Freedom To The Slave Summary
The poem “Freedom To The Slave” (1827) is about a slave who regains his freedom after prolonged captivity. In the first stanza, the poet expresses the excitement of the newly liberated slave. As the slave comes to know about his freedom, he feels jubilant. He feels the wind and looks at the birds, and the stream. Shortly thereafter he realizes that, similar to those natural elements, he is also free.
In the second stanza, the speaker addresses freedom and says that freedom keeps igniting the altar of the soul. It is for the freedom patriot and brave man are ready to sacrifice their lives. He also praises the benignant man who gives freedom to the slave for the sake of the slave’s freedom.
Freedom To The Slave by H.L.V Derozio
At the beginning of the poem, the poet uses an epigraph “And as the slave departs, the man returns” (Campbell 13). He quotes the line from part I of Campbell’s poem “The Pleasures of Hope”. This long poem is about the loss of Warsaw and liberty in the fight for freedom and hopes for betterment in society.
During the period of enslavement, the prisoner is reduced to a slave. He gets a slave identity. However, as slavery ends, his identity as a slave dissolves. T
he latent identity of the slave, on the other hand, comes into existence. The dormant man in the prisoner who loves freedom returns.
The epigraph sets the context of the poem. Similar to the prisoner in Campbell’s poem, the slave in Derozio’s poem has been a slave for a long time. After an extended time, he gets freedom. Thus, he becomes elated on the cheerful occasion.
The State of Mind of the Slave
When someone tells the slave that his period of slavery ends, the poet says that how notable his first reaction is. The slave’s heart beats in excitement when he realizes he is free from the shackles of bondage.
To emphasize the slave’s state of mind, the poet uses anaphora in the first and third lines of the first stanza.
The feeling of freedom rejuvenates him. As he discards his slave identity, his previous identity as a slave disappears and the man in him becomes alive again. The noble feelings of the soul such as honor, kindness, gratitude, joy, love revive again.
Moreover, he stands up on his feet, as there is no need of kneeling down. In the state of slavery, a slave must bow down to the master. The physical posture of bowing down also implies withdrawing one’s ‘self’ to the others.
In the poem, as the slave gets freedom, he stands on his feet. This act of standing on his own conveys getting back his independence. As the slave stands, his thoughts uplift. It means the mental elevation of the slave. The slave is free from the status of a slave.
The slave looks above and feels the fresh wind. He smiles jubilantly to see the flying wild birds and the running stream that is flowing beneath him. They represent freedom in nature.
Besides the winds and wild birds, there is another element of nature that complements his sense of freedom in the poem, and that element is the stream. The relentlessly flowing stream implies freedom.
A sense of relief and happiness in the slave brings tears into his eyes. He is content to feel that he is also free like the winds, the wild birds, and the stream.
The poet uses imagery. We find imagery in the lines below-
He uses imagery to convey the slave’s emotional state of mind. The use of simile in the line “I’m free as they!” shows the comparison between the inner and outer world.
Like the fresh winds, the slave also feels free. The slave is delighted to see the wild birds because, like the wild birds, the slave can also roam freely with no restriction.
A Eulogy to Freedom
In the second stanza, the poet eulogizes freedom. The poet shifts his focus from the slave to the freedom with the change of stanza. The poet uses the literary device apostrophe and addresses freedom, “Oh freedom!”
In the eulogy, he says there is very special even in its name that kindles the altar of the soul with endless flame. The name of freedom is enough to keep igniting the very essence of man, soul.
Everyman has a close affinity with freedom. The soul of man by nature wants to be free. Freedom vitalizes the soul. It is only for the freedom, the patriot, the braveheart are willing to bear the pain.
The poet applauds the patriot and says, “Success attends the patriot sword.” Here, the poet personifies success and uses the literary device metonymy “patriot sword” to refer to the patriot. The patriot who is ready to battle against enemies for the sake of freedom attains success.
The speaker also praises the one whose breast is injured and the gush of blood flows in the fight for freedom. The ‘breast’ is an example of a synecdoche where one part of the body represents the man.
Moreover, similar to “The Orphan Girl”, the poet towards the end praises the tender-hearted man who empathizes with the degraded condition of a slave.
To refer to the generous man, the poet uses again synecdoche by using the word ‘hand’.
Seeing the wretched condition of the slave, he shatters the chain of bondage and rescues him from the autocrat’s tyranny.
Here we can draw a comparison between the tyrant and the benevolent man in terms of their attitude to the slave. The man who releases the slave is indeed free. Only a free man can liberate someone. A tyrant who imprisons someone is also a slave, along with the oppressed.
To explain, I would like to refer to Mandela’s view of freedom. Mandela, in his autobiography Long Walk to Freedom, says that an oppressor is not a free man because prejudice and narrow-mindedness blind him.
In the poem, though the tyrant who keeps the slave in captivity, on a surface level, is free, but he is not free. Negative emotions like hatred confine him.
Such negative emotions blind him from realizing the truth that everyone is born to be free and everyone deserves it. Therefore, the tyrant snatches the slave’s freedom.
On the other hand, the kind-hearted man understands the value of freedom his mind is free from negative emotions. He understands how significant freedom is, not only for him but also for others.
In this regard, Mandela says,
This is aptly applied to the generous man’s attitude. The man who gives freedom to the slave respects the freedom that the imprisoned slave deserves. Therefore, he breaks the chains and sets the slave free.
The Theme of Freedom of the Slave
For theme watch the video-
H.L.V Derozio wrote “Freedom To The Slave” in 1827. It was the time when the Anti-slavery movement was prevalent in England. The anti-slavery movement or abolitionism was a movement to end the long tradition of slavery in Western Europe and the America in late 18th and 19th centuries.
If we consider Derozio wrote the poem against the backdrop of the abolition movement, then it can be said that the last lines of the poem imply Derozio’s support for the anti-slavery movement. It is for the efforts of some people such barbaric tradition has ended. Therefore, the man who frees the slave should be blessed because it is for him the slave is free.
Freedom is an integral part of man’s existence. Freedom gives meaning to man’s existence. It is the freedom that adds meaning to the life of a recently liberated slave.
- The Editors of Encyclopedia Britannica. “Abolitionism European and American social movement.” Britannica, 25 April 2020, https://www.britannica.com/biography/Thomas-Clarkson.
- Poems of H.L.V Derozio. 1827, pp. 11-12.
- Thomas Campbell. The Pleasure of Hope. 1858. The Perfect Library. Page 13.
- Nelson Mandela. The Long Walk to Freedom. Little Brown, 1994. https://zelalemkibret.files.wordpress.com/2012/01/the-autobiography-of-nelson-mandela.pdf