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This poem is about a slave who is working the rice fields. He falls over from heat and exhaustion and has a dream:
Again, in the mist and shadow of sleep,
He saw his Native Land.
The dream is a stark contrast to his actual life. He is a slave, but it was not always so. He dreams of his former life. He was a warrior-king in his native land:
Beneath the palm-trees on the plain
Once more a king he strode;
The poet continues to paint the picture of what the slave's life was before he became a slave. He had a beautiful queen, many children, he lived in a beautiful place, rode a beautiful horse -- there is wonderful imagery.
The last stanza describes his death.
He did not feel the driver's whip,
Nor the burning heat of day;
For Death had illumined the Land of Sleep,
And his lifeless body lay
A worn-out fetter, that the soul
Had broken and thrown away!
Death had interrupted his dream. He was "in the land of sleep" but now he is in the land of death (his lifeless body). The poet now describes the slave's body as a "worn-out fetter" but his soul, ah, his soul has broken away and is free. The body may still be a slave, but the soul is free in death.
It is a sad poem about slavery.
*I already wrote this answer recently, however hope this helps :
The classic poem by H. W. Longfellow begins by setting the main plot and taking you to the place where the slave lies with the rice yet "ungathered" wiht a "sickle in his hand".
He collapses and dreams about his "Native Land" where he was the king pre-slavery in an African nation, the river Niger nearby. He is embraced by his queen and children, a scene which is enough to melt his eyes. He rode majestically over his royal stallion, via landmarks, smiling at nature and the voices of wild animals.
The ending brings us back from virtuality. The slave no more feels the whips nor the tormenting heat. Death overrode his dreams "Illuminating his Land of Sleep". Darkness symbolises despair. Death illuminates his Land of Sleep, bringing a new ray in his life as freedom of his soul, although his body remains as a slave.
H. W. Longfellow is a prominent poet of American origin. In the poem “The Slaves’s
Dream”, Longfellow describes the slave’s dying moment as lost in a dream. He dreams of his
African home, imagines a life of fun and gaiety in the company of his kinsfolk, and fancies
himself as a king. The sights and sounds of his native land and the free life he had once led among
his people are vividly recalled by the slave.
‘The Slave’s Dream’ portrays the lost dreams and ambitions of a slave. The slave is
captivated by the images of his family and native land. Holding his sickle in hand, the slave lies in
the field, bare-breasted, his matted hair covered by sand.
Along the stretch of scenery of his dreams, the river Niger flows regally. He imagines
himself to be a king, no more bound to the shackles of slavery, but free to do whatever he wishes.
He strides majestically over the plains lined by palm trees. The slave is so empowered by his
dream, that he visualizes himself in a land where he is an individual not just a slave.
The images of his family bring a tear to his eye. Like a king he rides his stallion in search
of adventures. The lion’s roar, the hyena’s scream and the grunt of the hippopotamus sound like a
glorious roll of drums to his ears. The sound from the forest and the desert introduces ideas of
wildness and liberty in his mind. As he finally gasps for his last breath, he smiles in ‘tempestuous
The recollections are so strong that his abject slavery and shameful death hardly trouble
him. ‘The Slaves Dream’ is celebration of liberty and dignity. No master can deprive his slave of
his liberty to dream. As the driver whips the slave, as the sun beats heavily on his body, the slave
lies motionless as his soul has broken away from the fetters of his body. Death illumines his land
of sleep as death has saved him from the miseries of life.
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