What are some of  the visual images in the poem "The Slave's dream"?

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jmj616 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow was an advocate for the abolition of slavery.  In his poem "The Slave's Dream," he makes a case against slavery by contrasting the image of a slave's present life against his dreams of his former life in Africa.

The poem begins with images of an enslaved man:

Beside the ungathered rice he lay,
   His sickle in his hand;
His breast was bare, his matted hair
   Was buried in the sand.

The poem ends as well with an image of a slave: "the driver's whip [and] the burning heat of day."

In between, the poet describes the images that the slave sees in his dream.  The dream consists of a  series of idealized images of the man's life in Africa before he became a slave. 

He strides like a king "beneath the palm-trees on the plain"; he sees his "dark-eyed queen" and his children; he rides along the bank of the Niger River using golden chains as bridle-reins; he hears "the lion roar / And the hyena scream."  As the dream ends,

The forests, with their myriad tongues,
   Shouted of liberty;
And the Blast of the Desert cried aloud,
   With a voice so wild and free,
That he started in his sleep and smiled
   At their tempestuous glee.


aartihelpdesk | Student

The visual images in any story or poem cam be only perceived through apt expression by the poet and H.W. Longfellow has certainly succeeded in doing so.

The heart moving poem, “The Slave’s Dream”, melts the lachrymal glands of many. It begins with the image of a destitute slave, working under poor conditions. His lack of potency and recreation made all the more worn-out and he went on to sleep, where he saw his former Native Land, which Longfellow pictures in front of us.

Again, in the mist and shadow of sleep,

He saw his Native Land.

Next, we are brought to the vigorous lands of Africa where the slave resided previously, as a king. The Niger passed by where he lived with his “dark – eyed”(black) wife. He also had his children by, and all of them were embracing each other. The scenario intensifies as a tear falls down from the slave’s eye. Along the Niger he travelled on horse-back.

Longfellow then appreciates Nature of her Divine creations as he mentions flamingoes and tamarinds and caffre huts.

The bright red flamingoes flew.

At night he heard the lion roar,

And the hyena scream.

The forests, with their myriad tongues,

Shouted Liberty.

The above quoted lines signify an immense deal of liberty, equality and independence. These images come across the slave’s mind because of his underprivileged condition, which makes these things even more striking for him.

Then we are again brought back to the original setting. The immortal part(soul) had left his mortal portion(body) as he breathed no more.