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Washington City PrisonEdit

Thou dark and drear and melancholy pile!
Who seemest, like a guilty penitent,
To brood o'er horrors in thy bosom pent,
Until the sunbeams that around thee smile,
And the glad breath of heaven, have become
A hatred and a mockery to thy gloom—
Stern fabric! I'll commune with thee awhile!
And from thy hollow echoes, and the gale
That moans round thy dark cells, win back the tale
Of thy past history;—give thy stones a tongue,
And bid them answer me, and let the sighs
That round thy walls so heavily arise,
Be vocal, and declare from whence they sprung;
And by what passion of intense despair—
What aching throb of life consuming care,
From the torn heart of anguish they were wrung.

Receptacle of guilt! hath guilt, alone,
Stain'd with its falling tears thy foot-worn floor,
When the harsh echo of the closing door
Hath died upon the ear, and flinging prone
His form upon the earth, thy chilling gloom
Seem'd to the wretch the sentence of his doom—
Say, bear'st thou witness to no heart-wrung groan,
Bursting from sinless bosoms, whom the hand
Of tyrant power hath sever'd from the band
Of the earth's holiest and dearest things,
And thrust amidst thy darkness? Speak! declare
If only the rude felon's curse and prayer,
Mix'd with wild wail and wilder laughter rings
Within those dreary wall!—or if there be
No spirit fainting there with agony,
That not from their own crimes, but foul oppression springs.

Ha! am I answer'd?—in that startling cry,
Bursting from some wild breast, with anguish riven,
And rising up to register in heaven
Its blighting tale of outrage—the reply
Was heard distinctly terrible.—It sprung
From a sad household group, who wildly clung
Together, in their frantic agony,
Till they were torn by savage hands apart,
Fond arms from twining arms, and heart from heart,
Never to meet again! what had they done,
Thou tool of avarice and tyranny!—
That they should thus be given o'er to thee,
And thy guilt-haunted cells?—were sire and son,
Mother and babe, all partners in one crime,
As dreadful as the fate that through all time,
Clings to them with a grasp they may not shun?

No!—let the tale be spoken, though it burn
The cheek with shame to breathe it—let it go
Forth on the winds, that the wide globe may know
Our vileness, and the rudest savage turn
And point, with taunting finger, to the spot
Whereon thou standest; that all men may blot
Our name with its deserved taint, and spurn
Our vaunting laws of justice with the heel
Of low contumely; that every peal
Of triumph, may be answer'd with a shout
Of biting mockery; and our starry flag,
Our glorious banner! may, dishonour'd, drag
Its proud folds in the dust, or only flout
The gales of heaven, to be a broader mark
For scorn to spit at—oh, thou depôt dark,
Where souls and human limbs are meted out,

In fiendish traffic:—no! those weeping ones
Have done no evil—but their brother's hand,
Hath rudely burst the sacred household band,
And given, with heart more flinty than thy stones,
His victims to thy keeping, and thy chains,
Till he hath sold them!—they within whose veins
Blood like his own is coursing, and whose moans
Are torn from hearts as deathless as his own!
And there thou stand'st!—where Freedom's altar stone
Is darken'd by thy shadows,—and the cry,
That thrills so fearfully upon the air,
With its wild tale of anguish and despair,
Blends with the paeans that are swelling high,
To do her homage!—I have sometimes felt
As I could hate my country for her guilt,—
Until in bitter tears the mood went by.