George Moses Horton was born a slave on a North Carolina tobacco plantation. During his teenage years, he taught himself to read and began creating poetry. Unable to write, he spoke his poetry to crowds at the weekly Chapel Hill farmers market. Popular with University of North Carolina students (who would often pay Horton for his poems and lend him books), he caught the attention of Caroline Lee Whiting Hentz (author and wife of a UNC professor). With her help, Horton’s collection of poetry, The Hope of Liberty, was published in 1829. With its publishing, Horton became the first black man to publish a book in the South. With his earnings, Horton hoped to buy his freedom, but his attempts were repeatedly denied despite public support. Following the Civil War, after almost 70 years a slave, Horton settled in Philadelphia for at least 17 years of freedom before his death in the early 1880s.
Far, far above this world I soar,
And almost nature lose,
Aerial regions to explore,
With this ambitious Muse.
My towering thoughts with pinions rise,
Upon the gales of song,
Which waft me through the mental skies,
With music on my tongue.
My Muse is all on mystic fire,
Which kindles in my breast;
To scenes remote she doth aspire,
As never yet exprest.
Wrapt in the dust she scorns to lie,
Call'd by new charms away;
Nor will she e'er refuse to try
Such wonders to survey.
Such is the quiet bliss of soul,
When in some calm retreat,
Where pensive thoughts like streamlets roll,
And render silence sweet;
And when the vain tumultuous crowd
Shakes comfort from my mind,
My muse ascends above the cloud
And leaves the noise behind.
With vivid flight she mounts on high
Above the dusky maze,
And with a perspicacious eye
Doth far 'bove nature gaze.
George Moses Horton