Response Paper on Phillis Wheatly’s Poems
Phillis Wheatley’s poems have touched many lives under the most unusual circumstances. She was born in Africa and when she was eight, she was taken away from her family and was brought to Boston to become a slave for John Wheatley’s wife, and thus, she was given the last name of the family as the custom. The family taught Phillis to read and write, and once they saw her potential, they allowed her to study more and write poetry (Lewis).
Her poem entitled “On Being Brought from Africa to America” is a very sensitive one. She begins the poem by talking about her journey as a slave from her home land to the “pagan land” (line 1). Her perspective about slavery is very unique because for someone who experienced being a slave, she was able to find Christ and appreciate salvation. This poem is all about the feeling of self-worth. The pagan land here refers to her home land which is Africa. In the poem, she states that she would have never found the kind of freedom she experienced if she did not become a slave. That is why she says that it was mercy which brought her from her Pagan land (line 1).
Wheatly’s poem entitled “To the Right Hon. William, Earl of Dartmouth” addresses the main issue of her race which is slavery. In the poem, she pleads the Earl of Dartmouth to protect their rights. She states the condition of her people using powerful words as can be seen from the following lines:
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… (lines 15-19)
The words that she used all throughout the poem clearly manifest the struggle that her people went through upon leaving Africa to become slaves.
“To the University of Cambridge” is a poem addressed to the students. In this poem, Wheatly encourages the students to have a sharper mind and be more discerning when it comes to the topic concerning races. This poem aims to show the world of the hardships that her race was suffering because of slavery. She wrote this poem as an appeal to the sentiments of the students. She talks about herself as a mere Ethiop, and by stating this, she acknowledges her status in life, unlike the students to whom she is making the appeal (line 28). The whole poem creates a humbling atmosphere because in a way, the author, a mere Ethiop, is more aware with the inequalities that was happening with the world then than those so-called educated people.
“On Imagination” is another Phillis Wheatley’s masterpiece. The poem reflects the intelligence and finesse of the author and those who do not know who she is may have an impression that this poem was written by a sophisticated and well-educated person. She uses winter as a symbol to refer to the Whites who continuously pose a threat to her people. The poem “To Maecenas” also uses a lot of symbolisms to illustrate how Terence was released from the bondage of slavery (PoemHunter.com, 2009).
Phillis Wheatley was the first African American who was able to publish her literary works. Her daring pieces of literature contributed much power and passion to the world of literature. She was able to channel her life experiences and the hardships that her race suffered and put them into writing to reach out to people, Black and White Americans alike. Because of this amazing contribution, she will forever be loved and remembered.
Lewis, Jone J. “Phillis Wheatley.” About.com. 2009. 8 July 2009. <http://womenshistory.about.com/od/aframerwriters/a/philliswheatley.htm>.
Wheatley, Phillis. “On Being Brought from Africa to America.” PoemHunter.com. 2009. 8 July 2009. <http://www.poemhunter.com/poem/on-being-brought-from-africa-to-america/>.
—. “To the Rt. Hon. William, Earl of Dartmouth.” PoemHunter.com. 2009. 8 July 2009. <http://www.poemhunter.com/poem/to-the-rt-hon-william-earl-of-dartmouth/>.
—. “To the University of Cambridge.” PoemHunter.com. 2009. 8 July 2009. <http://www.poemhunter.com/poem/to-the-university-of-cambridge/>.