UMass Amherst

Poets And Poetry Of New England
Phillis Wheatley: Selections From Phillis Wheatley Poems And Letters (Miami Mnemosyne Publishing Co., 1969.)

For a list of useful poetry criticism and sources specific to Phillis Wheatley, click here.


"His Excellency, General Washington" (1775)

Celestial choir, enthron'd in realms of light,
Columbia's scenes of glorious toils I write.
While freedom's cause her anxious breast alarms,
She flashes dreadful in refulgent arms.
See mother earth her offspring's fate bemoan,
And nations gaze at scenes before unknown;
See the bright beams of heaven's revolving light
Involved in sorrows and the veil of night!

The Goddess comes, she moves divinely fair,
Olive and laurel binds Her golden hair:
Wherever shines this native of the skies,
Unnumber'd charms and recent graces rise.

Muse! Bow propitious while my pen relates
How pour Her armies through a thousand gates,
As when Eolus heaven's fair face deforms,
Enwrapp'd in tempest and a night of storms;
Astonish'd ocean feels the wild uproar,
The refluent surges beat the sounding shore;
Or think as leaves in Autumn's golden reign,
Such, and so many, moves the warrior's train.
In bright array they seek the work of war,
Where high unfurl'd the ensign waves in air.
Shall I to Washington their praise recite?
Enough thou know'st them in the fields of fright.
Thee, first in peace and honors-we demand
The grace and glory of thy martial band.
Fam'd for thy valour, for thy virtues more,
Hear every tongue thy guardian aid implore!

One century scarce perform'd its destined round,
When Gallic powers Columbia's fury found;
And so may you, whoever dares disgrace
The land of freedom's heaven-defended race!
Fix'd are the eyes of nations on the scales,
For in their hopes Columbia's arm prevails.
Anon Britannia droops the pensive head,
While round increase the rising hills of dead.
Ah! Cruel blindness to Columbia's state!
Lament thy thirst of boundless power too late.

Proceed, great chief, with virtue on thy side,
Thy ev'ry action let the Goddess guide.
A crown, a mansion, and a throne that shine,
With gold unfading, Washington! Be thine.


"On Major General Lee"*
(1776)

The deed perfidious, and the Hero's fate,
In tender strains, celestial Muse! relate,
The latent foe to friendship makes pretence,
The name assumes without the sacred sense!
He, with a rapture well dissembl'd press'd
The hero's hand, and , fraudful, thus address'd,
"O friend belov'd! May heaven its aid afford,
And spread yon troops beneath thy conquering sword!
Grant to America's united prayer
A glorious conquest on the field of war!
But thou indulgent to my warm request,
Vouchsafe thy presence as my honor'd guest:
From martial cares a space unbend thy soul
In social banquet, and the sprightly bowl."
Thus spoke the foe; and warlike Lee reply'd
"Ill fits it me, who such an army guide,
To whom his conduct each brave soldier owes,
To waste an hour in banquets or repose:
But guide my steps to endless life and bliss.
Greatness, or Goodness, say what shall I call thee,
To give an higher appellation still:
Teach me a better strain, a nobler lay,
O thou enthroned with cherubs in the realms of day!



*The following thought on his Excellency Major General Lee being betray'd into the hands of the Enemy by the treachery of a pretended Friend: To The Honorable James Bowdoin Esqr. Are most respectfully Inscrib'd. BY his most obedient and devoted humble servant, Phillis Wheatley. First printed in the Proceedings of the Massachusetts Historical Society, 1865.



"On Being Brought from Africa to America"

'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 color is a diabolic dye."
Remember Christians, Negroes black as Cain
May be refined, and join the angelic train.



"To the University of Cambridge, in New England"

While an intrinsic ardor prompts to write,
The Muses promise to assist my pen.
'T was not long since I left my native shore,
The land of errors and Egyptian gloom:
Father of mercy! 't was thy gracious hand
Brought me in safety from those dark abodes.

Students, to you 't is given to scan the heights
Above, to traverse the etherial space,  (ethereal)
And mark the systems of revolving worlds.
Still more, ye sons of science, ye receive
The blissful news by messengers from heaven,
How Jesus' blood for your redemption flows.
See him, with hands outstretched upon the cross!
Immense compassion in his bosom glows;
He hears revilers, nor resents their scorn.
What matchless mercy in the Son of God!
He deigned to die, that they might rise again,
And share with him, in the sublimest skies,
Life without death, and glory without end.

Improve your privileges while they stay,
Ye pupils; and each hour redeem , that bears
Or good or bad report of you to heaven.
Let sin, that baneful evil to the soul,
By you be shunned; nor once remit your guard:
Suppress the deadly serpent in its egg,
Ye blooming plants of human race divine,
As Ethiop tells you, 't is your greatest foe:
Its transient sweetness turns to endless pain,
And in immense perdition sinks the soul.



"On Liberty and Slavery"

Alas! and am I born for this,
    To wear this slavish chain?
Deprived of all created bliss,
    Through hardship, toil and pain!

How long have I in bondage lain,
        And languished to be free!
Alas! and must I still complain---
        Deprived of liberty.

Oh, Heaven! And is there no relief
        This side the silent grave---
To soothe the pain--- to quell the grief
        And anguish of a slave?

Come Liberty, thou cheerful sound,
        Roll through my ravished ears!
Come, let my grief in joys be drowned,
        And drive away my fears.

Say unto foul oppression, Cease:
        Ye tyrants rage no more,
And let the joyful trump of peace,
        Now bid the vassal soar.

Soar on the pinions of that dove
        Which long has cooed for thee,
And breathed her notes from Afric's grove
        The sound of Liberty.

Oh, Liberty! Thou golden prize,
        So often sought by blood---
We crave thy sacred sun to rise,
        The gift of nature's God!

Bid Slavery hide her haggard face,
        And barbarism fly:
I scorn to see the sad disgrace
        In which enslaved I lie.

Dear Liberty! Upon thy breast,
        I languish to respire;
And like the Swan unto her nest,
        I'd to thy smiles retire.

Oh, blest asylum--- heavenly balm!
        Unto thy boughs I flee-
And in thy shades the storm shall calm
        With songs of Liberty!

 

"To Eliza"

        Eliza, tell thy lover why
Or what induced thee to deceive me?
        Fare thee well--- away I fly---
I shun the lass who thus will grieve me.

        Eliza, still thou art my song,
Although by force I may forsake thee;
        Fare thee well, for I was wrong
To woo thee while another take thee.

        Eliza, pause and think awhile-
Sweet lass! I shall forget thee never:
        Fare thee well! Although I smile,
I grieve to give thee up forever.

        Eliza, I shall think of thee-
My heart shall ever twine about thee;
        Fare thee well--- but think of me,
Compell'd to live and die without thee.

        "Fare thee well!--- And if forever,
Still forever fare thee well!"



"Love"

Whilest tracing thy visage, I sink in emotion,
        For no other damsel so wond'rous I see;
Thy looks are so pleasing, thy charms so amazing,
        I think of no other, my true-love, but thee.

With heart-burning rapture I gaze on thy beauty,
        And fly like a bird to the boughs of a tree;
Thy looks are so pleasing, thy charms so amazing,
        I fancy no other, my true love, but thee.

Thus oft in the valley I think and I wonder
        Why cannot a maid and her lover agree?
Thy looks are so pleasing, thy charms so amazing,
        I pine for no other, my true love, but thee.

I'd fly from thy frowns with a heart full of sorrow---
        Return, pretty damsel, and smile thou on me;
By every endeavor, I'll try thee forever,
        And languish until I am fancied by thee.