Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral She was in a sinful and ignorant state, not knowing God or Christ. Though lauded in her own day for overcoming the then unimaginable boundaries of race, slavery, and gender, by the twentieth century Wheatley was vilified, primarily for her poem "On Being Brought from Africa to America." It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil Crushed. Wheatley lived in the middle of the passionate controversies of the times, herself a celebrated cause and mover of events. CRITICISM Notably, it was likely that Wheatley, like many slaves, had been sold by her own countrymen. "May be refined" can be read either as synonymous for ‘can’ or as a warning: No one, neither Christians nor Negroes, should take salvation for granted. No one is excluded from the Savior's tender mercy—not the worst people whites can think of—not Cain, not blacks. The excuse for her race being enslaved is that it is thought to be evil and without a chance for salvation; by asserting that the black race is as competent for and deserving of salvation as any other, the justification for slavery is refuted, for it cannot be right to treat other divine souls as property. If allowances have finally been made for her difficult position as a slave in Revolutionary Boston, black readers and critics still have not forgiven her the literary sin of writing to white patrons in neoclassical couplets. Illustrated Works — An online version of Wheatley's poetry collection, including "On Being Brought from Africa to America.". Christians In this poem, the speaker contends with being "brought from Africa to America," calling this a merciful act as their "benighted soul" was taught to "understand/ That there's a God" and a Saviour. She admits that people are scornful of her race and that she came from a pagan background. "On Being Brought from Africa to America" is a statement of pride and comfort in who she is, though she gives the credit to God for the blessing. The Wheatley home was not far from Revolutionary scenes such as the Boston Massacre and the Boston Tea Party. Her biblically authorized claim that the offspring of Cain "may be refin'd" to "join th' angelic train" transmutes into her self-authorized artistry, in which her desire to raise Cain about the prejudices against her race is refined into the ministerial "angelic train" (the biblical and artistic train of thought) of her poem. She had been publishing poems and letters in American newspapers on both religious matters and current topics. Phillis lived for a time with the married Wheatley daughter in Providence, but then she married a free black man from Boston, John Peters, in 1778. Rather than creating distinctions, the speaker actually collapses those which the "some" have worked so hard to create and maintain, the source of their dwindling authority (at least within the precincts of the poem). In this poem Wheatley gives her white readers argumentative and artistic proof; and she gives her black readers an example of how to appropriate biblical ground to self-empower their similar development of religious and cultural refinement. The poet quickly and ably turns into a moral teacher, explaining as to her backward American friends the meaning of their own religion. Skin color, Wheatley asserts, has nothing to do with evil or salvation. Recently, critics like James Levernier have tried to provide a more balanced view of Wheatley's achievement by studying her style within its historical context. Accordingly, Wheatley's persona in "On Being Brought from Africa to America" qualifies the critical complaints that her poetry is imitative, inadequate, and unmilitant (e.g., Collins; Richmond 54-66); her persona resists the conclusion that her poetry shows a resort to scripture in lieu of imagination (Ogude); and her persona suggests that her religious poetry may be compatible with her political writings (e.g., Akers; Burroughs). The two allusions to Isaiah in particular initially serve to authorize her poem; then, in their circular reflexivity apropos the poem itself, they metamorphose into a form of self-authorization. CRITICAL OVERVIEW Rigsby, Gregory, "Form and Content in Phillis Wheatley's Elegies," in College Language Association Journal, Vol. Reading Wheatley not just as an African American author but as a transatlantic black author, like Ignatius Sancho and Olaudah Equiano, the critics demonstrate that early African writers who wrote in English represent "a diasporic model of racial identity" moving between the cultures of Africa, Europe, and the Americas. This line is meaningful to an Evangelical Christian because one's soul needs to be in a state of grace, or sanctified by Christ, upon leaving the earth. Encyclopedia.com. Levernier considers Wheatley predominantly in view of her unique position as a black poet in Revolutionary white America. "On Being Brought from Africa to America" (1773) has been read as Phillis Wheatley's repudiation of her African heritage of paganism, but not necessarily of her African identity as a member of the black race (e.g., Isani 65). The opening thought is thus easily accepted by a white or possibly hostile audience: that she is glad she came to America to find true religion. As did "To the University of Cambridge," this poem begins with the sentiment that the speaker's removal from Africa was an act of "mercy," but in this context it becomes Wheatley's version of the "fortunate fall"; the speaker's removal to the colonies, despite the circumstances, is perceived as a blessing. While ostensibly about the fate of those black Christians who see the light and are saved, the final line in "On Being Brought From Africa to America" is also a reminder to the members of her audience about their own fate should they choose unwisely. Her rhetoric has the effect of merging the female with the male, the white with the black, the Christian with the Pagan. West Africa 4, 1974, p. 95. Though a slave when the book was published in England, she was set free based on its success. The elegy usually has several parts, such as praising the dead, picturing them in heaven, and consoling the mourner with religious meditations. The justification was given that the participants in a republican government must possess the faculty of reason, and it was widely believed that Africans were not fully human or in possession of adequate reason. on being brought from africa to america intended audience Andersen holds a PhD in literature and teaches literature and writing. 103-104. Select any word below to get its definition in the context of the poem. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list. Many readers today are offended by this line as making Africans sound too dull or brainwashed by religion to realize the severity of their plight in America. One critical problem has been an incomplete collection of Wheatley's work. She was seven or eight years old, did not speak English, and was wrapped in a dirty carpet. The line leads the reader to reflect that Wheatley was not as naive, or as shielded from prejudice, as some have thought. Wheatley calls herself an adventurous Afric, and so she was, mastering the materials given to her to create with. For Wheatley's management of the concept of refinement is doubly nuanced in her poem. Mary Beth Norton presents documents from before and after the war in. Importantly, she mentions that the act of understanding God and Savior comes from the soul. For the unenlightened reader, the poems may well seem to be hackneyed and pedestrian pleas for acceptance; for the true Christian, they become a validation of one's status as a member of the elect, regardless of race …. AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY In these ways, then, the biblical and aesthetic subtleties of Wheatley's poem make her case about refinement. — A discussion of Phillis Wheatley's controversial status within the African American community. At this point, the poem displaces its biblical legitimation by drawing attention to its own achievement, as inherent testimony to its argument. Baker, Houston A., Jr., Workings of the Spirit: The Poetics of Afro-American Women's Writing, University of Chicago Press, 1991. A second biblical allusion occurs in the word train. Give a report on the history of Quaker involvement in the antislavery movement. The word Some also introduces a more critical tone on the part of the speaker, as does the word Remember, which becomes an admonition to those who call themselves "Christians" but do not act as such. This position called for a strategy by which she cleverly empowered herself with moral authority through irony, the critic claims in a Style article. In this sense, white and black people are utterly equal before God, whose authority transcends the paltry earthly authorities who have argued for the inequality of the two races. They have become, within the parameters of the poem at least, what they once abhorred—benighted, ignorant, lost in moral darkness, unenlightened—because they are unable to accept the redemption of Africans. “On … Wheatley was hailed as a genius, celebrated in Europe and America just as the American Revolutionbroke out in the colonies. Line 7 is one of the difficult lines in the poem. Eleanor Smith, in her 1974 article in the Journal of Negro Education, pronounces Wheatley too white in her values to be of any use to black people. 43, No. "On Being Brought from Africa to America" is a single stanza made up of eight lines and has an AABBCCDD rhyming structure. Surely, too, she must have had in mind the clever use of syntax in the penultimate line of her poem, as well as her argument, conducted by means of imagery and nuance, for the equality of both races in terms of their mutually "benighted soul." They must also accede to the equality of black Christians and their own sinful nature. This strategy is also evident in her use of the word benighted to describe the state of her soul (2). On this note, the speaker segues into the second stanza, having laid out her ("Christian") position and established the source of her rhetorical authority. Her strategy relies on images, references, and a narrative position that would have been strikingly familiar to her audience. The black race itself was thought to stem from the murderer and outcast Cain, of the Bible. Poet 18, 33, 71, 82, 89-90. The poem describes Wheatley's experience as a young girl who was enslaved and brought to the American colonies in 1761. The first allusion occurs in the word refin'd. Phillis was known as a prodigy, devouring the literary classics and the poetry of the day. 233, 237. assessments in his edited volume Critical Essays on Phillis Wheatley. Encyclopedia.com gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA). Calling herself such a lost soul here indicates her understanding of what she was before being saved by her religion. She did not know that she was in a sinful state. On the other hand, Gilbert Imlay, a writer and diplomat, disagreed with Jefferson, holding Wheatley's genius to be superior to Jefferson's. There are poems in which she idealizes the African climate as Eden, and she constantly identifies herself in her poems as the Afric muse. Carretta and Gould note the problems of being a literate black in the eighteenth century, having more than one culture or language. transatlantic slave trade, part of the global slave trade that transported 10–12 million enslaved Africans to the Americas from the 16th to the 19th century. Wheatley's growing fame led Susanna Wheatley to advertise for a subscription to publish a whole book of her poems. Thus, she explains the dire situation: she was in danger of losing her soul and salvation. Wheatley's revision of this myth possibly emerges in part as a result of her indicative use of italics, which equates Christians, Negros, and Cain (Levernier, "Wheatley's"); it is even more likely that this revisionary sense emerges as a result of the positioning of the comma after the word Negros. Baker offers readings of such authors as Zora Neale Hurston, Toni Morrison, and Ntozake Shange as examples of his theoretical framework, explaining that African American women's literature is concerned with a search for spiritual identity. He deserted Phillis after their third child was born. From this perspective, Africans were living in darkness. She was planning a second volume of poems, dedicated to Benjamin Franklin, when the Revolutionary War broke out. There was no precedent for it. Detailed explanations, analysis, and citation info for every important quote on LitCharts. On being brought from Africa to America By: Phillis Wheatley Rhyme Scheme Land A Understand A Too B Knew B Eye C Die Diction C Cain D Benighted- Ignorant to the fact that someone can take her and sell her Train D Sable Race- The poem is about how negros were viewed and how they Although she was captured and violently brought across the ocean from the west shores of Africa in a slave boat, a frail and naked child of seven or eight, and nearly dead by the time she arrived in Boston, Wheatley actually hails God's kindness for his delivering her from a heathen land. Nevertheless, Wheatley was a legitimate woman of learning and letters who consciously participated in the public discussion of the day, in a voice representing the living truth of what America claimed it stood for—whether or not the slave-owning citizens were prepared to accept it. John Hancock, one of Wheatley's examiners in her trial of literacy and one of the founders of the United States, was also a slaveholder, as were Washington and Jefferson. Unlike Wheatley, her success continues to increase, and she is one of the richest people in America. Therefore, it’s best to use Encyclopedia.com citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites: http://www.chicagomanualofstyle.org/tools_citationguide.html. 1-8" (Mason 75-76). She notes that the poem is "split between Africa and America, embodying the poet's own split consciousness as African American." Western notions of race were still evolving. For example, while the word die is clearly meant to refer to skin pigmentation, it also suggests the ultimate fate that awaits all people, regardless of color or race. These documents are often anthologized along with the Declaration of Independence as proof, as Wheatley herself said to the Native American preacher Samson Occom, that freedom is an innate right. Because she was physically frail, she did light housework in the Wheatley household and was a favorite companion to Susanna. In 1773 her Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral (which includes "On Being Brought from Africa. By tapping into the common humanity that lies at the heart of Christian doctrine, Wheatley poses a gentle but powerful challenge to racism in America. The pair of ten-syllable rhymes—the heroic couplet—was thought to be the closest English equivalent to classical meter. She was instructed in Evangelical Christianity from her arrival and was a devout practicing Christian. In this regard, one might pertinently note that Wheatley's voice in this poem anticipates the ministerial role unwittingly assumed by an African-American woman in the twenty-third chapter of Harriet Beecher Stowe's The Minister's Wooing (1859), in which Candace's hortatory words intrinsically reveal what male ministers have failed to teach about life and love. "On Being Brought from Africa to America" finally changes from a meditation to a sermon when Wheatley addresses an audience in her exhortation in the last two lines. … Wheatley's cultural awareness is even more evident in the poem "On Being Brought From Africa to America," written the year after the Harvard poem in 1768. Cain Poetry for Students. This style of poetry hardly appeals today because poets adhering to it strove to be objective and used elaborate and decorous language thought to be elevated. 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. In fact, the whole thrust of the poem is to prove the paradox that in being enslaved, she was set free in a spiritual sense. Chosen by Him, the speaker is again thrust into the role of preacher, one with a mission to save others. In returning the reader circularly to the beginning of the poem, this word transforms its biblical authorization into a form of exemplary self-authorization. Judging from a full reading of her poems, it does not seem likely that she herself ever accepted such a charge against her race. Nor does Wheatley construct this group as specifically white, so that once again she resists antagonizing her white readers. If Wheatley's image of "angelic train" participates in the heritage of such poetic discourse, then it also suggests her integration of aesthetic authority and biblical authority at this final moment of her poem. In a few short lines, the poem "On Being Brought from Africa to America" juxtaposes religious language with the institution of slavery, to touch on the ideas of equality, salvation, and liberty. While grateful for the religion brought to her by enslavement, the speaker bemoans the loss of freedom and argues that blacks and whites alike share the same human potential. The Wheatleys had to flee Boston when the British occupied the city. The original text plus a side-by-side modern translation of. She separates herself from the audience of white readers as a black person, calling attention to the difference. , 3That there's a God, that there's a Saviour too: 4Once I redemption neither sought nor knew. It has been variously read as a direct address to Christians, Wheatley's declaration that both the supposed Christians in her audience and the Negroes are as "black as Cain," and her way of indicating that the terms Christians and Negroes are synonymous. 189, 193. She places everyone on the same footing, in spite of any polite protestations related to racial origins. As her poem indicates, with the help of God, she has overcome, and she exhorts others that they may do the same. Cite this article Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography. Parks, Carole A., "Phillis Wheatley Comes Home," in Black World, Vo. These ideas of freedom and the natural rights of human beings were so potent that they were seized by all minorities and ethnic groups in the ensuing years and applied to their own cases. The prosperous Wheatley family of Boston had several slaves, but the poet was treated from the beginning as a companion to the family and above the other servants. From the creators of SparkNotes, something better. The early reviews, often written by people who had met her, refer to her as a genius. She was about twenty years old, black, and a woman. Providing a comprehensive and inspiring perspective in The Trials of Phillis Wheatley: America's First Black Poet and Her Encounters with the Founding Fathers, Henry Louis Gates, Jr., remarks on the irony that "Wheatley, having been pain-stakingly authenticated in her own time, now stands as a symbol of falsity, artificiality, of spiritless and rote convention." The resulting verse sounds pompous and inauthentic to the modern ear, one of the problems that Wheatley has among modern audiences. This is why she can never love tyranny. Instant downloads of all 1392 LitChart PDFs The world as an awe-inspiring reflection of God's will, rather than human will, was a Christian doctrine that Wheatley saw in evidence around her and was the reason why, despite the current suffering of her race, she could hope for a heavenly future. On Being Brought From Africa to America “On Being Brought From Africa to America” is a poem by Phillis Wheatley, published in her 1773 book Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral. She is both in America and actively seeking redemption because God himself has willed it. Phillis Wheatley's poem "On Being Brought from Africa to America" appeared in her 1773 volume Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral, the first full-length published work by an African American author. This racial myth and the mention of slavery in the Bible led Europeans to consider it no crime to enslave blacks, for they were apparently a marked and evil race. 1, 2002, pp. https://www.encyclopedia.com/arts/educational-magazines/being-brought-africa-america, "On Being Brought from Africa to America Specifically, Wheatley deftly manages two biblical allusions in her last line, both to Isaiah. An in-depth analysis of Phillis Wheatly's "On Being Brought from African to America" for American Lit. The opening sentiments would have been easily appreciated by Wheatley's contemporary white audience, but the last four lines exhorted them to reflect on their assumptions about the black race. From the start, critics have had difficulty disentangling the racial and literary issues. On Being Brought from Africa to America by Phillis Wheatley Lesson Plans by Rebecca Ray In a few short lines, the poem "On Being Brought from Africa to America" juxtaposes religious language with the institution of slavery, to touch on the ideas of equality, salvation, and liberty. A soul in darkness to Wheatley means someone unconverted. Write an essay and give evidence for your findings from the poems and letters and the history known about her life. By making religion a matter between God and the individual soul, an Evangelical belief, she removes the discussion from social opinion or reference. to America") was published by Archibald Bell of London. 49, 52. In the final four lines of the poem, she discusses that all people, no matter race, religion, etc. Form two groups and hold a debate on the topic. Erkkila's insight into Wheatley's dualistic voice, which allowed her to blend various points of view, is validated both by a reading of her complete works and by the contemporary model of early transatlantic black literature, which enlarges the boundaries of reference for her achievement. Wheatley, Phillis, Complete Writings, edited by Vincent Carretta, Penguin Books, 2001. Wheatley is known for becoming the first African American woman to publish a book. The words are listed in the order in which they appear in the poem. She is grateful for being made a slave, so she can receive the dubious benefits of the civilization into which she has been transplanted. In addition, Wheatley's language consistently emphasizes the worth of black Christians. Henry Louis Gates, Jr., in The Trials of Phillis Wheatley: America's First Black Poet and Her Encounters with the Founding Fathers (2003), contends that Wheatley's reputation as a whitewashed black poet rests almost entirely on interpretations of "On Being Brought from Africa to America," which he calls "the most reviled poem in African-American literature." Recent critics looking at the whole body of her work have favorably established the literary quality of her poems and her unique historical achievement. The more thoughtful assertions come later, when she claims her race's equality. — An online version of Wheatley's poetry collection, including "On Being Brought from Africa to America.". Among her tests for aesthetic refinement, Wheatley doubtless had in mind her careful management of metrics and rhyme in "On Being Brought from Africa to America." Many of her elegies meditate on the soul in heaven, as she does briefly here in line 8. The reception became such because the poem does not explicitly challenge slavery and almost seems to subtly approve of it, in that it brought about the poet's Christianity. Who is Phillis Wheatley’s audience in this poem? Although her intended audience is not black, she still refers to "our sable race." Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates. Once I redemption neither sought nor knew. In this, she asserts her religion as her priority in life; but, as many commentators have pointed out, it does not necessarily follow that she condones slavery, for there is evidence that she did not, in such poems as the one to Dartmouth and in the letter to Samson Occom. Gates, Henry Louis, Jr., "Phillis Wheatley and the Nature of the Negro," in Critical Essays on Phillis Wheatley, edited by William H. Robinson, G. K. Hall, 1982, pp. 2. This same spirit in literature and philosophy gave rise to the revolutionary ideas of government through human reason, as popularized in the Declaration of Independence. This discrepancy between the rhetoric of freedom and the fact of slavery was often remarked upon in Europe. Wheatley’s work is convincing based on its content. Here she mentions nothing about having been free in Africa while now being enslaved in America. "Their colour is a diabolic die.". Just as the American founders looked to classical democracy for models of government, American poets attempted to copy the themes and spirit of the classical authors of Greece and Rome. Over a third of her poems in the 1773 volume were elegies, or consolations for the death of a loved one. She meditates on her specific case of conversion in the first half of the poem and considers her conversion as a general example for her whole race in the second half. Today: African Americans are educated and hold political office, even becoming serious contenders for the office of president of the United States. So many in the world do not know God or Christ. In thusly alluding to Isaiah, Wheatley initially seems to defer to scriptural authority, then transforms this legitimation into a form of artistic self-empowerment, and finally appropriates this biblical authority through an interpreting ministerial voice. Nevertheless, in her association of spiritual and aesthetic refinement, she also participates in an extensive tradition of religious poets, like George Herbert and Edward Taylor, who fantasized about the correspondence between their spiritual reconstruction and the aesthetic grace of their poetry. Some of her poems and letters are lost, but several of the unpublished poems survived and were later found. 'On Being Brought from Africa to America' is a short but powerful poem that illustrates the complexity of Phillis Wheatley's life as an educated but enslaved African American woman. Wheatley was a member of the Old South Congregational Church of Boston. Line 2 explains why she considers coming to America to have been good fortune. It seems most likely that Wheatley refers to the sinful quality of any person who has not seen the light of God. The poem describes Wheatley's experience as a young girl who was enslaved and brought to the American colonies in 1761. Wheatley may also be using the rhetorical device of bringing up the opponent's worst criticism in order to defuse it. Thus, in order to participate fully in the meaning of the poem, the audience must reject the false authority of the "some," an authority now associated with racism and hypocrisy, and accept instead the authority that the speaker represents, an authority based on the tenets of Christianity. 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