Student Portal: “Nat Turner” by Alvin Aubert

“Nat Turner in the Clearing”
by Alvin Aubert
Nat Turner (1800-1831) was an enslaved African American preacher and leader who led the only effective and sustained slave rebellion in United States history. His actions instigated a response of increasingly oppressive legislation which prohibited the education, movement, and assembly of enslaved people and intensified proslavery convictions that persisted in Virginia until the Civil War. Alvin Aubert was an award-winning poet, playwright, editor, and literary critic. In 1993 he retired from Wayne State University where, as a professor of English, he taught creative writing and African American literature. As the founder and editor of the journal Obsidian, now Obsidian II, his aim was to publish works by and about writers of African descent worldwide. After a long life of championing African American culture, he passed away in 2014.

Alvin Aubert reads “Nat Turner in the Clearing”

Nat Turner in the Clearing

                                                     Ashes, Lord—
But warm still from the fire that cheered us,
Lighted us in this clearing where it seems
Scarcely an hour ago we feasted on
Burnt pig from our tormentors’ in willing
Bounty and charted the high purpose your
Word had launched us on, And now, my comrades
Dead, or taken; your servant, pressed by the
Blood-drenched yelps of hounds, forsaken, save for
The stillness of the word that persist quivering
And breath-moist on his tongue; and these faint coals
Soon to be rushed to dying glow by the
Indifferent winds of miscarriage-What now,<
My Lord? A priestess once, they say, could write
On leaves, unlock the time-bound spell of deeds
Undone. I let fall upon these pale remains
Your breath-moist word, preempt the winds, and give
Them now their one last glow, that some dark chils
In time to come might pass this way and, in
This clearing, read and know….

Reader Response Questions

1. Have you ever had to step up and be a leader? How did it make you feel?

2. Write about a time when you made a hard decision to do the right thing. Did the results outweigh the consequences?

3. What does faith mean to you? Describe a time when you felt that your faith in someone or something was challenged.

4. Which do you feel is more challenging; to have faith in yourself or in someone else? Explain.

History and Culture

1. Though Nat Turner’s rebellion was an act of bravery towards the fight for freedom, the consequences of his actions sparked an increase in racial oppression. In the poem, Aubert chooses to write about the aftermath of the rebellion, returning to the clearing where they had all gathered in preparation. What is the significance of this return in relation to the struggle for freedom? How does Aubert bring hope out of defeat?

2. Throughout slavery’s existence in America, enslaved Africans were denied many basic human rights such as the ability to practice their own religions. Nat Turner challenged the oppressions he faced by becoming a preacher for his community. Written as a prayer, what effect does this poem have on the reader? How does its religious delivery influence its message and impact?

Poet's Craft and Structure

| Literary Devices

1. The mood of a poem is a literary element which evokes certain feelings and emotions from the reader. Using what we know about the history of Nat Turner’s rebellion, what is significant or surprising about the tone of this poem? What is the emotional atmosphere that it creates for us as readers?

2. An extended metaphor is a figure of speech that runs throughout the entirety of a poem and implies a comparison between two unrelated things. Throughout the poem, Aubert employs an extended metaphor of fire to mirror the speaker’s emotions after returning to the clearing. Describe the different stages of the fire and their significance to the stages of the rebellion.

Reading and Writing Connections

1. Who is a historical figure that you feel society has not done justice to? Write a letter to your principal explaining why you believe this person’s story should be taught in school.


2. Nat Turner used his gift as a preacher to rally together a movement towards change. Alvin Aubert used his gift as a poet to publish a poem about Turner’s rebellion and his fight for freedom. Describe a unique talent or gift that you have and how you can use it to make the world a better place.