Over a third of her poems in the 1773 volume were elegies, or consolations for the death of a loved one. In this instance, however, she uses the very argument that has been used to justify the existence of black slavery to argue against it: the connection between Africans and Cain, the murderer of Abel. Through the argument that she and others of her race can be saved, Wheatley slyly establishes that blacks are equal to whites. Make sure to use the drop-down menu to save it under the assignment title. In effect, she was attempting a degree of integration into Western culture not open to, and perhaps not even desired by, many African Americans. From Slave to Poet In 1761, Boston businessman John Wheatley and his wife Susannah bought a sickly slave girl who they named Phillis.
The Puritan attitude toward slaves was somewhat liberal, as slaves were considered part of the family and were often educated so that they could be converted to Christianity. The compositions published under her name are below the dignity of criticism. She had a very mature writing style while still a young teenager. And she urges readers to give change a shot. She also studied Greek and Latin under the care of the Wheatley family, whose name she adopted. To a Christian, it would seem that the hand of divine Providence led to her deliverance; God lifted her forcibly and dramatically out of that ignorance. The child was most likely seven or eight at the time, and had been taken from Africa and brought to the Massachusetts colony to be sold.
Carretta, Vincent, and Philip Gould, Introduction, in Genius in Bondage: Literature of the Early Black Atlantic, edited by Vincent Carretta and Philip Gould, University Press of Kentucky, 2001, pp. Rhyming words are used again by Phillis to end off phrases. The power of imagination as applied to poetry is given the power to reinvent the harsh realities as a brand new land created out of the simple ability to manipulate and exploit the meaning of words and phrases. Washington refuses to use black soldiers, however, until he sees the British recruiting close to 10,000 with the promise of freedom. After mastering English, she went on to learn both Greek and Latin. For her now, the events in the ships are lesser important because she had gotton redemption and light.
However, the theme on slavery was found less, perhaps because she had a conflicting feeling about the institution. Wheatley's shift from first to third person in the first and second stanzas is part of this approach. She separates herself from the audience of white readers as a black person, calling attention to the difference. By making religion a matter between God and the individual soul, an Evangelical belief, she removes the discussion from social opinion or reference. This same spirit in literature and philosophy gave rise to the revolutionary ideas of government through human reason, as popularized in the.
At about that same time, the Quaker leader John Woolman is boycotting dyes in order to protest slavery. Therein, she implores him to right America's wrongs and be a just administrator. Why, then, does she seem to destroy her argument and admit that the African race is black like Cain, the first murderer in the Bible? Wheatley may also be using the rhetorical device of bringing up the opponent's worst criticism in order to defuse it. While Wheatley's poetry gave fuel to abolitionists who argued that blacks were rational and human and therefore ought not be treated as beasts, Thomas Jefferson found Wheatley's poems imitative and beneath notice. But when these shades of time are chas'd away, And darkness ends in everlasting day, On what seraphic pinions shall we move, And view the landscapes in the realms above? There's more to Wheatley's discussion on race than that simple message. Ye shady groves, your verdant gloom display To shield your poet from the burning day: Calliope awake the sacred lyre, While thy fair sisters fan the pleasing fire: The bow'rs, the gales, the variegated skies In all their pleasures in my bosom rise.
Her careful use of rhyme, meter, and irony help her point out the injustices she experiences. Indeed, the idea of anyone, black or white, being in a state of ignorance if not knowing Christ is prominent in her poems and letters. In fact, people could hardly believe that a slave could actually read and write, let alone write poems. The refinement the poet invites the reader to assess is not merely the one referred to by Isaiah, the spiritual refinement through affliction. While for Britannia's distant shore We weep the liquid plain, And with astonish'd eyes explore The wide-extended main.
Wheatley is unusual in being literate and able to participate in white society. As placed in Wheatley's poem, this allusion can be read to say that being white silver is no sign of privilege spiritually or culturally because God's chosen are refined purified, made spiritually white through the afflictions that Christians and Negroes have in common, as mutually benighted descendants of Cain. Her tone is straightforward, compassionate, and deeply personal, but also gently admonishing. The Collected Works of Phillis Wheatley. William Robinson, in Phillis Wheatley and Her Writings, brings up the story that Wheatley remembered of her African mother pouring out water in a sunrise ritual.
She did not know that she was in a sinful state. Pulling this argument from the Bible, whites argues that the Blacks are the children of Cain and their duty is just to serve the whites. That there was an audience for her work is beyond question; the white response to her poetry was mixed Robinson 39-46 , and certain black responses were dramatic Huddleston; Jamison. Once she came, she knew the possibility of freedom along with the prevailing sense of discrimination. Enjoy your fame and glory and know that Heaven will appreciate us. All this was in the late 1700s. The entire poem is about how she was able to learn about Christianity and that changing her life.
Do you think that the judgment in the 1970s by black educators that Wheatley does not teach values that are good for African American students has merit today? Such couplets were usually closed and full sentences, with parallel structure for both halves. Bid the Vassal Soar: Interpretive Essays on the Poetry of Phillis Wheatley. When teaching poetry, it is often helpful to refresh or introduce students with technical words. But, Africa for her is a pagan land, a dark place without God and ignorance is prevalent everywhere. . A few observations about one poem may demonstrate how to find a subtle critique of slavery in Phillis Wheatley's poetry. A Voice of Her Own: The Story of Phillis Wheatley, Slave Poet.