The Soul Of A Century/Songs of a slave


On a crag at dusk I am standing, while below me fumes and roars
Crashing, screeching, foaming tempest of the crater’s endless stores.
Like a bird who vainly flutters, seeking rocks on which to pause,
Thus my eyes are sadly peering through the wat’ry hazy gauze.
In that maze that darkly stretches, in the boundless distant blue,
While the whirlpools and cyclones fume and boil like a witches brew.

Here I stand and look beyond me. Slavery there holds my land
I look forward and before me maddened tempest holds command.
Angered hurricane approaches . . Rising winds play through my hair,
E’en the clanging of my shackles weakens in the tempest’s blare.
But I gladly raise the shackles, while the rising tempest shrieks,
And like to a maiden’s kisses, to the winds I turn my cheeks.

Welcome tempests. Your appearance promises deliverance.
in your rumbling I can fathom liberty’s first resonance.

Suddenly my tired vision seems to fill with gleaming light,
And I feel my temples burning with a rising fiery might.
As if from my burdened bosom, dreams rise to my trembling lips
And I feel my soul arising on the wings of fancy’s whips.
Something seems to flicker, quiver, to arise beyond the clouds,
As if midst the pains of labor, a new born day rose through the shrouds,
in a cloak of crimson sunset now appears the angered sea
As if all its churning waters turned to blood, engulfing me.

No, it was no mere illusion, figment of some feverish dreams
I am certain of the coming of a morning star of better schemes.
That a large part of this vision will be filled in course of time,
Though I will not be so blessed, as to shake this yoke of mine.
And my greyish head will slumber in the slave’s unhonored soil,
Slavish hands with earth will cover, these old chains of endless toil
But you younger friends, before you end your life’s uncertain course
You’ll alight with feet unshackled yon, on freedom’s sunny shores.

In the darkness that surrounds you let the whips and fists hold sway,
Cherish faithfully within you promise of a brighter day,
All your thoughts should be united in one firm determined whole,
All your strengths should be collected to attain the final goal.
Soon, free mankind will be brothers, slaves will drop their clanging chains
Once again our flag will flutter high above the sunlit plains.


Well then, break the dam e’er tight’ning,
Storms that swell my chest with wrong,
Thoughts that, with the speed of lightning,
Criss-cross through my soul so long.
Flames of shame and winds of anger,
From their lazy dreams and languor,
Stir to life, my plaintive song . . .

For my songs were not inspired
In a nest of fragrant tresses,
Nor by maidens I desired,
Dreaming in my warm caresses.
Through a weary head they glittered,
When, by haughty fists embittered,
My cheeks flushed with blood’s excesses.

Yes, from gall and blood and tears,
They were born in time of woe,
When I saw, through darkened years,
My kin tortured by our foe.
And in vain my teeth I ground
When the jailers I had found
Laughing at our helpless throe.


By a slave I was begot,
A slave, my mother’s lot.
My childhood’s sole delight
Was the lullaby of chains.
And all through life, I found
The rusty metal’s sound
Clanging from morn ’till night,
Across my life’s bare plains.
As soon as growing strength
My youthful nape had bent,
They fastened round my neck
A yoke of cold-blue steel.
I stooped beneath the grip
To kiss the headman’s whip,
And my forehead at his beck
Against the ground would reel.

A feeble slave I grew
Among a slavish crew.
In place of jewels, chains
Rang at my sister’s side;
Whene’er I looked around,
With shame and grief, I found,
Bowed to the dust of plains,
My race in slavery’s hide.

I grew resigned to fate,
To the iron’s song of hate,
That drove from out my reach
The very joy of life;
And when, with feeling wrought,
Solace in music I sought,
My song was but the screech
Of the grinding chains of strife.


We’re only slaves . . . Toys of a strange desire,
Unpunished are the fists that strike our breast,
What we possess, stills other men’s desire,
At others mercy must our honor rest.
We’re only cattle, whipped beneath the yoke
From morn ’till night, for other peoples’ gain.
Slaves’ Chorus:
We’re without will or law, doomed to invoke
Justice in vain . . .

The master says: “Labor in sweat and heat,
Gather abundant crops from off my lands,
That I may better thus my fancies meet
And generously fill my lovers’ hands;
That I may get for you more toughened rope,
And newer whips and heavier clanging chains.”
Slaves’ Chorus:
Laughter of scorn cuts through our souls and hope,
Slaves we remain . . .

Nothing is ours; another rules with all;
Our sweat for him bedews our fathers’ soil;
We have no will beside his beck and call,
Our law is but our master’s will and toil.
Lies are the truth against us, wrongs are right,
The heavens too, are helpless in this reign.
Slaves’ Chorus:
We are a lawless mob, a herd without might,
Slaves we’ll remain . . .

Watch our master’s whip of power
Waving high above his cheeks,
While its swishing tune, in keeping
Blasphemously thus he speaks:
“See how gay and many colored
Are these knots so closely tied,
Like a maze of snakes entwining,
Are these squirming straps of hide.

Listen how harmoniously
Hisses every single snake,
How he twists and turns and cringes,
Your bent backs to overtake
And to make its fangs of venom
Seem less cruel, feel more tame,
To each motley colored viper,
I will give some lofty name.

Look! This strap is FAITH OF MANKIND
That commands the slaving hordes;
Bear on earth your masters’ burdens
Up in heaven, seek rewards,
And this swishing strand is JUSTICE
From your backs its hide was torn,
With your blood, theron is written
“I’m your master, slaves forlorn.”

This firm knot is labelled CUSTOM:
KNOWLEDGE, HABIT, all are here;
In this cruel farce appear.
HUMANISM is this leather,
TRUTH and HONOR in this whip;
All these attributes to pick from,
Sing and swish here in my grip.

Yes, your father and your grandad
Were whipped too, with these same straps,
They’re a heritage of ages,
Consecrated by time’s lapse.
If you wish, I’ll decorate them
With new ornaments and knacks
Just as long as my fist holds them,
You will feel them on your backs.

 This work is a translation and has a separate copyright status to the applicable copyright protections of the original content.


This work was published before January 1, 1928, and is in the public domain worldwide because the author died at least 100 years ago.


This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was legally published within the United States (or the United Nations Headquarters in New York subject to Section 7 of the United States Headquarters Agreement) between 1928 and 1977 (inclusive) without a copyright notice.

The longest-living author of this work died in 1987, so this work is in the public domain in countries and areas where the copyright term is the author's life plus 35 years or less. This work may be in the public domain in countries and areas with longer native copyright terms that apply the rule of the shorter term to foreign works.