Bury me in a Free Land Outline

Buryme in a Free Land



Overviewof the poem analysis


  • Brief summary of the poem

  • Overview context of the era the poem was written

  • Preview of the cause of the American civil War

  • Brief description of the poetic devices used, themes and the poem’s intended message

  • Thesis statement


  • Discussion of the contexts of African American slavery and the period before the commencing of the American Civil War

  • Stanza by stanza analysis of the use of poetics devices, imagery included, and how they support the theme of the poem


  • A summary of what the essay is about.


Buryme in a Free Land poem was published in the year 1864. The poet,France Harper was not a slave but among the anti-slavery activists,who fought for the freedom of her fellow blacks using herwell-crafted and symbolic literary works. She not only wrote againstslavery, but also other societal vices such as gender inequalitiesand racism. The cruelty that the Black slaves faced inspired her tocompose the poem and many other anti-slavery themed works. Duringthis time, slave owners made their subjects dependent on thementirely. They provided them with food, shelter and their oldclothing considering that the slaves were supposed to be in goodhealth and physical state so as to ensure that they fetched higherprices once sold. The masters did not allow slaves to learn how toread and write. During this era education was considered anenlightenment whereby the educated were given ideas on politics,family life, human rights and warfare. Therefore keeping the slavesilliterate was one of the ways the slaveholders used to preventrebellions. Any act of insubordination was severely punished ininhuman ways such as branding, lashing, starvation, and transfer toanother farm or even death. Additionally, slaves were not allowed tohave civil marriages. However, they had families, which wereseparated. For instance, when the children grew up they were sold toother masters. As a result the legislation of an act legitimizingslavery in all the American states, revolutions against the policyand the election of an anti-slavery president resulted in theoutbreak of the Civil War.

FranceHarper composed “Bury me in a Free Land” through the influenceshe got from experiencing the events that happened within the slaverycontext considering that she was brought up in a land that wasconsidered a hotbed of slavery and before the occurrence of theAmerican Civil War. From a literal point of view, it indicates howthe persona gives clear guidelines on where she should be buried. Sheinstructs while giving a picture of the real situation of the slaveenvironment around her. The poem also illustrates the persona’swish of not owning any worldly possession after the abolishment ofslavery. Instead, she claims that her satisfaction would be for everyBlack American to be free from captivity. The Persona mentions theplight of the slaves for example how it saddens them to watch mothersand children being separated young girls sold into sexual slaveryand masters commanding hounds to kill captives. Furthermore, thespeaker also talks about how sex trafficking of young slave girlssickens them. The poet uses imagery combined with other poeticdevices to communicate clearly their anti-captivity messages.Harper’s wish is that slavery could end one day, even if it wouldmean that the slaves will live in abject poverty.

Buryme in a free Land

Harpercomposed the poem ‘Bury me in a Free Land” to protest againstslavery of the Black Americans. She wrote it within the context ofAfrican American slavery and the period just before the outbreak ofthe civil war. Apparently, this can be attributed to the fact thatshe was born and raised in Baltimore, a place where slavery had takenroot. Back then, slaves lived within their master’s property forconvenience whenever their owners needed them to work. They ensuredthe servants were dependent on them totally. For instance, they gavethem food, accommodation and clothing if only they agreed to workwithout any resistance. In addition, the slaves would be forced towork against their will, and this included using force such aswhipping. The authorization of slave trade in all the American statesled to the formation of anti-slavery groups like the AmericanAnti-Slavery Society, which was formed by Tappan and Arthur. Peoplewho supported the practice, and all its hostile acts, countered everyeffort by the abolitionists to put an end to the vice. It resulted inthe outbreak of a civil war from 1861 to 1865, and the primarycausative agent for the conflict was the election of a president whowas against slavery (Horton and Kleintop 14). Harper uses symbolismand imagery, together with other poetic devices such as rhyme, topass across her intended message. The aim of this paper will be toexplain the context of which Harper wrote the poem, analyze the useof imagery and other poetic devices within each stanza, as well asshow how they support the anti-slavery campaign.


Americanslavery began in 1619 when a ship that carried the first group ofslaves docked at the shores of Virginia (Horton and Kleintop 297).The residents in the region had vast tobacco plantations but lackedhuman resources to work in the fields. When the ship arrived atJohnstown, the wealthy residents saw a great opportunity presented tothem when the ship owners sold the slaves in exchange for somecommodities, for example, guns, horses, and farm equipment amongothers. This marked the beginning of slavery within the otherAmerican states. The slave owners treated African Americans as theirproperties (Horton and Kleintop 312). Men, women, and children,including the unborn babies, were part of the masters’ belongings.It was illegal for a slave owner to steal or poach another master’sservant. Unlike the regular workers that Virginians would pay towork, they had to inflict pain and threats to the slaves for them tobe productive (Horton and Kleintop 312). Public executions, shootingof escaping workers, among other vices were also options for therebellious laborers. The light punishment such as starving, insultsand isolation was ineffective for most slaves, especially those whohad lost a lot through the separation from their homes, families, andfriends (Morgan, 313). Such slaves would occasionally be rebelliousand would rather be killed than keep on being miserable due to givingup in life. However, towards the late 18th and early 19th centuries,under humanitarian reasons, the northern states began to opposeslavery (Horton and Kleintop 3). States in the North relied onmanufacturing and processing industries to boost their economies.They also preferred a skilled workforce, while the southernjurisdiction depended on large-scale farming, especially, cotton.Such economic practices in the south, required intensive labor thatwas expensive. They, therefore, opted and preferred the slave laborbecause it was cheap and readily available from the slave traders.The northern residents were against slavery while the South supportedthe practice. The difference between the two regions resulted in theAmerican Civil War, which took place from 1861 to 1865 (Horton andKleintop 6).

Harperused imagery to express her thoughts towards the theme of slavery. Inthe first stanza, the poet uses descriptive symbolism to express thepersona’s desire for the freedom in the first stanza. The narratoris not interested in riches or earthly possessions but would ratherbe associated with the humble people, in this case, the poor. His orher satisfaction would be realized by being buried in a land that isfree of slavery. This is mentioned in line one to three of stanzaone, “You may make my grave wherever you will/ in a lowly vale or alofty hill / you may make it amongst earth’s humblest graves”(Harper 1187). The significance of the statement is to demonstratethe dissatisfaction of the narrator with the wealth without personalfreedom, or rather having all the wealth while witnessing poverty andmisery among captives. Besides, the declaration that the speaker mustbe buried in a land without slavery indicates that he or she is readyto die in exchange for personal liberation, or that of others. Thepoet has also used rhyme to achieve a musical effect in the piece ofwriting. The words “will” and “hill”, “graves” and“slaves” for example, represents couplet rhyme, which helps toemphasize the intended idea.

Instanza two, the persona continues to voice concerns that she will nothave total peace if she would be buried in a land that upholdsslavery because the custom represents oppression and sadness.Moreover, the persona brings his/her ideas from the dead person’sperspective of the sufferings among the slaves who are alive onearth. He/she gives an impression of a trembling slave, which showsthe magnitude of the suffering and fear inflicted into the slave toan extent that the dead can feel it. The speaker is afraid she willnot find eternal peace because the suffering of the captives wouldhaunt her even after passing on (Harper 1187). The fact that thespeaker is worried that she would not find eternal peace in a tombwhere servants are suffering indicates that slavery is incrediblyevil, and it deserves being rooted out.

Stanzas3 and 4 talks about the misery meted out to the slaves, which wouldprevent the speaker from ever finding peace if she would be buried ina jurisdiction that practice uphold the custom. She points outphysical and emotional torture that the captives experience. In versethree, for example, adult workers are transported while chainedtogether in a sequence. The slaves are treated badly, as can beproven by the occasional shrieks of women (Harper 1187). Although notmentioned in verse three, the pain inflicted to make a mother shriek,could be in two ways. It is either she witnessed inhuman acts done toher child or another person’s child. Due to motherly instincts,therefore, she makes a loud scream to depict the magnitude of whatshe observes. The poet uses the term ‘mother’ instead of ‘lady’or just ‘woman’ to emphasize the maternal emotions. In additionthe yell would have been as a result of the inhuman act being done tothe mother directly and in a ruthless manner that would be sopainful. In verse four, the chronicler uses personification toillustrate the physical torture slaves endured. “I could not restif I heard the lash / drinking her blood at each fearful gash”(Harper 1187). The act of whip drinking blood illustrates hemorrhagecaused by thrashing. The bleeding was so intense that by using theterm ‘drinking’ indicated the whip was covered with so much bloodthat it looked like it is drinking from the slave’s body.Furthermore, the storyteller uses a simile to illustrate emotionaltorture enslaved mothers experience as their masters take away theirinfants forcefully depicting the separation of family that couldsometimes be permanent. “And I saw her babes torn from herbreast/Like trembling doves from their parent nest/.” Moreover,stanza 5 emphasizes the theme of brutal torture that slaves undergo.The speaker notes that despite her dead situation, she would shiverwhen she heard the cries of the captives as the masters allowed theirhounds to tear the slaves into pieces, as well as keep the captiveschained throughout the day. As a result, this indicates that theanimosity in the masters’ acts that were so dreadful that it wouldmake the dead shiver. Besides, the masters’ acts showing that theypossessed deeds that no living human being should have. They alsolacked humane consciences as illustrated after they tightened thechains afresh after having the slaves torn apart by their dogs.

Inverse 6, the narrator complains that being buried in a land wheremasters own slaves would be intolerable because she would not restpeacefully when underage girls are snatched from their mothers andsold into sexual slavery (Harper 1188). She plainly explains how itis a shameful and painful act that would be seen all over her paleface. Nevertheless, in verse seven, she declares, “I would sleepdear friends, where bloated might / Can rob no man of his dearestright” The statement implies that she would prefer to be buried ina humble place, in the midst of impoverished people, provided they donot torture or mistreat each other with slavery. The visual imagery,“bloated might,” emphasizes the storyteller’s hatred view forthe wealthy people who own slaves. The theme of humility is repeatedin verse eight where she stresses on her desire to be buried in afree land, where no slave labor exists, even if she would not havemade enough wealth to afford a costly and an eye-catching tomb(Harper 1188). She also demonstrates that she has no interest ofbeing famous and asks for only one thing which is a slave free landwhere she can finally rest in her grave as a dead person.


Inconclusion, this poem explains the unjust practices experienced bythe African American before the revolution of America. Masterstreated their slaves as property and with zero human dignity.Additionally, any slave who proved to be rebellious was punished andsometimes killed. The chronicler notes several inhuman treatmentslaves underwent such as physical beating, having underage girls soldto sex-traffickers and young children were separated from theirfamilies. Moreover, she gives her stand as to opposing slavery andthat she will not rest even if she was to die sticking to it. Slaverywas common amongst the residents of the southern regions of Americadue to their great need for cheap labor. Their counterparts in thenorth were against it hence, the reason they engaged in thatAmerican Civil War.


Harper,Frances. “BuryMe in a Free Land.”TheNorton Anthology of American Literature. 8thEd. Edited by Baym,Nina, and Robert S. Levine. New York: W.W. Norton &amp Company,2012. Print. pp. 1187-1188.

Horton,James O, and Amanda Kleintop. Race,Slavery and the Civil War: The Tough Stuff of American History andMemory.Richmond, Va: Virginia Sesquicentennial of the American Civil WarCommission, 2011. Print.