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The Folger Spotlight

Poetic Pairings: Francis Ellen Watkins Harper and Ripasso

Shakespeare’s Sisters: Say Her Name celebrates the poetry of Black women in America. This virtual seminar and writing workshop for adults explores poets such as June Jordan, Ai, Lucille Clifton, Rita Dove, Tracy K. Smith and others. From the Black Arts Movement to Cave Canem to recent Poet Laureates, these poets speak to the contemporary moment with many still alive and producing work.

We are pleased to bring you a special collaboration with DCanter wines, pairing a poem from the Shakespeare’s Sisters curriculum with a recommended wine each Monday of the seminar. Folger Poetry Coordinator and Shakespeare’s Sisters co-leader Teri Cross Davis provides context for the choices.

This poem is written by Frances Ellen Watkins Harper, who was born a free woman in Baltimore in 1825 and went on write the first short story published by a Black woman as well as poetry and anti-slavery literature. The home where Harper lived in Philadelphia is now a National History Landmark. Additionally, the Contemplation Court inside the Smithsonian Institution National Museum of African American History and Culture includes a skylight waterfall surrounded by quotes by four authors; Harper is the only woman quoted, with lines from this poem, “Bury Me in a Free Land.”

Bury Me in a Free Land
by Frances Ellen Watkins Harper

Make me a grave where’er you will,
In a lowly plain or a lofty hill;
Make it among earth’s humblest graves
But not in a land where men are slaves.

I could not rest if around my grave
I heard the steps of a trembling slave;
His shadows above my silent tomb
Would make it a place of fearful gloom.

I could not rest if I heard the tread
Of a coffle gang to the shambles led,
And the mother’s shriek of wild despair
Rise like a curse on the trembling air.

I could not sleep if I saw the lash
Drinking blood at each fearful gash,
And I saw her babes torn from her breast,
Like trembling doves from her parent nest.

I’d shudder and start if I heard the bay
Of bloodhounds seizing their human prey,
And I heard the captive pleading in vain
As they bound afresh his galling chain.

If I saw young girls from their mother’s arms
Bartered and sold for their youthful charms,
My eye would flash with a mournful flame,
My death-paled cheek grow red with shame.

I would sleep, dear friends, where bloated might
Can rob no man of his dearest sight;
My rest shall be calm in any grave
Where none can call his brother a slave.

I ask no monument, proud and high,
To arrest the gaze of the passers-by;
All that my yearning spirit craves
Is bury me not in a land of slaves.

We recognize the content of this poem is not light entertainment and suggest reading it a few times aloud, as Watkins Harper would deliver her work in the street and in auditoriums. Perhaps after that reading, sit for a glass of wine.  Something defiant with bold flavor that seeks to reinvent itself. To do the job, DCanter has provided us with Remo Farina Valpolicella Superiore Classico Ripasso 2018.

Remo Farina Valpolicella Superiore Classico Ripasso 2018

Bottle of Ripasso wineFrom: Veneto, Italy

Description: Concentrated fruit aromas of ripe cherry and plum jam with hints of leather, licorice, and bit of spiced-ginger. This wine is very pleasant on the palate and well-balanced with a smooth plum skin texture that carries forward the fruit flavors.

Pairs with: Excellent with a variety of meat dishes and mature cheeses.

Taking something old, used, or broken down and making something new is a cathartic and rewarding experience. This must be what winemakers in Veneto, Italy feel when they create ripasso wines from leftover grape skins. After making the bold and rich Amarone della Valpolicella wine, winemakers put the remaining grape skins into a fresh and young wine to provide more structure and flavor. This process results in a fuller, jammy and fruity wine that pays homage to work the winemaker puts into the process. —Beth Richman, DCanter


DCanter logoDCanter: A Wine Boutique is a wine retailer located on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, specializing in sustainable, organic, and biodynamic wines from small producers around the world as well as fun, yet informative, wine education. Their selections are available in-store, online, or through a personalized wine shopping service known as Concierge by DCanter. Visit them at to learn more.

Shakespeare’s Sisters: Say Her Name continues this week, exploring Francis Ellen Watkins Harper and poets of the Civil War and Reconstruction periods Period. You can still join us for our current sessionby calling the box office 202.544.7077. Register online for our second session beginning November 3, 2021.