Phillis Wheatley: The First Published African American Poet

Many of us who write for Her Campus could surely agree that we write as an escape and because we enjoy it. This was true for Phillis Wheatley, who was sold into slavery from Africa to America when she was around 7 years old. She wrote poems for her own “amusement and pleasure” – according to John Wheatley, the man who bought Phillis in 1761. The Wheatley family educated Phillis, who went on to write beautiful poems, having a book of them published in 1773.

Phillis of course did not have an easy life, even once she was freed, she struggled to support herself as she could not find a publisher for a second poetry book. Biography.com says that enthusiasm for her poetry did not flourish during the Revolutionary War, so no one picked up her second volume of poems for publishing.

However, those poems that were published in 1773 are beautiful to read. Granted, they’re slightly challenging to read because of the somewhat archaic English used, but they are very interesting to read. They’re stylistically very classic poetry, with messages of religion and Phillis’s thoughts about important events happening around her.

I would highly recommend you look into her poetry, as she was a pioneer both for African American and female authors alike. I’ve included two poems I liked below, I ended up looking up some analyses of these poems which helped me try and see what was going through her head while she wrote these; enjoy!

 

A Hymn to the Evening

By Phillis Wheatley

Soon as the sun forsook the eastern main

The pealing thunder shook the heav'nly plain;

Majestic grandeur! From the zephyr's wing,

Exhales the incense of the blooming spring.

Soft purl the streams, the birds renew their notes,

And through the air their mingled music floats.

Through all the heav'ns what beauteous dies are spread!

But the west glories in the deepest red:

So may our breasts with ev'ry virtue glow,

The living temples of our God below!

Fill'd with the praise of him who gives the light,

And draws the sable curtains of the night,

Let placid slumbers sooth each weary mind,

At morn to wake more heav'nly, more refin'd;

So shall the labours of the day begin

More pure, more guarded from the snares of sin.

Night's leaden sceptre seals my drowsy eyes,

Then cease, my song, till fair Aurora rise.

 

On Being Brought from Africa to America

By Phillis Wheatley

'Twas 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 colour is a diabolic die."

Remember, Christians, Negros, black as Cain,

May be refin'd, and join th' angelic train.