“A poem begins with a lump in your throat, a sense of wrong. A homesickness, a lovesickness. It is a reaching out — toward expressionism. An effort to find fulfillment. A complete poem is one where an emotion finds the thought and the thought finds the words.”
— Robert Frost
Scientifically speaking, ideas spark from reactions in our brain. It doesn’t feel like that though. My ideas feel like they come up as a heartfelt lump from my soul. Before I tell it vocally, I clear my throat to bring up the thought. It doesn’t belong stuck there, so I get it out by clearing my throat. It makes a sound that gives listeners around me a heads up that I have something to say, while working my way in, mid conversation to express my feelings in words. Clearing my throat also gets up phlegm.
There is a song. It goes like this:
Amazing grace, How sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost, but now I am found,
Was blind, but now I see.
‘Twas grace that taught my heart to fear,
And grace my fears relieved.
How precious did that grace appear
The hour I first believed.
Through many dangers, toils and snares
I have already come,
‘Tis grace has brought me safe thus far
And grace will lead me home.
The Lord has promised good to me
His word my hope secures;
He will my shield and portion be,
As long as life endures.
Yea, when this flesh and heart shall fail,
And mortal life shall cease
I shall possess within the veil,
A life of joy and peace.
When we’ve been there ten thousand years
Bright shining as the sun,
We’ve no less days to sing God’s praise
Than when we’ve first begun.
Timestamp: The song was written in 1779
Grace is a tough one to describe. It is something that is always there. It protects you and gives you freedom. Grace is forgiveness, even to those who may not seem to deserve it. Any one of us, from one time or another. Grace is that extra space that allows you to follow your heart, make mistakes and grow. Some mistakes are little and some are BIG. Grace is a second chance, a third chance, a fourth and another chance and another. Its Amazing.
One thing that we can say, is slavery wasn’t a good thing. Slavery is a horror, but this wrongness led John Newton to write Amazing Grace. With such a beautiful song, you would never believe that he was a slave trader himself. The song was developed as an expression of thankfulness, after he came to his senses.
Sixty years later (1840) Turner painted The Slave Ship. This is an oil painting of slave traders throwing the slaves — people that the traders had purposely gone on a mission to capture — overboard. Based on a true story (1781), the slave ship, ZONG, it’s captain and crew, were caught in a storm. They threw their sick and dying captives overboard to collect “slave” insurance money by claiming these people were ‘lost at sea’. Some were still alive. Imagine having to swim like hell to save yourself while feeling the sickest you’ve ever felt. Those dark rigid edges in the water are the bodies treading helplessly to save themselves. Who would want to give the people who threw living people overboard a second chance?
“I hope it will always be a subject of humiliating reflection to me, that I was once an active instrument in a business at which my heart now shudders.”
— John Newton, 1788
John Newton started out as a Slave Trader, following his predecessor’s footsteps. The career was profitable and everyone else was doing it. He was blinded by the excitement of making money and sailing the seas. He had gotten carried away. Some time after jumping on the band wagon he turned around, recognizing the atrocity of what was going on and did the best he could to make himself better. At one point he was trapped in Africa by a female African slave trader. This woman treated him WORSE than you can fathom. She threw cold water on him while he was sick, with out a change of clothes, starved him etc.. etc.. He had never felt so homesick. With that, Newton opened up his eyes. He realized his wrongs. He took that lump of guilt in his gut and turned it into a song.
England was the beginning of the wave to abolish slavery. It is where John Newton is from, and a few decades later, Joseph Mallord William Turner (J. M. W. Turner) was born. Turner is the one who painted The Slave Ship. Turner grew up in Covent Garden, England. A popular area in London with shops and stores. He would walk past print sellers displaying prints directly on the glass, a galleries of Britains Churches, monuments, Abbeys, and castles. He fell in love. He spent years studying the sky, the effect of wind on clouds, weather, the shape of the country side, trees, and light during different times of day, and the way the world behaved. He understood it so strongly and accurately that he was able to passionately extend his drawings with his imagination for that fiery, emotional and romantic painting. Combining elements of roughness with order, darkness with color and light. He grew a heart for the sea. Emotion transcends from the canvas of the glossy, stormy, green sea and golden glowing sunrise to your thoughts.
The Slave Ship is passionate and emotional. It honors those that were lost and it does not minimize or pretend that nothing happened. The song Amazing Grace is so good that it fills any ounce of homesickness or lovesicnkess you might have had before you listened to it, with good. A poem isn’t simply a Haiku or a Limerick or Rhyme. a poem is an expression from the heart. It can be written with a certain number of words, but it doesn’t have to be. What makes it a poem is the expression behind it. Grace isn’t only for John Newton, it is for everyone who believes. We all need it one time or another. Grace allows that mistake to not have to be the be all end all. Grace is the space between a wrong and a fresh start. Grace is Gods unconditional love. The sun sets, the sun rises and every day is a new day.
The song has been widespread and played by many. It brought attention to a movement to dissolve slavery and share the news about forgiveness. If you have time, listen.
Inspiration and Research
- Turner, J. M.W. Slave Ship. 1840. Oil on Canvas. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Web. MFA Boston — Turner, Slave Ship
- Hochschild, Adam. Bury the Chains. Houghton Mifflin Company, 2005. Print.
- Turner, Steve. The story of America’s Most Beloved Song Amazing Grace. An Imprint of Harper Collins Publishers. 2002. Print.
- McQueen, Steve, et al. 12 Years a Slave.
- Moyle, Franny. Turner, The Extraordinary Life & Momentous Times of J.M.W. Turner. Penguin Press. 2016
- Django Unchained. Dir. Quintin Tarantino. Perf. Jamie Foxx, Christoph Waltz, Leonardo DiCaprio, Kerry Washington, Samuel L. Jackson. The Weinstein Company, Colombia Pictures. 2012. DVD.
- Tomlin, Chris. “Amazing Grace (My Chains Are Gone).” See The Morning. September 2006. Six Steps (SIX). CD, MP3, Streaming.