Nantucket Island, 1841

This poem, Nantucket Island, 1841, is from the perspective of an audience member at the abolitionist rally on Nantucket Island in 1841, Frederick Douglass’ first speech.  The speaker of the poem could be any listener in the audience, for I imagine they all reacted in a similar way.  I envisioned the speaker to be an upper-class white man that cared about abolition, but did not care about Frederick Douglass (or even know who he was) prior to his speech.  According to accounts, Douglass was initially very nervous and did not want to speak.  As his speech continued, however, he became more confident. After this conference, he decided he wanted to become a verbal activist, and continued to give powerful speeches for the rest of his life.

Nantucket Island, 1841

Who was that man?


When he escaped the crowd,

There were palpable nerves,

Tangible fears.  But when his words,

So clear,

Premiered to the assembly,

I awoke.  I was inspired. I knew –

This is a cause to be known.


Words so elegant! So eloquent!


Passion. Perseverance. Pride.

He presented freedom in a fashion

Of willpower and desire. Determination

Of thriving through truth

Of what is right. Progress through knowledge

Of the unknown, right where he could be.

Where we could be.


His journey is a runaway train,

Fueled by obsession.

Driving him north,

Driving him





Filed under Emily, Our Poetry

2 responses to “Nantucket Island, 1841

  1. I really like the use of enjambment in this poem. The syntax really emphasizes the tone and this enhances the message. It seems like it is meant to be like political rhetoric, which makes sense considering the topic of this blog. The rhythm is also very smooth and it seems as though deliberate attention was paid to the rhythm of the words in each line. The title is also great, because it adds another layer of detail.

  2. phgerondeau

    I agree with Hillary that the use of enjambment adds to the complexity/theme of this poem. The “political rhetoric” that Hillary mentions is also poignant, and adds to the theme that this poem is a famous speech. I was particularly struck by the use of “elegant” and “eloquent,” and the repetition of “Passion. Perseverance. Pride.” They fit in perfectly with the line, “Freedom in a fashion/Of willpower and desire.” The words become more powerful/speech-like as the poem progresses, which seems to mirror your claim in the opening paragraph that Douglass became more confident as he started to speak. Similarly, the person in the crowd who “speaks” this poem seems to be more in tune with Douglass’s ideas as the poem progresses, as evidenced by the poetic/political rhetoric of his words.

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