P O E M
O N T H E
A F R I C A N
S L A V E T R A D E.
ADDRESSED TO HER OWN SEX,
BY M. BIRKETT.
"DISGUISE THYSELF AS THOU WILT, STILL, SLAVERY, STILL THOU
"ART A BITTER CUP."
D U B L I N:
PRINTED BY J. JONES, NO. 111, GRAFTON-STREET.
P R E F A C E
ENCOURAGED by the kind and un-
merited Partiality with which the first Part
of this little Attempt has been received, I again
present to public Observation the spontaneous
Effusions of an unpolished Fancy. I fear I may
justly incur the Censure of having acted with
unbecoming Warmth, though on such an impor-
tant, interesting, and inexhaustible Theme. –
Compassion for those unhappy Beings, whose Cause
I urge,—my own inexperience,—and the Feel-
ings of every humane Heart, to which I appeal,
must be my Advocates.
P O E M
O N T H E
A F R I C A N
S L A V E T R A D E.
ERST, when the Muse of Pity o'er me stole,
And kindled new ideas in my soul;
When Nature's rude effusions pour'd along,
Impell'd by Fancy, rais'd th'unpolish'd song;
Then, when Imagination—Charming Maid,
In all the rainbow's lively hues array'd,
( 2 )
Bade me her visionary heights explore,
And taught my unfledg'd pinions how to soar,
Till my heart throbb'd with her prolific fire,
And social feeling forc'd th'untutor'd lyre;
Till with the woes of Afric deep imprest,
I (trembling) held the mirror to each breast;
Tho' long th'alternate powers of hope and fear
Oppos'd the theme to Truth, to Virtue dear.
Daughters of Ireland, you approv'd the song,
And bade the Muse her artless task prolong;
You smil'd—and still, with innate goodness fraught,
Pardon'd each fault, and prais'd each happier thought:
Again that Muse collects her active powers,
Sisters!—the Theme,—the Strain,—the Muse—are yours.
Albion! I love thee—dear paternal plain,
Where arts and science, ease and freedom reign;
Where commerce swells her sails, and plies her oars,
And links, in one soft cement, distant shores.
I love thee,—yes! while e'er my beating heart
Shall thro' my frame its vital warmth impart:
And I will love thee, till the hand of death
Shall close my eyes, and stop my fault'ring breath.
( 3 )
That sacred zeal which in my bosom glows,
Claims a strong interest in thy weal or woes.
Oft, when the passing hours of childhood ran,
How was I pleas'd thy glorious acts to scan!
Oft too, with transport, would I learn thy fame,
And boast the lustre of the English name.
But when I see thy hands in gore embru'd,
Thy gloomy annals stain'd with guiltless blood;
Thy stately ships the sea-green wave divide,
Fraught with foul crimes, in glaring scarlet dy'd.
These—when with Ireland's justice I compare,
Her clemency distinguish'd—nobly rare;
I blush to see the lustre of each deed,
Tarnish'd—and virtuous Ireland's glorious meed.
For Ireland, when her sister kingdoms rose,
And heap'd on Afric Misery's piercing woes;
When link'd in vice, they plough'd the faithless main,
With hearts impure—and souls intent on gain;
Then firm in Innocence—supremely good
In Virtue's awful dignity—she stood,
Stood as a rock, which boisterous waves assail,
Unmov'd by every loud and threatning gale,
( 4 )
The all seducing lure of gold—she dar'd,
And when she weigh'd the crime, she spurn'd the base
No—never were her peaceful vessels mann'd
To ravage helpless Afric's guiltless land.
Albion, thou lovest freedom! why, oh why!
Condemn thy brethren thus to pine and die?
Yet boast, that thou this darling right to gain,
Wouldst spill the flood that flows in every vein,
While Ireland's gen'rous sons, as just as brave,
Preserve their freedom—nor create one slave.
And still disdain to rove thro' trackless seas,
By Hell-born fraud, to purchase wealth and ease.
Thy daughters! too, Ierne, mild and fair,
Oft with the houseless wretch their mercy share.
Oft with soft pity, feel their bosoms glow,
Before the silent eloquence of woe.
But with what transport will their hearts rebound,
When Albion's laws shall scatter freedom round.
Freedom! thy Name, which gladdens ev'ry plain,
Throbs in my heart, and thrills thro' every vein;
For soon (blest hope!) on Afric's mourning shore,
Thy dawning sun shall rise to set no more;
( 5 )
And soon will every virtuous British peer,
Rise with one voice, and send thee smiling there.
Ev'n now the Muse anticipates the day,
When, struck with awe, posterity shall say,
"Where are the scenes our fathers stain'd with blood,
"And sold the living image of their God.
"Where now the marts—where erst their impious ken
"Defil'd the name of Christian, and—of Men".
Tis yours, ye Powers, who hold a nation's trust,
To shine as stars on earth—and dare be just.
Tis yours the God-like transport—to bestow,
T'assuage distress, to heal the wounds of woe;
To ease gall'd Misery of its furrow'd load,
And point the path to Virtue and to God:
Tis yours, to make the fiend-like tyrant dread
The chains he forg'd—and all the snares he spread.
To crown, with laurel, merit's humbler charm,
And shew fair Justice in her patriot form.
On you does Albion gaze with anxious eye,
And views the all-unravelling moment nigh,
When every vote decisive fate shall give,
Sanction the trade—or bid your brethren live.
( 6 )
May then—I must—I will the thought impart,
The warm effusion of a feeling heart.
An heart, which grandeur never taught to sigh,
Which far from observation's critic eye,
Far from the dazzling ken of trophied fame,
Nor sought—nor found—nor wished to find—a name.
An heart—around whose fibres—Nature threw
Sympathy's seeds, and watch'd them as they grew.
Thus have I learnt to melt at Misery's tale,
And thus—the woes of Afric to bewail.
And this impels me boldly to impart,
The warm effusion of a feeling heart.
May then those Powers, who guard a Nation's trust,
To Virtue firm—benevolently just,
Inspir'd with awe, the fateful judgment weigh,
And hear alike the rich and poor man's plea!
May no mean bias warp each generous breast,
By all their brethren's bleeding wrongs imprest.
But may the just, the grand decision be,
What their immortal souls will never fear to see.
Ah! think e'er yet the final day is past,
How would you act—the present hour your last!
( 7 )
Think, when arraign'd before the bar of Heav'n,
What vote you'll most sincerely wish to have given!
You will reflect too—that with jealous eyes,
All Europe views your shame or glory rise.
You must reflect that—your decisive nod,
Or plants the olive, or Oppression's rod,
That France has kindled now the generous flame,
And your grand precedent will raise her aim,
Enlighten every philanthropic soul,
Or bid dire Slavery ravage—sans controul.
You will reflect—this hellish traffic o'er
Commerce might reign—on Afric's peaceful shore;
That link'd in friendship's bonds, you more would gain,
Than ever Avarice with her serpent train.
This weigh'd—may He, whose fingers point the course,
That binds the fiery comets raging force,
Illumine all your minds—and to your heart
The gracious dictates of his love impart.
Commerce! thou complicated gift, which Heaven,
In wrath, or mercy, to mankind hath given;
Thou Janus, who two faces always wears;
One, fraught with smiles, and one with wrinkled cares.
Parent of luxury! and nurse of trade,
Who gave to polish'd vice its darkest shade.
( 8 )
Thou varied power! whose potent frown can make
Th'affrighted mariner's cold heart strings ake.
To thee what tides of wealth does Albion owe!
The laurel'd wreaths, which crown her conquering brow;
To thee—that now supreme in regal sway,
Her sister isles salute her—Queen of Sea.
To thee—that in her lap each India pours
Its silken softness, and its treasured stores.
To thee—that link'd in Traffic's wealthiest chain,
She sucks the fattest produce of each plain.
To thee—that urg'd by Power's despotic scourge,
For free-born men does Albion fetters forge.
By thee—what perfidies, what frauds arise?
By thee—the groves of Afric echo sighs.
Still with unequal hand thy favours flow,
And some thou load'st with wealth—and some with woe.
Lo! where thy stately ships majestic ride,
And o'er the whitening billows smoothly glide;
Pity such forms, so beauteous and so fair,
Whose flowing streamers kiss the yielding air;
Who eager borne before the fav'ring wind
Skim with light haste—nor leave a trace behind,
( 9 )
While the tir'd sailors on the decks repose,
And lose in sleep-Lethean all their woes;
And o'er the waves the gilded sun-beams play,
Or thro' the shrouds reflect a feebler ray:
Pity such hellish deeds should those employ
To rob, to slay, to ravage, and destroy;
To snatch their brethren from a pleasant home,
And drag them rudely to a living tomb;
Where foul Oppression does their peace destroy,
That e'en Hope sickens at the thought of joy.
Where are thy thunders?—Heav'n—thy lightning's
Oh! whelm the tyrants in a vengeful death;
Bid thy waves roar—thy storms tremendous rise,
And angry flashes dart from low'ring skies.
But cease, thou Muse, for in my soul there flows,
A sound more sweet than zephyr to the rose:
A sound which breathes an od'rous fragrance round,
And makes th'exulting heart with joy rebound;
Blest is the voice—'tis Liberty—'tis life -
'Tis Ireland's,—Albion's hope—her Senate's strife;
( 10 )
For soon, transporting thought! that strife will cease,
And—it must be—to Afric whisper peace!
Fir'd at the theme, each bold idea wrings,
And unrestrain'd, the muse of Fancy sings:
Expands her daring pinions wide, ascends,
And dares defy grim Slavery's selfish friends:
In vain cool Reason claims her sov'reign sway;
She spurns the feeble claim, and bounds away:
She views—or thinks she views—when grief, nor woe,
The overseer's stern frown—and sterner blow,
The sable matron's tear, the heartfelt sigh,
The reeking back—dire horror—suppliant cry;
When all the ills which rend the Negro's soul
Shall disappear—and freedom crown the whole.
Oh! with what transport, with what rapturous fear
Will they the great, the Heav'n-sent blessing hear
How will the varied passions of their soul
With bliss too high for speech their acts controul?
The swimming tear! big throb! the speaking eye!
And all th'unutterable extacy!
Even now methinks the melting scene I see,
And every passion struggling to get free;
His feet they kiss who did the news impart,
Embrace his knees, and clasp him to their heart:
( 11 )
Lost in a flood of rapture—all they view
Seems but a dream—they scarce can think it true.
Oh! Britons—to your philanthropic breast
Has Fancy ne'er this God-like scene addrest,
Giv'n to the high-wrought piece each varying hue,
Then told you—you alone could make it true?
Oh! if your bosoms knew the boundless joy
Which would your every faculty employ,
You would not forfeit such an heart-felt glow,
For all the wealth that slavery can bestow;
Think not the scene in shades too high I paint:
Ah no! to cloath my thought the powers of speech is faint;
For did not Truth himself the precept leave,
Tis far more blest to give than to receive.
Now view we calmer joys—those transports past,
(For not the greatest bliss on earth can last:)
View now—while Fancy kindles at the sight,
Each rapture mellow'd into soft delight;
Each wild effusion which their hearts will prove
Lost in a flow of gratitude and love:
View them to peace, to liberty restor'd,
And all the sweets their Afric can afford;
( 12 )
When British learning shall its light impart,
Dispel the chaos of the Negro's heart;
Diffuse fair knowledge, scientific lore,
And to the rights of Men their souls restore;
When Gospel truths shall dart an heav'nly ray,
And slaves enfranchis'd own a Saviour's sway;
When we shall point the narrow path and shew
That path by precept and example too;
When Christian traders are by justice sway'd,
And rapine foul gives place to peaceful trade;
When Albion shall supreme delight bestow,
And with supreme delight feel her own bosom glow;
Thus mutual good conferring and conferr'd,
Will prove that "Virtue is its own reward."
So in some finish'd piece of music—wrought
By master-hands, and to perfection brought,
The varying parts in graceful order roll,
And each contributes to th'harmonious whole;
Lo! (for in Fancy's vain illusive glass
The Muse can trace each image—as they pass;
Oh! would that Muse the lively pow'r possest,
To hold the mirror to the thinking breast;
( 13 )
That every heart its justice should confess,
As the rough chisel can the stone impress.
Oh! that with fire and energy divine,
The truths I feel might glow in every line.)
Lo! where to Afric now our fleets are brought,
With the full stores of commerce richly fraught;
Where the stern keels the murmuring waves divide,
Which hoarse rebounding lash the well-built side:
Now fill'd with hope her craggy cliffs they gain,
And now safe moor'd they form a woody plain.
Lo! where th'inhabitants surround the strand,
Eager to view the welcome vessels land:
No more with shrieks of terror and dismay,
They see them anchor in the wonted bay;
No more with heart-felt horror and affright,
Their blood runs colder at the hateful sight;
But with rejoicing soul their nimble feet
Skim with light bound their generous friends to greet;
For now the sons of Albion come no more
To load with woes the desolated shore;
No more Oppression's sanction'd scourges rise
To burst soft Love and Nature's hallow'd ties,
( 14 )
To rend the agonizing heart—to shew
That men call'd Christians may be monsters too;
That they who own a Saviour's gentle sway,
And at his altars prostrate homage pay;
Who hear (at home) his name with reverent awe
Abroad—can trample on his every law;
Can load with woe a brother's sinking soul,
And bid the seas of Anguish o'er him roll:
No more sits gloomy Horror brooding round,
But arts, industry, peace, and wealth abound;
And (every former injury forgot)
The sable tribes desert the low-roof'd cot;
With lively haste the whiten'd beach they climb,
White by the snowy hand of hoary Time,
And in the genuine language of the heart
Their confidence and gratitude impart.
Ah! say not you whose av'rice urged the deed,
Who with unblushing front for slav'ry plead;
Say not their savage breast and vagrant soul,
No gentle arts can soften and controul,
That vain the beams Benev'lence would impart,
To thaw the hardness of their rugged heart;
( 15 )
That sooner might the Sun's prolific ray,
Or freeze the wax, or melt the stubborn clay;
That sooner may th'hyena fawning lie,
Or smooth'd the rocks whose summits brave the sky;
Or endless bloom surround the mount's bleak side,
Than tam'd the souls for which a Saviour died.
Sophist! in vain thy tongue its reas'ning pours,
Tho' grac'd with oratory's sweetest flowers;
Tho' Orpheus-like thy eloquence could move
The listening stones, or charm the whispering grove;
Yet vain thy aim injustice to defend,
And with th'unerring laws of God contend;
For Truth will shine with undiminish'd blaze,
In spite of man's base arts to cloud its rays;
Think'st thou that He, who did all Beings form
With reason's spark, forgot their hearts to warm;
Or that its vital ray his laws design'd,
For our fair skins—for them gross error blind?
No; He whose wisdom guides this massy ball,
Gives a large portion of his love to—all:
And all, by Nature, rude and wild were born,
Who range the woods, or courts, or camps adorn:
'Tis education gives the polish'd gloss,
Refines the metal from the worthless dross:
( 16 )
Prunes, with a careful hand, the opening shoot,
And tends, with anxious care, the promis'd fruit.
The mind of man—like unextracted ore,
Much dregs contains—but solid virtue more:
'Tis education clears those dregs away,
And gilds the virtues, with a tenfold ray.
Improves wild Nature's nursling—gives the soul
The seal which stamps a value on the whole.
And as the marble in the quarry lies,
Its hidden worth conceal'd from human eyes,
Useless its huge unwieldy bulk remains,
Nor ought of just proportion'd grace retains;
But when the forming hand of strength and art,
Shall to its form, united force impart;
When all the workmen's varying arts apply'd,
And to new symmetry the parts divide:
The sculptor's dignity, the pencil's ease,
In harmonizing beauty, join to please;
The fair and polish'd members gradual rise,
'Till the whole piece perfected, meets our eyes:
Just so the Negro, can his sable frame,
Th'internal value of his soul proclaim?
Ingulph'd in misery—with pain depress'd,
These harrow up the feelings of his breast;
( 17 )
Torn from his friends, bereav'd of every joy,
Which might his mental faculties employ,
Degraded, and dishonour'd—where, ah! where
Shall sense and reason's blooming flowers appear?
Where would the eloquence of Grattan shine?
Where Sheridan's address?—where Pitt divine?
If o'er their heads did Slavery's mandates roll,
And freeze the gen'rous current of their soul.
For only those who know it—may impart,
How grief can mar the feelings of the heart,
Check every noble thought—and warm desire,
And bid poor Genius' blasted hope expire.
How the keen stings of pamper'd pride annoy,
With venom'd point, mean merit's modest joy;
Till of his maker's fairest gifts bereft,
A rude and senseless lump is only left.
So have I seen the ductile wax imprest,
Till all th'original appeared confest;
But when expos'd to Phoebus' scorching ray,
The powerless image faintly melts away:
Or as a plant, which 'neath the gard'ner's hand,
In rising beauty, does its leaves expand,
When lo! the pinching blasts of winter rise,
And chill the withering stalk—it fades and dies.
( 18 )
Cease then, ye pleaders, in so bad a cause,
Who only speak, as sordid interest draws.
Cease, with a thread-bare cloak, your crimes to hide,
For God will of his works be justified.
But woe! to thee, proud wretch, by Satan led,
Who on thy maker's laws does rudely tread,
Who violates the rights which Nature gave,
And dooms thy fellows to an early grave.
Know there's a power who will avenge the wrong,
Tho' yet his love-redeeming suffers long.
Know there's a time, when truth distinct and clear,
Shall onward roll, and shake thy heart with fear,
When all the stings of Conscience brought to light,
Shall rise with tenfold horror—to thy sight.
When all the secret pangs of deep remorse,
Shall stand before thee, with redoubled force;
Shall stand and tell thee, in that awful hour,
How oft they warn'd—how oft thou spurn'dst their power.
Oh! keep (while yet thou may'st) these thoughts in view,
Think—and reflection shall declare them true.
Repent, while yet repentance may be given,
Nor longer dare the vengeful ire of heav'n.
And He, whose mercy would our crimes forgive,
May make his grace burst forth, and bid thee live!
( 19 )
In those blest days, when Liberty shall reign,
For it must be—on injur'd Afric's plain,
When curst Oppression's chains shall wound no more,
Nor human flesh be sold for filthy ore;
In heart-felt language, how will they reveal,
The warm, the grateful sentiments they feel!
Oh! you! methinks they cry, whose bosoms know,
The dear delight to sooth the pangs of woe!
Who oft to want your lib'ral hands extend,
And fearless rose, th'afflicted Negro's friend,
Who with unwearied calls, and ceaseless cries,
Have forc'd your Senate in the cause to rise:
And thou, that Senate's boast,—thy nation's pride,
Freedom's firm friends, and Pity's gen'rous guide,
Great Pitt! whom ties of av'rice ne'er could bind,
Nor warp the noble bias of thy mind!
And you, ye daughters of the sister isles!
Who blest in Charity's benignant smiles,
Who cheer th'afflicted—wipe the tearful eye,
And bid the heart of sorrow cease to sigh;
With hearts unknowing—innocent and gay, )
You took the plant, for which we dearly pay; )
But when you knew the price—you push'd it far away. )
( 20 )
Ye friends of liberty and peace—to you
What thanks, what rapturous gratitude are due!
No words can paint the feelings of our soul;
No language can our speechless thoughts controul.
But, He who knows the goodness of your heart,
Which—like himself—would joy to all impart,
He saw your gen'rous motive, He will shed
His choicest blessings o'er each virtuous head.
Oh! may his grace preserve, his wisdom guard,
His shield protect you, and his love reward!
Such! sisters, such! will be the Negro's thought;
His breast with every warm affection fraught.
Nor small the glory which to you belongs,
Whose gentle bosoms mourn'd for all their wrongs,
Wept for their woes, and burn'd with honest shame,
To know them sanction'd by an English name.
Who saw—while slav'ry sicken'd at the sight,
The sun of Freedom rise with dawning light,
O'er dark Oppression dart his glorious ray;
You saw—and hail'd with joy his rising sway!
Fain would the Muse on high-rais'd pinions soar,
And to your virtues point one effort more,
( 21 )
T'improve your plan, your God-like labours crown,
Which heaven-born Justice will applaud and own;
Rise, Sisters! be your generous task complete,
And with just scorn rude Folly's giggle meet.
Lo! where around the mirth-inspiring board
With either India's choicest produce stor'd;
Where the pleas'd guests salute the sparkling glass,
And wit and wine in swift succession pass;
There haply oft the saturate bowl* may flow
With sweets impregnate drawn from bitterest woe;
Rich juice extracted from the reeking whip,
And snatch'd untasted from a brother's lip.
Ah Sisters! you on whose resistless tongue
The sweetest flowers of eloquence are hung,
Who ever facile at Compassion's call
Alike the fav'rites and the friends of all:
This can you see, nor urge your peaceful sway
To push the dear-bought beverage far away!
Say not—no power of your's so far extends,
These are your brothers, husbands, sons, or friends,
Whose precepts or whose laws you erst obey'd,
And reverence due concomitantly paid;
( 22 )
And whom—(as God and Nature's voice proclaim,)
To please your wish, to sooth and calm your aim;
Will these reject your small, your just request,
When urg'd with meekness—yet with warmth exprest?
Have you no influence? you whose bosoms feel
Pity's soft glow—and Freedom's honest zeal!
Or dread you Epicurean jests to meet,
With laughter's loud, unmeaning roar replete:
- In every age are sons of Belial found
But their shafts pointless on themselves rebound.
O'er Virtue's efforts throw a lucent ray,
And their own impotence of mind display.
Be theirs—the secret pangs of guilt to know
The stings of Conscience—and repentant woe.
Remorse which Pleasure's specious cups conceal,
And griefs which but a Saviour's hand can heal.
But our's—with faith the narrow path to climb,
To mourn the sinner—yet abhor the crime.
With Heaven's lov'd attribute—our gentle guide,
And if we err—we err on Mercy's side.
Our wants—our weakness—every secret sigh,
Our kind Creator views with pitying eye;
( 23 )
And if our efforts rise in Virtue's cause,
He sees those efforts, nor disdains applause.
- To Him—(who every act and thought will prove
In the large scale of universal love:
Who, by this rule, will favour or condemn,
("What ye from men desire—do ye to them.")
The good man's off'ring of a pious thought,
The poor man's pray'r, with resignation fraught,
The philanthropic breast—whose social glow,
Participates its fellow's weal or woe.
To him—of more transcendant worth appear,
Than all the trophies of triumphant war.
So—when, with seeming chance, our wishes glide,
With unseen hand, does he o'er all preside;
Touches the secret spring which moves the soul,
Observes its sequence—and ordains the whole.
Blest be the man—and still rever'd his name,
Whose breast first felt the spark of kindling flame;
Who did each deep recess of guilt unfold,
And dar'd the tyrant's vengeance—nobly bold.
Explor'd our cruelties—our traffic curst,
By sin created—and by habit nurst.
( 24 )
Bid, with firm voice, his blind compatriots rise,
And throw the veil of darkness from their eyes;
Who shew'd, with heav'n taught finger, how to scan
The path of rectitude 'tween man and man;
Till others caught the sympathetic flame,
And did the woes of Afric loud proclaim;
Rais'd for themselves a monumental crown;
A sacred trophy of a just renown:
And, in the sight of heav'n, more glory won,
Than Caesar fam'd, or Philip's martial son.
For in those realms, to guilt, to fear, unknown,
Virtue may hold pre-eminence alone.
For she—when yon brigh[t] moon's refulgent host,
'Mid nature's gen'ral ruin, shall be lost,
Will, from that wreck, unfading lustre bring,
And rise the hand-maid of our holy king;
Securely soar, with animated powers,
And bloom immortal—in celestial bowers.
So, when (e'er summer opes her perfum'd vest,)
The fost'ring earth receives her little guest,
With care paternal hides its tender form,
Safe from the piercing rigours of the storm;
But when their elemental rage is o'er,
And awful tempests shake the earth no more;
( 25 )
When Sol darts downward, with prolific ray,
And vernal flowers salute his rising sway,
The nurtur'd seed disdains its limits scant,
Uprears its head—shoots forth a lovely plant;
Till, in each grace matur'd, it blossoms fair,
And sheds delicious fragrance thro' the air.
T H E E N D.
A Note on the Text
Mary Birkett, A Poem on the African Slave Trade. Addressed to her own Sex. Part II (Dublin: J. Jones, 1792)
This e-text is located at www.brycchancarey.com/slavery/mbc2.htm
Copy Text: The text of the poem was transcribed by Josephine Teakle, who kindly made it available for this website. See Teakle, Josephine. The Works of Mary Birkett Card 1774-1817, Originally Collected by her Son Nathaniel Card in 1834: An Edited Transcription with an Introduction to her Life and Works, 2 vols. (unpublished doctoral thesis, University of Gloucestershire, 2004).
This is the full text of Part Two of the poem. The poem is in two parts, which appeared seperately. Click Here for Part One of the poem.
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