Bruised Reed

John Greenleaf WhittiThe last stanza of the slave mother’s lament over her daughters who have been sold as slaves begins, “Gone, gone,—sold and gone, / To the rice-swamp dank and lone; / By the holy love He beareth; / By the bruised reed He spareth; / Oh, may He, to whom alone / All their cruel wrongs are known, / Still their hope and refuge prove, / With a more than mother’s love.” The poet uses the capitalized pronoun “He” to refer to God, Who in many passages throughout both the Old and New Testaments, is called “hope” (1 PETER 1:3, and “refuge” (PSALM 46:1, Whittier also alludes to the Bible with his use of “the bruised reed” in his Farewell poem and again in The Eternal Goodness, writing that if his “heart and flesh are weak / To bear and untried pain, / The bruised red He will not break, / But strengthen and sustain.” MATTHEW 12:15-21 records that Jesus healed many people and warned them “not to make Him known, [so] that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Isaiah the prophet (ISAIAH 42:1-4), saying…A bruised reed He will not break…Till He sends forth justice to victory; And in His name Gentiles will trust.” The bruised (or broken) reed is also found in 2 KINGS 18:21 and ISAIAH 36:6 as the king of Assyria warns Hezekiah, “Now look! You are trusting in the staff of this broken reed, Egypt, on which if a man leans, it will go into his hand and pierce it. So is Pharaoh king of Egypt to all who trust in him.” Frederick Douglass alludes to The Farewell of a Virgina Slave Mother in The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass (see “Daniel and the Lions“).

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