The Significance of The Common Wind

The Cover of the Book The Common Wind: Afro-American Currents in the Age of the Haitian Revolution by Julius S. Scott

I intend to speak of both the title of Julius Scott’s book, The Common Wind, and the common wind itself.

It’s a great title. Scott gets it from William Wordsworth’s sonnet of 1802 to Toussaint L’Ouverture. Scott quotes the seven lines of its second half.

Though fallen Thyself, never to rise again,
Live and take comfort. Thou has left behind
Powers that will work for thee: air, earth, and skies
There’s not a breathing of the common wind
That will forget thee; thou hast great allies;
Thy friends are exultations, agonies,
And love, and Man’s unconquerable mind.

Lines which mix subject and object or Man and Nature.  Julius Scott asks us to interpret the common wind as the exultation, agony, love, and unconquerable mind of the masterless people of the Caribbean in the freedom struggle.

You and I can’t forget the common wind either for it is carried by a revolutionary subject whose object has not yet been fully attained.

These metaphors lose their power as they enter language.  Some ideas are “in the air,” that is, they are anonymous. People “get wind” of a hot press and scramble off their ships and “run like the wind” to escape it. Language is also an historical artifact and tracing a metaphor to its literal source may reveal something of the past.  In this case revealing central themes for those who practice history from below, the…

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