September 18, 2009

Poetry Friday--Frederick Douglass

One hundred seventy years ago this month, on September 3, a 20 year-old slave, Frederick Douglass managed to make his way to freedom.

From the Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass (published in 1845):
It is impossible for me to describe my feelings as the time of my contemplated start drew near. I had a number of warmhearted friends in Baltimore,--friends that I loved almost as I did my life,--and the thought of being separated from them forever was painful beyond expression. It is my opinion that thousands would escape from slavery, who now remain, but for the strong cords of affection that bind them to their friends. The thought of leaving my friends was decidedly the most painful thought with which I had to contend. The love of them was my tender point, and shook my decision more than all things else.


He managed
to escape, not by luck
but by careful
planning and the help
of others who were willing
to put their own
safety in peril.

How lucky he was.

He left not easily,
but accompanied
by pain, pain
profoundly deep with
the loss of friends
who bound him with strong
cords of affection.

How lucky he was.

How lucky he was
to know the difference
between the tender
point and the point
at which he would
be tendering his soul.
A friendship can
be rekindled,
a soul cannot.

© Diane Mayr, all rights reserved

An interesting side note for my New Hampshire friends--"The Fugitive's Song," shown above, was written by Jesse Hutchinson. Jesse was a member of the Hutchinson Family of singers who were from Milford, NH.

The picture is from the Library of Congress, which gave it a copyright date of 1845. Douglass and the Hutchinson Family toured together in England during the year 1845.

If you'd like to read another poem about Frederick Douglass, there is stunning one by Robert E. Hayden here.

The Poetry Friday Round-Up this week is being hosted at Becky's Book Reviews.


  1. The passage written by Douglass that you quoted is so powerful. I love how the poem captures the dilemma in the last stanza so precisely: How lucky he was/
    to know the difference/between the tender/
    point and the point/at which he would/
    be tendering his soul./A friendship can/be rekindled,/
    a soul cannot.

    Thanks for sharing this! Melissa

  2. Diane, this is beautiful. Now, I'm probably being obtuse, and I don't feel great this morning, so that will be my excuse, but who actually wrote Tender Point?

    I know Douglass wrote the paragraph, and Jesse Hutchinson wrote The Fugitive's Song. I was with you that far:>)

    But the poem...did you write it?

    And whoever wrote it, it's gorgeous. I absolutely love the way the poet plays with the meanings of tender. Wow.

    I also really like the poem you linked to, especially the last couple of lines:

    but with the lives grown out of his life, the lives
    fleshing his dream of the beautiful, needful thing.

    Douglass just came up in conversation at a cross-country meet I was at yesterday. How funny to continue my Poetry Friday readings and find him here!

  3. Hi Melissa and Laura! I wrote the poem, so many thanks, both, for your kind words.

    Laura, I'm curious, how did Frederick Douglass come up at a cross-country meet?

  4. I just updated the post with my name and the copyright symbol, so now there's no question! Thanks for alerting me to the fact that I never actually came out and said it was mine. Duh.