What is the poem about? What is going on? What is the context? ? What language does the poem use and repeat? How does this language add, enhance, complicate
· What is the poem about? What is going on? What is the context?
· What language does the poem use and repeat? How does this language add, enhance, complicate, or destabilize what is happening in the poem?
· What is the tone, and how do you know what it is? How does the tone affect what is stated in the poem?
· What images or metaphors appear in the poem? How do these images and metaphors affect what is being said?
· What is the form or structure of the poem? Is there a rhyme scheme or rhythm? Are certain words stressed? Are the lines long and convoluted or short and abrupt?
· How might the poem play with punctuation or grammar? Do the line breaks work with or disrupt the punctuation?
· Who is the speaker? Are there multiple speakers? Who is the speaker addressing? What is the speaker’s relation to the subject of the poem?
· What are the major themes, and how are they presented? What rhetorical techniques does the poem use to reflect on those themes?
· How do your observations about the form affect your understanding of the content?
8/13/2020 In an Artist's Studio by Christina Rossetti | Poetry Foundation
In an Artist's Studio
B Y C H R I S T I N A R O S S E T T I
One face looks out from all his canvases,
One selfsame figure sits or walks or leans:
We found her hidden just behind those screens,
That mirror gave back all her loveliness.
A queen in opal or in ruby dress,
A nameless girl in freshest summer-greens,
A saint, an angel — every canvas means
The same one meaning, neither more or less.
He feeds upon her face by day and night,
And she with true kind eyes looks back on him,
Fair as the moon and joyful as the light:
Not wan with waiting, not with sorrow dim;
Not as she is, but was when hope shone bright;
Not as she is, but as she fills his dream.
C O N TA C T U S
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Human or Object? The Slave’s Voice in “The Negro’s Complaint”
“Forced from Home and all its pleasures Afric’s coast I left forlorn,
To increase a stranger’s treasures O’er the raging billows borne;
Men from England bought and sold me, Pay’d my price in paltry gold,
But though slave they have enroll’d me Minds are never to be sold.
Still in thought as free as ever
What are England’s rights, I ask, Me from my delights to sever,
Me to torture, me to task?” (1-12)
The system of slavery expected slaves to sacrifice themselves in order to benefit their
white masters’ treasuries. Slave owners believed that enslaved people were inferior, non-human
even, which allowed the owners to objectify the enslaved as tools. Early abolitionists like
William Cowper, however, challenged the idea that enslaved people were inherently subordinate.
In the poem “The Negro’s Complaint,” Cowper uses the voice of a slave to question this
objectification in order to demonstrate that slaves are humans too.
By using the first-person perspective of an enslaved person, the poem demonstrates that
the slave is an individual who has his own story to narrate. From the start of the poem, the slave
takes control of his story, stating that he was “forced from Home and all its pleasures / Afric’s
coast I left forlorn” (1–2). Although the slave recognizes his oppression with the word “forced,”
which indicates his lack of power, he asserts his individuality when he says, “I left forlorn.” The
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enslaved speaker, in other words, puts his emotional state at the center of his narrative instead of
his “forced” departure, the moment that turned him into a slave. Indeed, in referencing that he
had a “Home” in Africa, the slave not only reveals he had a past when he wasn’t a slave but that
there was also a time when he had the right to possess something. The capitalization of “Home”
emphasizes this ownership by turning the common noun into a proper one. Both of these
qualities—the speaker’s self-awareness and his ability to own property—make him a someone
rather than a something. Along with possessing a home, the enslaved person also possesses
feelings, another marker of his individuality. Besides feeling “forlorn,” the slave is capable of
feeling “pleasures,” which indicates the range of emotions he owns and feels (1). This emotional
capacity suggests the slave is aware of how unfair it is for him to be forced from home to
“increase a stranger’s treasure” (Cowper, 3). Even though the speaker acknowledges he is just
considered a tool that contributes to the enrichment of his white master, he controls his story by
telling it through his own voice.
In addition to proving the slave’s individuality, the first-person perspective demonstrates
that the slave’s mind is capable of free thought and critical thinking, which enable him to
question his objectification. In line 6, he states that slave owners “pay’d my price in paltry gold,”
meaning that he realizes he was lowered to the level of objects that could be “bought and sold”
with “paltry gold” (5). By recognizing this monetary exchange and how wrong it is, the speaker
interrogates his dehumanization and the self-importance of the white masters. Yet even though
he was “bought and sold,” the slave still claims some freedom. As he argues, “But though slave
they have enroll’d me / Minds are never to be sold” (7-8). The white masters, that is, only
“bought and sold” his body; he is “still in thought as free as ever” (9). And with this mental
independence, the enslaved speaker fights for his physical independence when he questions the
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legality of his enslavement: “what are England’s rights, I ask / Me from my delights to sever, /
Me to torture, me to task” (10-12). With this question, the slave pokes holes at England’s
presumed “rights” to “torture” and “task” him, thereby undermining the English’s belief in their
supremacy and racial superiority (9). These lines also, once again, establish the slave’s humanity
because only a person—and an educated and articulate one at that—can examine England’s
injustice; a mere object doesn’t have the critical capacity to do so. This final question contributes
to the message Cowper wants to communicate, which is that enslaved people are as clever,
eloquent, and human as the readers of the poem.
In the poem “The Negro’s Complaint,” Cowper utilizes the first-person perspective of a
slave to question the practice of slavery and the dehumanization of slaves. The first-person voice
gives the slave ownership of his story and proves that the slave is a person who is capable of
emotions and rational thought. The poem thus not only interrogates the treatment of slaves but
also questions English society for allowing slavery to exist. By demonstrating that he is an
educated person with the ability to think and analyze his lack of rights in England, the slave in
the poem reclaims his humanity and simultaneously reveals who the real non-humans are: the
slave owners and slave traders who captured him in the first place.
Cowper, William. “The Negro’s Complaint”. 1788. The Norton Anthology of English Literature-
The Romantic Period. Vol. D, 9th Ed. 2012, pp. 96-97.
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