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The Poems of Phillis Wheatley: With Letters and a Memoir

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Born in Africa in 1753, Phillis Wheatley was kidnapped at the age of seven and sold into slavery. At nineteen, she became the first Black American poet to publish a book, Poems on Various Subjects: Religious and Moral, on which this volume is based. Wheatley's poetry created a sensation throughout the English-speaking world, and the young poet read her work in aristocratic drawing rooms on both sides of the Atlantic. The London Chronicle went so far as to declare her "perhaps one of the greatest instances of pure, unassisted genius that the world ever produced."
Wheatley's elegies and odes offer fascinating glimpses into the origins of African-American literary traditions. Most of the poems express the effects of her religious and classical New England education, consisting of elegies for the departed and odes to Christian salvation. This edition of Wheatley's historic works includes letters and a biographical note written by one of the poet's descendants. Includes a selection from the Common Core State Standards Initiative: "On Being Brought from Africa to America."

ISBN-13: 9780486475936

Media Type: Paperback

Publisher: Dover Publications

Publication Date: 01-14-2010

Pages: 96

Product Dimensions: 5.30(w) x 8.30(h) x 0.30(d)

The first published African-American poet, Phillis Wheatley (1753-84) was born in West Africa, captured, and sold as a slave to the Wheatley family of Boston. Educated alongside her master's children, Wheatley achieved international renown with her initial poems but slipped into obscurity shortly afterward and died in poverty.

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The Poems of Phillis Wheatley

With Letters and a Biographical Note

By Phillis Wheatley

Dover Publications, Inc.

Copyright © 2010 Dover Publications, Inc.
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-486-11529-0


To Mæcenas

MÆCENAS, you, beneath the myrtle shade,
Read o'er what poets sung, and shepherds played
What felt those poets, but you feel the same?
Does not your soul possess the sacred flame?
Their noble strains your equal genius shares
In softer language, and diviner airs.

While Homer paints, lo! circumfused in air,
Celestial Gods in mortal forms appear;
Swift as they move, hear each recess rebound;
Heaven quakes, earth trembles, and the shores resound.
Great Sire of verse, before my mortal eyes
The lightnings blaze across the vaulted skies;
And as the thunder shakes the heavenly plains,
A deep-felt horror thrills through all my veins.
When gentler strains demand thy graceful song,
The lengthening line moves languishing along,
When great Patroclus courts Achilles' aid,
The grateful tribute of my tears is paid:
Prone on the shore, he feels the pangs of love,
And stern Pelides' tenderest passions move.

Great Maro's strain in heavenly numbers flows,
The Nine inspire, and all the bosom glows.
Oh! could I rival thine and Virgil's page,
Or claim the Muses with the Mantuan sage;
Soon the same beauties should my mind adorn,
And the same ardors in my soul should burn:
Then should my song in bolder notes arise,
And all my numbers pleasingly surprise:
But here I sit and mourn, a grovelling mind
That fain would mount and ride upon the wind.

Not you, my friend, these plaintive strains become;
Not you, whose bosom is the Muses' home.
When they from towering Helicon retire,
They fan in you the bright, immortal fire;
But I, less happy, cannot raise the song;
The faltering music dies upon my tongue.

The happier Terence all the choir inspired,
His soul replenished, and his bosom fired:
But say, ye Muses, why this partial grace
To one alone of Afric's sable race;
From age to age transmitting thus his name,
With the first glory in the realms of fame?

Thy virtues, great Mæcenas! shall be sung
In praise of him from whom those virtues sprung;
While blooming wreaths around thy temples spread,
I'll snatch a laurel from thine honored head,
While you, indulgent, smile upon the deed.

As long as Thames in streams majestic flows,
Or Naiads in the oozy beds repose;
While Ph?bus reigns above the starry train;
While bright Aurora purples o'er the main;
So long, great Sir, the Muse thy praise shall sing;
So long thy praise shall make Parnassus ring.
Then grant, Mæcenas, thy paternal rays;
Hear me propitious, and defend my lays.

On Virtue

O THOU bright jewel, in my aim I strive
To comprehend thee Thine own words declare
Wisdom is higher than a fool can reach.
I cease to wonder and no more attempt
Thine height to explore, or fathom thy profound.
But O my soul, sink not into despair;
Virtue is near thee, and with gentle hand
Would now embrace thee,—hovers o'er thine head.
Fain would the heaven-born soul with her converse,
Then seek, then court her for her promised bliss.
Auspicious queen thine heavenly pinions spread,
And lead celestial Chastity along.
Lo! now her sacred retinue descends,
Arrayed in glory from the orbs above.
Attend me, Virtue, through my youthful years;
Oh, leave me not to the false joys of time,
But guide my steps to endless life and bliss.
Greatness or goodness, say what shall I call thee,
To give an higher appellation still:
Teach me a better strain, a nobler lay,
O thou, enthroned with cherubs in the realms of day!

On Being Brought From Africa to America

'T WAS mercy brought me from my pagan land,
Taught my benighted soul to understand
That there's a God—that there's a Saviour too;
Once I redemption neither sought nor knew.
Some view our sable race with scornful eye—
'Their color is a diabolic dye.'
Remember, Christians, Negroes black as Cain
May be refined, and join the angelic train.

To the University of Cambridge, in New-England

WHILE an intrinsic ardor prompts to write,
The Muses promise to assist my pen.
'T was not long since I left my native shore,
The land of errors and Egyptian gloom:
Father of mercy! 't was thy gracious hand
Brought me in safety from those dark abodes.

Students, to you 't is given to scan the heights
Above, to traverse the etherial space,
And mark the systems of revolving worlds.
Still more, ye sons of science, ye receive
The blissful news by messengers from heaven,
How Jesus' blood for your redemption flows.
See him, with hands outstretched upon the cross!
Immense compassion in his bosom glows;
He hears revilers, nor resents their scorn.
What matchless mercy in the Son of God!
He deigned to die, that they might rise again,
And share with him, in the sublimest skies,
Life without death, and glory without end.

Improve your privileges while they stay,
Ye pupils; and each hour redeem, that bears
Or good or bad report of you to heaven.
Let sin, that baneful evil to the soul,
By you be shunned; nor once remit your guard:
Suppress the deadly serpent in its egg,
Ye blooming plants of human race divine,
As Ethiop tells you, 't is your greatest foe;
Its transient sweetness turns to endless pain,
And in immense perdition sinks the soul.

To the King's Most Excellent Majesty. 1768

YOUR subjects hope, dread Sire, the crown upon your
brows may flourish long,
And that your arm may in your God be strong.
Oh, may your sceptre num'rous nations sway;
And all with love and readiness obey.

But how shall we the British king reward?
Rule thou in peace, our father and our lord!
'Midst the remembrance of thy favors past,
The meanest peasants most admire the last.

May George, beloved by all the nations round,
Live with Heaven's choicest, constant blessings crowned.
Great God! direct and guard him from on high,
And from his head let every evil fly;
And may each clime with equal gladness see
A monarch's smile can set his subject free.

On the Death of the Rev. Dr. Sewell. 1769

ERE yet the morn its lovely blushes spread,
See Sewell numbered with the happy dead.
Hail, holy man! arrived the immortal shore,
Hail, holy man! arrived the immortal shore,
Though we shall hear thy warning voice no more,
Come, let us all behold, with wishful eyes,
The saint ascending to his native skies:
From hence the prophet winged his rapturous way,
To the blest mansions in eternal day.
Then, begging for the Spirit of our God,
And panting eager for the same abode,
Come, let us all with the same vigor rise,
And take a prospect of the blissful skies;
While on our minds Christ's image is impressed,
And the dear Saviour glows in ev'ry breast.
Thrice happy saint! to find thy heaven at last,
What compensation for the evils past!
Great God! incomprehensible, unknown
By sense, we bow at thine exalted throne.
Oh, while we beg thine excellence to feel,
Thy sacred Spirit to our hearts reveal,
And give us of that mercy to partake,
Which thou hast promised for the Saviour's sake!
'Sewell is dead.' Swift-pinioned Fame thus cried.
'Is Sewell dead?' my trembling tongue replied.
Oh, what a blessing in his flight denied!
How oft for us the holy prophet prayed!
How oft to us the word of life conveyed!
By duty urged my mournful verse to close,
I for his tomb his epitaph compose.

"Lo, here, a man, redeemed by Jesus' blood,
"A sinner once, but now a saint with God.
"Behold, ye rich, ye poor, ye fools, ye wise,
"Nor let his monument your heart surprise;
"'T will tell you what this holy man has done,
"Which gives him brighter lustre than the sun.
"Listen, ye happy, from your seats above;
"I speak sincerely, while I speak and love.
"He sought the paths of piety and truth,
"By these made happy from his early youth.
"In blooming years that grace divine he felt,
"Which rescues sinners from the chains of guilt.
"Mourn him, ye indigent, whom he has fed,
"And henceforth seek, like him, for living bread;
"Ev'n Christ, the bread descending from above,
"And ask an int'rest in his saving love.
"Mourn him, ye youth, to whom he oft has told
"God's gracious wonders, from the times of old.
"I, too, have cause, this mighty loss to mourn,
"For he, my monitor, will not return.
"Oh, when shall we to his blest state arrive?
"When the same graces in our bosoms thrive?"

On the Death of the Rev. Mr. George Whitefield.—1770

HAIL, happy saint! on thine immortal throne,
Possest of glory, life, and bliss unknown:
We hear no more the music of thy tongue;
Thy wonted auditories cease to throng.
Thy sermons in unequalled accents flowed,
And ev'ry bosom with devotion glowed;
Thou didst, in strains of eloquence refined,
Inflame the heart, and captivate the mind.
Unhappy, we the setting sun deplore,
So glorious once, but ah! it shines no more.

Behold the prophet in his towering flight!
He leaves the earth for heaven's unmeasured height,
And worlds unknown receive him from our sight.
There Whitefield wings with rapid course his way,
And sails to Zion through vast seas of day.
Thy prayers, great saint, and thine incessant cries,
Have pierced the bosom of thy native skies.
Thou, moon, hast seen, and all the stars of light,
How he has wrestled with his God by night.
He prayed that grace in ev'ry heart might dwell;
He longed to see America excel;
He charged its youth that ev'ry grace divine
Should with full lustre in their conduct shine.
That Saviour, which his soul did first receive,
The greatest gift that ev'n a God can give,
He freely offered to the numerous throng,
That on his lips with list'ning pleasure hung.
"Take him, ye wretched for your only good,
"Take him, ye starving sinner, for your food;
"Ye thirsty, come to this life-giving stream,
"Ye preachers, take him for your joyful theme;
"Take him, my dear Americans, he said,
"Be your complaints on his kind bosom laid:
"Take him, ye Africans, he longs for you;
"Impartial Saviour is his title due:
Washed in the fountain of redeeming blood,
"You shall be sons, and kings, and priests to God."

Great Countess, we Americans revere
Thy name, and mingle in thy grief sincere;
New-England deeply feels, the orphans mourn,
Their more than father will no more return.
But though arrested by the hand of death,
Whitefield no more exerts his lab'ring breath,
Yet let us view him in the eternal skies,
Let ev'ry heart to this bright vision rise;
While the tomb, safe, retains its sacred trust,
Til life divine reanimates his dust.

On the Death of a Young Lady of Five Years of Age

FROM dark abodes to fair etherial light,
The enraptured innnocent has winged her flight;
On the kind bosom of eternal love
She finds unknown beatitude above.
This know, ye parents, nor her loss deplore,
She feels the iron hand of pain no more;
The dispensations of unerring grace
Should turn your sorrows into grateful praise;
Let then no tears for her henceforward flow,
No more distressed in our dark vale below.
Her morning sun, which rose divinely bright,
Was quickly mantled with the gloom of night;
But hear in heaven's blest bowers your Nancy fair,
And learn to imitate her language there.

"Thou, Lord, whom I behold with glory crowned,
"By what sweet name, and in what tuneful sound
"Wilt thou be praised? Seraphic powers are faint,
"Infinite love and majesty to paint.
"To thee let all their grateful voices raise,
"And saints and angels join their songs of praise."

Perfect in bliss, she, from her heavenly home,
Looks down, and smiling, beckons you to come.
Why then, fond parents, why those fruitless groans?
Restrain your tears, and cease your plaintive moans.
Freed from a world of sin, and snares, and pain,
Why would you wish your daughter back again?
No—bow resigned; let hope your grief control,
And check the rising tumult of the soul.
Calm in the prosperous and adverse day,
Adore the God who gives and takes away;
Eye him in all, his holy name revere;
Upright your actions, and your hearts sincere;
Till, having sailed through life's tempestuous sea,
And from its rocks, and boisterous billows free,
Yourselves safe landed on the blissful shore,
Shall join your happy babe to part no more.


Excerpted from The Poems of Phillis Wheatley by Phillis Wheatley. Copyright © 2010 Dover Publications, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of Dover Publications, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents

To the Public
Mr. Wheatley's Letter to the Publisher

To Maecenas
On virtue
On being brought from Africa to America
To the University of Cambridge, in New England
To the Kings's Most Excellent Majesty
On the Death of the Rev. Dr. Sewell
On the Death of the Rev. George Whitfield
On the Death of a Young Lady of five years of age
On the Death of a Young Gentleman
To a Lady, on the Death of her Husband
Goliath of Gath
Thoughts on the Works of Providence
To a Lady, on the Death of three Relationships
To a Clergyman on the Death of his Lady
Hymn of the Morning
Hymn of the Evening
Isaiah-63rd Chap. 1st and 8th Verses
On Recollection
On Imagination
A Funeral Poem on the Death Of C.E., an Infant of twelve months
To Captain H——-D
To the Right Honorable William, Earl of Dartmouth
Ode to Neptune, on Mrs. W——'s Voyage to England
To a Lady, on her coming to North America with her Son , for the Recovery of her Health
To a Lady, on her remarkable Preservation in a Hurricane, in North Carolina
To a Lady and her Children, on the Death of her Son and their Brother
To a Gentleman and Lady, on the Death of the Lady's Brother and sister, and a Child of the name of Avis, aged one year
On the Death of Dr. Samuel Marshall
To a Gentleman, on his voyage to Great Britain, for the Recovery of his Health
To the Rev. Dr. Thomas Amory, on reading his Sermons on Daily Devotion, in which that Duty is recommended and assisted
On the Death of J.C., an Infant
A Hymn to Humanity
To the Hon. T.H., Esq., on the Death of his Daughter
Niobe in Distress for her Children slain by Apollo
To S.M., a young African Painter, on seeing his Works
To his Honor the Lieutenant Governor, on the Death of his Lady
A Farewell to America
A Rebus
Answer to the Rebus