TEXT

George Moses Horton, Myself

The poetry of George Moses Horton is a window into one enslaved man’s struggle with the ways slavery chained his creativity and genius.
Author
George Moses Horton
Grade Level

This text is part of the Teaching Hard History Text Library and aligns with Key Concepts 9 and 10.

 

I feel myself in need 

Of the inspiring strains of ancient lore, 

My heart to lift, my empty mind to feed, 

And all the world explore. 

 

I know that I am old 

And never can recover what is past, 

But for the future may some light unfold 

And soar from ages blast. 

 

I feel resolved to try, 

My wish to prove, my calling to pursue, 

Or mount up from the earth into the sky, 

To show what Heaven can do. 

 

My genius from a boy, 

Has fluttered like a bird within my heart; 

But could not thus confined her powers employ, 

Impatient to depart. 

 

She like a restless bird, 

Would spread her wing, her power to be unfurl’d, 

And let her songs be loudly heard, 

 And dart from world to world. 

Source
This text is in the public domain. Retrieved from https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/52453/george-moses-horton-myself.
Text Dependent Questions
  1. Question
    Why would Horton name this poem “George Moses Horton, Myself”? What does it tell the reader?
    Answer
    Answers may vary: It indicates that the poem will reflect Horton’s thoughts and feelings on himself and his situation. It is also a way in which he empowers himself. Even though he is enslaved, he is proclaiming his individuality and humanity. The poem discusses feeling being caged by slavery, but this poem is, in a sense, allowing him to transcend his enslavement.
  2. Question
    “Of the inspiring strains of ancient lore, My heart to lift, my empty mind to feed, and all the world explore.” For what experiences is Horton describing a desire?
    Answer
    “Inspiring strains of ancient lore,” is referring to writers of the past. He feels in need of them as he desires to learn from great thinkers of the past and feed his “empty mind”. As an enslaved person, he would have been forbidden to read.
  3. Question
    To what does he compare his inner creativity?
    Answer
    He often compares his creativity to being a caged bird. His genius “has fluttered like a bird within my heart,” but it is “confined” in slavery. Thus, his creativity is “like a restless bird.”
  4. Question
    How does he describe the ways in which slavery has limited his creativity?
    Answer
    Answers may include: He describes what he would/could do, but his description is hypothetical, since the message is he can’t do those things. He opens and closes the poem expressing a desire to explore the world, or to expand his perspective, learn from new experiences. He mentions wanting to pursue his calling “to show what Heaven can do,” implying that his creativity/art would be evidence of God’s work. The last two stanzas compare his creativity to a caged bird, whose “powers” could not be used because it was “confined.”
  5. Question
    While enslaved, Horton (unsuccessfully) tried to gain freedom through his writings. How is this experience visible within the poem?
    Answer
    Answers may vary: Students could point to the third stanza, where Horton states he is “resolved to try” to prove himself by pursuing his calling, or pursue his writing/arts. He also states that he has had this genius since he was a boy, restless to share his art. Despite his abilities, he is still “confined."
  6. Question
    What message do you think this poem has for enslaved people after being freed?
    Answer
    Answers may vary: Though physically enslaved, Horton illustrates how he is able to maintain his individuality and express his own hopes and desires through poetry. Enslavement may have limited his creativity, but his poetry presents a challenge to that. As this poem was published the same year as the 13th Amendment, formerly enslaved people may see it as a call to let their creativity and individuality “soar” and “let her songs be loudly heard,” thus an encouragement to share their experiences, thoughts, or feelings.
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