Frances Ellen Watkins Harper, sets the tone and theme with the first stanza of this poem Bury Me in a Free Land, which is written in the quatrain format with rhyming couplets. The poem does an excellent job of illustrating the thoughts of liberation going through the mind of an individual in physical bondage. The poem allows one to sense the feeling of what goes through the mind of a person who is captured and dragged into slavery.
The essence of the poem stemming from the lament of a slave, does not seek a glorious place to rest in terms of worldly possessions and more glorious. The poem speaks of being buried outside the realms of slavery, which to the author is beyond such worldly possessions. The articulation here shows that slavery has had a terrible impact on those grasped within its dark shackles, thus having the life’s blood sucked out of them. The poor who has lost the will to resist were even more greatly affected and their spirits crushed. The spirit of a person is expected to rest in peace after the person has passed away; however, in this poem regarding slavery, the author alludes to the fact that her spirit “could not rest” in “a land of slaves.” This highlights the demoralizing impact slavery has had on those violently dragged into its terrible dungeon of darkness.
The images in the fourth stanza of this poem are very chilling. Listen to these words: I could not sleep if I saw the lash / Drinking her blood at each fearful gash / And saw her babes torn from her breast / Like trembling doves from their parent nest. This stanza brings to light the grave images that exist in slavery. Harper really poured her heart out through the words in this stanza in an appeal for others to rise up against such life-threatening and life-taking situations.
The last stanza speaks to the author’s intent of this poem regarding being free from slavery. This stanza states, I ask no monument, proud and high / To arrest the gaze of passers-by; / All that my yearning spirit craves, / Is bury me not in a land of slaves. Here we feel the impact of the poem and the author’s intent to be free; free from hate, violence, tribulation, depressive conditions, and indentured servitude even in death.
The quality of this poem is brilliant. Harper’s mastery and articulation of diction to portray slavery is poignant. Her words regarding the mother’s shriek of wild despair in the third stanza, and drinking her blood at each fearful gash in the fourth stanza send chills down one’s spine. This is just an awesome poem of reality which still applies to modern slavery of the mind in today’s environment and physical slavery in others.