Today in Herstory: Phillis Wheatley
Despite being an African slave, Phillis Wheatley was one of the most renowned poets in pre 19th century America. She was taken from Senegal/Gambia, West Africa and brought to Boston, where she was purchased by prominent colonist John Wheatley. Due to her maturity, she was taught to read and write. Wheatley was a pioneer of her time, as she became the first significant Black poet in America. It is documented that Wheatley wrote about 145 poems during her lifetime. The publication of her Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral (1773) brought her fame both in England and the American colonies. Prominent figures such as George Washington praised her work, which revolved majorly around Christianity and Classicism. She was emancipated as a free woman when John Wheatley passed away.
A Hymn to Humanity, By Phillis Wheatley:
Lo! for this dark terrestrial ball
Forsakes his azure-paved hall
A prince of heav’nly birth!
Divine Humanity behold,
What wonders rise, what charms unfold
At his descent to earth!
The bosoms of the great and good
With wonder and delight he view’d,
And fix’d his empire there:
Him, close compressing to his breast,
The sire of gods and men address’d,
“My son, my heav’nly fair!
“Descend to earth, there place thy throne;
“To succour man’s afflicted son
“Each human heart inspire:
“To act in bounties unconfin’d
“Enlarge the close contracted mind,
“And fill it with thy fire.”
Quick as the word, with swift career
He wings his course from star to star,
And leaves the bright abode.
The Virtue did his charms impart;
Their G—–! then thy raptur’d heart
Perceiv’d the rushing God:
For when thy pitying eye did see
The languid muse in low degree,
Then, then at thy desire
Descended the celestial nine;
O’er me methought they deign’d to shine,
And deign’d to string my lyre.
Can Afric’s muse forgetful prove?
Or can such friendship fail to move
A tender human heart?
Immortal Friendship laurel-crown’d
The smiling Graces all surround
With ev’ry heav’nly Art.
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