Amazing Grace

An Anthology of Poems About Slavery, 1660-1810
Basker, James G.
Date published: 
January 2003

This landmark volume is the first anthology of poetic writings on slavery from America, Britain, and around the Atlantic during the Enlightenment – the crucial period that saw the height of the slave trade but also the origins of the anti-slavery movement. Briinging together more than four hundred poems and excerpts from longer works that were written by more than 250 poets, both famous and unknown, the book charts the emergence of slavery as part of the collective consciousness of the English-speaking world.

The book includes poems by 40 women, ranging from abolitionists Hannah More to Frances Seymour, Countess of Hertford; works by more than 20 African or African American poets, including familiar names, interesting figures, and newly recovered black poets; and poetry by such canonical writers as Dryden, Defoe, Pope, Johnson, Blake, Boswell, Burns, Wordsworth, and Coleridge. The poems speak eloquently of the themes of slavery – capture, torture, endurance, rebellion, thwarted romances, and spiritual longing. They also raise questions about the contradictions between cultural attitudes and public policy of the time. Writers such as these, suggests editor James Basker, were not complicit in the imperial project or indifferent about slavery but actually laid the groundwork for the political changes that would follow.