Hannah More’s poem was written in support of William Wilberforce’s campaign to abolish slavery. A passionate, poetic explanation of the anti-abolitionists’ argument, this extract is part of a 294 line poem. ‘Oroonoko’, in the fourth line of this extract, is a reference to a novel published in 1688 by Aphra Behn, which describes the suffering of the eponymous ‘Royal Slave’. More stresses that this suffering is experienced at the time of writing by ‘millions’.

Notice how the poem continually returns to the idea that the colour of a person’s skin is irrelevant when considering the worth of a human being. The rhyming couplets reinforce the emphatic message that the people ‘dragged’ from Africa are not inferior to their captors and oppressors. Look at how More describes, in her words, ‘the sable race’. What impression of the people whose ‘anguish’ she seeks to demonstrate in the poem is created by her use of phrases such as ‘rude energy’, ‘high-souled passion’, ‘wild vigour’. In the final lines of this extract, examine the references to pride and the meaning of the suggestion that pride is ‘In Africa scourged’ but in Rome ‘deified’.

Recording commissioned by the Poetry Archive, used here with kind permission of the reader.

Poems by Hannah More

Slavery, A Poem

Read by Patience Agbabi
Slavery, A Poem - Hannah More - Read by Patience Agbabi

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