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A picture of slavery, for youth. Jonathan Walker.

[Detail] A picture of slavery, for youth. Jonathan Walker

Poetry

William Lloyd Garrison was an abolitionist who was, in his own words, "freely branded as a madman and incendiary." He published the abolitionist newspaper, The Liberator, and spoke widely on slavery. When in jail for seven weeks following his arrest for libel, Garrison spent most of his time writing speeches he would deliver upon his release. He also, however, wrote sonnets, which are appended to "A Brief Sketch of the Trial of William Lloyd Garrison."

According to William Sharp, the British editor of an 1889 book, American Sonnets, the sonnet was a classic literary form that 19th-century Americans produced in large quantities. While Sharp found the quality of American sonnets to be inferior to British work, Sharp noted that "the motives of the Transatlantic poets are far oftener more wide, more strenuous — in a word, worthier. No wave of national sentiment but perturbs the waters of verse; no heroic impulse, no calamity, no great national thrill, that does not immediately find an echo in song."

  • Read Garrison's sonnets and make some judgments about his motives in writing the poems. Was he seeking another outlet for his abolitionist views or did he have other motives in writing these poems?
  • What advantages does the sonnet offer for conveying "heroic impulses" or "national thrills"? What disadvantages?
  • Can you find any contemporary sonnets that suggest that express a current "wave of national sentiment" in the United States?

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