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Wordsworth's Poetical Works, Volume 2: 1802

Edited by William Knight


To Toussaint L'Ouverture

Composed August, 1802.—Published 1807A

The Poem

text variant footnote line number Toussaint, the most unhappy man of men! Whether the whistling Rustic tend his plough Within thy hearing, or thy head be now Pillowed in some deep dungeon's earless den;— O miserable Chieftain! where and when Wilt thou find patience? Yet die not; do thou Wear rather in thy bonds a cheerful brow: Though fallen thyself, never to rise again, Live, and take comfort. Thou hast left behind Powers that will work for thee; air, earth, and skies; There's not a breathing of the common wind That will forget thee; thou hast great allies; Thy friends are exultations, agonies, And love, and man's unconquerable mind.

Note Contents 1802 Main Contents


2 B




Variant 1: 1827 Whether the rural milk-maid by her cow Sing in thy hearing, or thou liest now Alone in some deep dungeon's earless den,

1803 Whether the all-cheering sun be free to shed His beams around thee, or thou rest thy head Pillowed in some dark dungeon's noisome den,

1815 Whether the whistling Rustic tend his plough Within thy hearing, or Thou liest now Buried in some deep dungeon's earless den;—

1820 return

Variant 2: 1807 ... Yet die not; be thou Life to thyself in death; with chearful brow Live, loving death, nor let one thought in ten Be painful to thee ...

1803 return

Footnote A: But previously printed in The Morning Post of February 2, 1803, under the signature W. L. D.—Ed. return to footnote mark

Footnote B: Compare Massinger, The Bondman, act I. scene iii. l. 8: 'Her man of men, Timoleon.' Ed. return

Footnote C: Compare Rowe's Tamerlane, iii. 2: 'But to subdue the unconquerable mind.' Also Gray's poem The Progress of Poesy, ii. 2, l. 10: 'Th' unconquerable Mind, and Freedom's holy flame.' Ed. return

Note: François Dominique Toussaint (who was surnamed L'Ouverture), the child of African slaves, was born at St. Domingo in 1743. He was a Royalist in political sympathy till 1794, when the decree of the French convention, giving liberty to the slaves, brought him over to the side of the Republic. He was made a general of division by Laveux, and succeeded in taking the whole of the north of the island from the English. In 1796 he was made chief of the French army of St. Domingo, and first the British commander, and next the Spanish, surrendered everything to him. He became governor of the island, which prospered under his rule. Napoleon, however, in 1801, issued an edict re-establishing slavery in St. Domingo. Toussaint professed obedience, but showed that he meant to resist the edict. A fleet of fifty-four vessels was sent from France to enforce it. Toussaint was proclaimed an outlaw. He surrendered, and was received with military honours, but was treacherously arrested and sent to Paris in June 1802, where he died, in April 1803, after ten months' hardship in prison. He had been two months in prison when Wordsworth addressed this sonnet to him.—Ed.