According to DCMS, a rare anti-slavery poem by Coleridge is at risk of leaving the UK

A rare anti-slavery poem by Samuel Taylor Coleridge is in danger of leaving the UK unless a domestic buyer is found.

The poem, a Greek-Sapphic ode entitled Ode On The West-Indian Slave Trade, discusses the ills of slavery and laments the fate of slaves on the Middle Passage transport route.

It earned Coleridge, one of the leading figures in English Romanticism, the Browne Medal for Classical Composition at the University of Cambridge.

The Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) states that the manuscript is valued at £20,400 plus VAT.

According to DCMS, a decision on the export license application for the manuscript is being deferred until May 16 to allow a domestic buyer to come forward.

Arts and Heritage Minister Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay said: “This fascinating manuscript offers an insight into the early thoughts of one of Britain’s greatest poets, particularly the heated debates surrounding the abolition of slavery.

“I sincerely hope a UK buyer can be found to ensure it can remain here in the UK to be studied and enjoyed by future generations.”

The manuscript is the only known draft of the verses by Coleridge, who died in 1834.

He wrote the poem 15 years before the slave trade was abolished by Parliament.

It offers “an insight into the early thought of one of Britain’s most important literary figures and is important for biographical studies of the poet who wrote such classic poems as The Rime of the Ancient Mariner and Kubla Khan,” according to the DCMS.

The decision to defer the application for an export license follows the recommendation of the Review Committee on the Export of Works of Art and Cultural Property.

Committee member Peter Barber said: “This seemingly insignificant annotated draft Greek poem is an emotional relic of one of the country’s greatest poets and sages.

“It dates from when Coleridge, as a student at Cambridge in May–June 1792, hoped to prove to his skeptical parents that he had the makings of a scholar by winning a university prize for verse.

“Its content reflects his heartfelt – and lifelong – commitment to one of the burning national issues of the time, the abolition of slavery, and he referred to the poem throughout his life.

“The draft also sheds light on his close but hitherto little-explored relationship with his adored eldest brother George, to whom he sent it for comment.

“For all these reasons, I fervently hope that a way can be found to keep the draft poem in this country.”


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