint alone and get to the heart of the global problem.Today, in the canon of American literature, she is considered an important abolitionist poet whose works possess greater historic than artistic significance. Her poem however, is meticulous and strong, telling an old familiar story in a new dynamic way through fresh eyes and introducing wider fresher perspectives. Hebrew slavery and African American slavery issues were brought together in one poem.
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