WVFC Poetry Friday: Phillis Wheatley
The first American and the first woman to publish a book of poems, colonial poet Phillis A. Wheatley had earned the admiration of William Blake and George Washington for her lovely, rigorous poems by the time she was sixteen. Wheatley was also an enslaved woman for much of her life; one of her most famous poems is her plea, below, to be released from that state as her birthright. As Black History Month ends, we thought it essential to spend our Poetry Friday with America's very first published poet and her forthright challenge to those who sought to rule her. -- Ed.
To the Right Honourable William, Earl of Dartmouth, His
Mayesty's Principal Secretary of State for North-America, Etc.
Hail, happy day, when, smiling like the morn,
Fair Freedom rose New-England to adorn:
The northern clime beneath her genial ray,
Dartmouth, congratulates thy blissful sway:
Elate with hope her race no longer mourns,
Each soul expands, each grateful bosom burns,
While in thine hand with pleasure we behold
The silken reins, and Freedom's charms unfold.
Long lost to realms beneath the northern skies
She shines supreme, while hated faction dies:
Soon as appear'd the Goddess long desir'd,
Sick at the view, she lanquish'd and expir'd;
Thus from the splendors of the morning light
The owl in sadness seeks the caves of night.
No more, America, in mournful strain
Of wrongs, and grievance unredress'd complain,
No longer shalt thou dread the iron chain,
Which wanton Tyranny with lawless hand
Had made, and with it meant t' enslave the land.
Should you, my lord, while you peruse my song,
Wonder from whence my love of Freedom sprung,
Whence flow these wishes for the common good,
By feeling hearts alone best understood,
I, young in life, by seeming cruel fate
Was snatcli'd from Afric's fancy'd happy seat:
What pangs excruciating must molest,
What sorrows labour in my parent's breast?
Steel'd was that son] and by no misery mov'd
That from a father seiz'd his babe belov'd:
Such, such my case. And can I then but pray
Others may never feel tyrannic sway?
For favours past, great Sir, our thanks are due,
And thee we ask thy favors to renew,
Since in thy pow'r, as in thy will before,
To sooth the griefs, which thou did'st once deplore.
May heav'nly race the sacred sanction give
To all thy worts, and thou for ever live
Not onlv on the wings of fleeting Fame,
Though praise immortal crowns the patriot's name,
But to conduct to heav'ns refulgent fane,
May fiery coursers sweep th' ethereal plain,
And bear thee upwards to that blest abode,
Where, like the prophet, thou shalt find thy God.
The Collected Works of Phillis Wheatley, by John Shields, ed. New York: Oxford University Press, 1988.