The Center for Interfaith Relations is revisiting Festival of Faiths catalogues in search of insight, wisdom and inspiration. Our hope is that these written words will spur meaningful reflection. If you’d like to read more selections from our catalogues, we’d be happy to send you a copy.
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“The Slave Mother” by Frances Ellen Watkins Harper

From the 2018 Festival of Faiths, “Sacred Insight, Feminine Wisdom”

Heard you that shriek? It rose
   So wildly on the air,
It seem’d as if a burden’d heart

   Was breaking in despair.

Saw you those hands so sadly clasped—
   The bowed and feeble head—
The shuddering of that fragile form—

   That look of grief and dread?

Saw you the sad, imploring eye?
   Its every glance was pain,
As if a storm of agony

   Were sweeping through the brain.

She is a mother pale with fear,
   Her boy clings to her side,
And in her kyrtle vainly tries

   His trembling form to hide.

He is not hers, although she bore
   For him a mother’s pains;
He is not hers, although her blood

   Is coursing through his veins!

He is not hers, for cruel hands
   May rudely tear apart
The only wreath of household love

   That binds her breaking heart.

His love has been a joyous light
   That o’er her pathway smiled,
A fountain gushing ever new,

   Amid life’s desert wild.

His lightest word has been a tone
   Of music round her heart,
Their lives a streamlet blent in one—

   Oh, Father! must they part?

They tear him from her circling arms,
   Her last and fond embrace.
Oh! never more may her sad eyes

   Gaze on his mournful face.

No marvel, then, these bitter shrieks
   Disturb the listening air:
She is a mother, and her heart
   Is breaking in despair.

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