Story of Yearsley, Death of Luco

Ann Yearsley’s poem, “Death of Luco” from On the Inhumanity of the Slave Trade is unique within the collection of abolition-focused poems we read for class in that it focuses on a specific character’s story within a larger context rather than the overall context itself. The entirety of the poem details a conflict between Luco and his master or overseer “Gorgon, remorseless Christian” (l.253) on an unknown plantation which ends in Luco’s violent death. I found this approach to dealing with the topic of British slavery interesting, as it was a departure from the broader condemnations of the practice as a whole from poets such as Cowper and More. However, Fiona Stafford’s chapter “Common Causes: The Abolition” offers insight into Yearsley’s own background, and how it contributes to her achievements as a poet. According to Stafford, “…she had been presented to the public as the remarkable ‘Milkwoman of Bristol’, discovered by Hannah More in a lowly cowshed” and “Universal equality was especially appealing to a poet whose own poverty had been publicly displayed” (Stafford 71). Stafford argues that Yearsley’s personal “story” is an important contextual feature that undergirds all her poetry. She “had to overcome the double difficulties of gender and class in order to have her opinions taken seriously, poetry offered a public platform which would have otherwise been unattainable” (70-71). Thus, when viewing Yearsley’s work through Stafford, it is impossible to separate the poet’s work from the poet’s story. Yearsley becomes almost character-like herself, due to the adversity she publicly overcame before becoming successful. Yearsley perhaps shows an awareness for the importance of poetry in providing a platform for individuals rather than issues in “Death of Luco”. The brief final stanza of the poem takes a more general questioning approach, “Gracious God! /Why thus in mercy let thy whirlwinds sleep/O’er a vile race of Christians…” (l.291-294), but this functions more to summarize the devastation of the poem and the focus is still primarily Luco’s story. Yearsley’s choice denotes an awareness of the likeliness of public empathy to be directed more towards individuals, like her own “despite-the-odds” appreciation. Stafford’s insight into Yearsley’s experience as a poet with a unique backstory demonstrates the inspiration for her anti-slavery sentiments to be grounded within a single character’s story.

One thought on “Story of Yearsley, Death of Luco”

  1. I think you do a great job with your analysis here. I really like how you connect Yearsley’s life to this specific poem by relating her to Luco. Going back over the poem with this in mind, I noticed how Yearsley’s diction impacts this poem, especially when describing emotions in this poem. With lines such as “In strongest agony, ” (l. 258) and “hateful malice,” (l. 260), Yearsley is able to convey the strong emotions felt by the characters of the poem, and potentially her own emotions.

Comments are closed.