Pennsylvania Hall

Read at the dedication of Pennsylvania Hall, Philadelphia, May 15, 1838.

The building was erected by an association of gentlemen, irrespective of

sect or party, "that the citizens of Philadelphia should possess a room

wherein the principles of Liberty, and Equality of Civil Rights, could

be freely discussed, and the evils of slavery fearlessly portrayed." On

the evening of the 17th it was burned by a mob, destroying the office of

the Pennsylvania Freeman, of which I was editor, and with it my books

and papers.

NOT with the splendors of the days of old,

The spoil of nations, and barbaric gold;

No weapons wrested from the fields of blood,

Where dark and stern the unyielding Roman stood,

And the proud eagles of his cohorts saw

A world, war-wasted, crouching to his law;

Nor blazoned car, nor banners floating gay,

Like those which swept along the Appian Way,

When, to the welcome of imperial Rome,

The victor warrior came in triumph home,

And trumpet peal, and shoutings wild and high,

Stirred the blue quiet of the Italian sky;

But calm and grateful, prayerful and sincere,

As Christian freemen only, gathering here,

We dedicate our fair and lofty Hall,

Pillar and arch, entablature and wall,

As Virtue's shrine, as Liberty's abode,

Sacred to Freedom, and to Freedom's God

Far statelier Halls, 'neath brighter skies than these,

Stood darkly mirrored in the AEgean seas,

Pillar and shrine, and life-like statues seen,

Graceful and pure, the marble shafts between;

Where glorious Athens from her rocky hill

Saw Art and Beauty subject to her will;

And the chaste temple, and the classic grove,

The hall of sages, and the bowers of love,

Arch, fane, and column, graced the shores, and gave

Their shadows to the blue Saronic wave;

And statelier rose, on Tiber's winding side,

The Pantheon's dome, the Coliseum's pride,

The Capitol, whose arches backward flung

The deep, clear cadence of the Roman tongue,

Whence stern decrees, like words of fate, went forth

To the awed nations of a conquered earth,

Where the proud Caesars in their glory came,

And Brutus lightened from his lips of flame!

Yet in the porches of Athena's halls,

And in the shadow of her stately walls,

Lurked the sad bondman, and his tears of woe

Wet the cold marble with unheeded flow;

And fetters clanked beneath the silver dome

Of the proud Pantheon of imperious Rome.

Oh, not for hint, the chained and stricken slave,

By Tiber's shore, or blue AEgina's wave,

In the thronged forum, or the sages' seat,

The bold lip pleaded, and the warm heart beat;

No soul of sorrow melted at his pain,

No tear of pity rusted on his chain!

But this fair Hall to Truth and Freedom given,

Pledged to the Right before all Earth and Heaven,

A free arena for the strife of mind,

To caste, or sect, or color unconfined,

Shall thrill with echoes such as ne'er of old

From Roman hall or Grecian temple rolled;

Thoughts shall find utterance such as never yet

The Propylea or the Forum met.

Beneath its roof no gladiator's strife

Shall win applauses with the waste of life;

No lordly lictor urge the barbarous game,

No wanton Lais glory in her shame.

But here the tear of sympathy shall flow,

As the ear listens to the tale of woe;

Here in stern judgment of the oppressor's wrong

Shall strong rebukings thrill on Freedom's tongue,

No partial justice hold th' unequal scale,

No pride of caste a brother's rights assail,

No tyrant's mandates echo from this wall,

Holy to Freedom and the Rights of All!

But a fair field, where mind may close with mind,

Free as the sunshine and the chainless wind;

Where the high trust is fixed on Truth alone,

And bonds and fetters from the soul are thrown;

Where wealth, and rank, and worldly pomp, and might,

Yield to the presence of the True and Right.

And fitting is it that this Hall should stand

Where Pennsylvania's Founder led his band,

From thy blue waters, Delaware!--to press

The virgin verdure of the wilderness.

Here, where all Europe with amazement saw

The soul's high freedom trammelled by no law;

Here, where the fierce and warlike forest-men

Gathered, in peace, around the home of Penn,

Awed by the weapons Love alone had given

Drawn from the holy armory of Heaven;

Where Nature's voice against the bondman's wrong

First found an earnest and indignant tongue;

Where Lay's bold message to the proud was borne;

And Keith's rebuke, and Franklin's manly scorn!

Fitting it is that here, where Freedom first

From her fair feet shook off the Old World's dust,

Spread her white pinions to our Western blast,

And her free tresses to our sunshine cast,

One Hall should rise redeemed from Slavery's ban,

One Temple sacred to the Rights of Man!

Oh! if the spirits of the parted come,

Visiting angels, to their olden home

If the dead fathers of the land look forth

From their fair dwellings, to the things of earth,

Is it a dream, that with their eyes of love,

They gaze now on us from the bowers above?

Lay's ardent soul, and Benezet the mild,

Steadfast in faith, yet gentle as a child,

Meek-hearted Woolman, and that brother-band,

The sorrowing exiles from their "Father land,"

Leaving their homes in Krieshiem's bowers of vine,

And the blue beauty of their glorious Rhine,

To seek amidst our solemn depths of wood

Freedom from man, and holy peace with God;

Who first of all their testimonial gave

Against the oppressor, for the outcast slave,

Is it a dream that such as these look down,

And with their blessing our rejoicings crown?

Let us rejoice, that while the pulpit's door

Is barred against the pleaders for the poor;

While the Church, wrangling upon points of faith,

Forgets her bondmen suffering unto death;

While crafty Traffic and the lust of Gain

Unite to forge Oppression's triple chain,

One door is open, and one Temple free,

As a resting-place for hunted Liberty!

Where men may speak, unshackled and unawed,

High words of Truth, for Freedom and for God.

And when that truth its perfect work hath done,

And rich with blessings o'er our land hath gone;

When not a slave beneath his yoke shall pine,

From broad Potomac to the far Sabine

When unto angel lips at last is given

The silver trump of Jubilee in Heaven;

And from Virginia's plains, Kentucky's shades,

And through the dim Floridian everglades,

Rises, to meet that angel-trumpet's sound,

The voice of millions from their chains unbound;

Then, though this Hall be crumbling in decay,

Its strong walls blending with the common clay,

Yet, round the ruins of its strength shall stand

The best and noblest of a ransomed land--

Pilgrims, like these who throng around the shrine

Of Mecca, or of holy Palestine!

A prouder glory shall that ruin own

Than that which lingers round the Parthenon.

Here shall the child of after years be taught

The works of Freedom which his fathers wrought;

Told of the trials of the present hour,

Our weary strife with prejudice and power;

How the high errand quickened woman's soul,

And touched her lip as with a living coal;

How Freedom's martyrs kept their lofty faith

True and unwavering, unto bonds and death;

The pencil's art shall sketch the ruined Hall,

The Muses' garland crown its aged wall,

And History's pen for after times record

Its consecration unto Freedom's God!

Paul Laurence Dunbar Placido's Sonnet To His Mother facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail