George Moses Horton Critical Essays


(Poets and Poetry in America)

Although George Moses Horton originally gained fame for composing and reciting love poems and acrostics, his poems actually encompass a variety of conventional forms, including quatrains, couplets, ballads, and blank verse. Generally the rhymes are highly conventional, strongly influenced by the poems and hymns Horton read. The diction is the essentially archaic language of hymnals: “wilt,” “thee,” “’twas,” “oft,” “lea,” and “clement.” The syntax frequently is stilted and artificial, reflecting a neoclassical influence. Other neoclassical echoes include personified abstractions (Winter and Spring) and numerous classical allusions (Helen, Troy, Phoebus, and Philomela).

The Hope of Liberty

The Hope of Liberty begins with an introduction that explains Horton’s status as a slave and how he came to write the twenty-one poems. It states that the intent of this publication is to earn money so that Horton can buy his freedom and go to Liberia. Horton’s hopes for freedom are clear in “On Hearing of the Intention of a Gentleman to Purchase the Poet’s Freedom.” He rejoices at the prospect of help in purchasing his freedom, comparing the news to sunshine breaking through storms, spring coming after winter, and ultimately as inspiring as the Aeolian harp of Greek mythology. He believes Providence has intervened in his life, preparing him for freedom and guiding him, even through the depths of despair.

The collection also contains poems on themes that would be continued in Horton’s later volumes, including religion (“Praise of Creation”), slavery (“On Liberty and Slavery”), love, death (“On Death”), and nature (“On Winter”). In a series of quatrains, “On Summer” details the activities of various creatures in nature—birds, insects, oxen, horses, cattle—as well as the farmer and the orchards and fields.

The Poetical Works of George M. Horton

The Poetical Works of George M. Horton, the Colored Bard of North Carolina contained forty-three poems and an autobiography. Several of the poems deal with religious subjects. For example, “Reflections from the Flash of a Meteor” uses a series of quatrains to develop the meteor as a symbol for human life, specifically the life of the poet-persona. Similarly, “Rise up, my soul” (a fragment included in his autobiography) traces the poet’s role as a guest at the “gospel feast.” “Excited upon Reading the Obedience of Nature to Her Lord in the Vessel on the Sea” retells the story of Jesus’ calming the sea and saving the disciples’ boat. Another poem fragment (included in Horton’s autobiographical essay) recounts the fleeing Israelites’ rejoicing as they see the destruction of the pursuing Egyptians. Even a poem such as “The Retreat from Moscow” is used for religious instruction. The inhabitants run like quail fleeing from an...

(The entire section is 1194 words.)