The Slaves

A poem by John Frederick Freeman

The tall slaves bow if that capricious King
But glances as he passes;
Their dark hoods drawing over abashed faces
They bow humbly, unappealingly.
The dark robes round their shuddering bodies cling,
They bow and but whisper as he passes.

They have not learned to look into his eyes,
If he insults to answer,
To stand with head erect and angry arching bosom:
They bow humbly, unappealingly,
As though he mastered earth and the violet inky skies,
And whisper piteously for only answer.

So they stand, tall slaves, ashamed of their great height,
And if he comes raving,
Shouting from the west, furious and moody,
They bow more humbly, unappealingly,
Ashamed to remember how they lived in that calm light;
They droop until he passes, tired of raving.

Only when he's gone they lift their darkened brows,
Light comes back to their eyes,
Their leaves caress the light, the light laves their branches,
They move loverlike, appealingly;
Slaves now no more the poplars lift and shake their boughs,
And there's a heaven of evening in their eyes.

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