assessments in his edited volume Critical Essays on Phillis Wheatley. Through the argument that she and others of her race can be saved, Wheatley slyly establishes that blacks are equal to whites. Wheatley's English publisher, Archibald Bell, for instance, advertised that Wheatley was "one of the greatest instances of pure, unassisted Genius, that the world ever produced." How do her concerns differ or converge with other black authors? A sensation in her own day, Wheatley was all but forgotten until scrutinized under the lens of African American studies in the twentieth century. The original text plus a side-by-side modern translation of. 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. Generally in her work, Wheatley devotes more attention to the soul's rising heavenward and to consoling and exhorting those left behind than writers of conventional elegies have. Carole A. By writing the poem in couplets, Wheatley helps the reader assimilate one idea at a time. 18, 33, 71, 82, 89-90. If she had left out the reference to Cain, the poem would simply be asserting that black people, too, can be saved. 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 black race itself was thought to stem from the murderer and outcast Cain, of the Bible. Therein, she implores him to right America's wrongs and be a just administrator. Select any word below to get its definition in the context of the poem. Speaking for God, the prophet at one point says, "Behold, I have refined thee, but not with silver; I have chosen thee in the furnace of affliction" (Isaiah 48:10). "In every human breast, God has implanted a Principle, which we call Lov…, Gwendolyn Brooks 1917–2000 Given this challenge, Wheatley managed, Erkkila points out, to "merge" the vocabularies of various strands of her experience—from the biblical and Protestant Evangelical to the revolutionary political ideas of the day—consequently creating "a visionary poetics that imagines the deliverance of her people" in the total change that was happening in the world. (including. "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. She is both in America and actively seeking redemption because God himself has willed it. Adding insult to injury, Wheatley co-opts the rhetoric of this group—those who say of blacks that "‘Their colour is a diabolic die"’ (6)—using their own words against them. In this verse, however, Wheatley has adeptly managed biblical allusions to do more than serve as authorizations for her writing; as finally managed in her poem, these allusions also become sites where this license is transformed into an artistry that in effect becomes exemplarily self-authorized. To be "benighted" is to be in moral or spiritual darkness as a result of ignorance or lack of enlightenment, certainly a description with which many of Wheatley's audience would have agreed. Sources "The Privileged and Impoverished Life of Phillis Wheatley" 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. Some view our sable race with scornful eye, This strategy is also evident in her use of the word benighted to describe the state of her soul (2). The need for a postcolonial criticism arose in the twentieth century, as centuries of European political domination of foreign lands were coming to a close. She was thus part of the emerging dialogue of the new republic, and her poems to leading public figures in neoclassical couplets, the English version of the heroic meters of the ancient Greek poet Homer, were hailed as masterpieces. 3. Jefferson, a Founding Father and thinker of the new Republic, felt that blacks were too inferior to be citizens. 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. — Additional information about Wheatley's life, upbringing, and education, including resources for further research. Even Washington was reluctant to use black soldiers, as William H. Robinson points out in Phillis Wheatley and Her Writings. She did not mingle with the other servants but with Boston society, and the Wheatley daughter tutored her in English, Latin, and the Bible. How is it that she was saved? — A discussion of Phillis Wheatley's controversial status within the African American community. 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. The multiple meanings of the line "Remember, Christians, Negroes black as Cain" (7), with its ambiguous punctuation and double entendres, have become a critical commonplace in analyses of the poem. Derived from the surface of Wheatley's work, this appropriate reading has generally been sensitive to her political message and, at the same time, critically negligent concerning her artistic embodiment of this message in the language and execution of her poem. She wants to inform her readers of the opposite fact—and yet the wording of her confession of faith became proof to later readers that she had sold out, like an Uncle Tom, to her captors' religious propaganda. As cited by Robinson, he wonders, "What white person upon this continent has written more beautiful lines?". Both well-known and unknown writers are represented through biography, journals, essays, poems, and fiction. She was seven or eight years old, did not speak English, and was wrapped in a dirty carpet. Recent critics looking at the whole body of her work have favorably established the literary quality of her poems and her unique historical achievement. 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. 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. The final word train not only refers to the retinue of the divinely chosen but also to how these chosen are trained, "Taught … to understand." This legitimation is implied when in the last line of the poem Wheatley tells her readers to remember that sinners "May be refin'd and join th' angelic train." Neoclassical was a term applied to eighteenth-century literature of the Enlightenment, or Age of Reason, in Europe. 3That there's a God, that there's a Saviour too: 4Once I redemption neither sought nor knew. A poem first published in 1773. She also means the aesthetic refinement that likewise (evidently in her mind at least) may accompany spiritual refinement. Wheatley enlightens her readers about her salvation, being converted to Christianity, and about the difference in … Thus, she explains the dire situation: she was in danger of losing her soul and salvation. Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography. 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. Wheatley does not reflect on this complicity except to see Africa as a land, however beautiful and Eden-like, devoid of the truth. Proof consisted in their inability to understand mathematics or philosophy or to produce art. 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. On Being Brought from Africa to America . We know she was raised by the Wheatley family, a prominent white family in Boston, and they made sure Phillis received a formal education, and, it sounds like, a formal introduction to Christianity. What kind of audience do you think Wheatley was intending to The Quakers were among the first to champion the abolition of slavery. Gates, Henry Louis, Jr., The Trials of Phillis Wheatley: America's First Black Poet and Her Encounters with the Founding Fathers, Basic Civitas Books, 2003, pp. Describe the person whom you take to be addressed by this poem, what it hopes to persuade that person of, and how it goes about persuading her or him. In "On Being Brought from Africa to America," Wheatley asserts religious freedom as an issue of primary importance. Like them (the line seems to suggest), "Once I redemption neither sought nor knew" (4; my emphasis). Davis, Arthur P., "The Personal Elements in the Poetry of Phillis Wheatley," in Critical Essays on Phillis Wheatley, edited by William H. Robinson, G. K. Hall, 1982, p. 95. Particularly apt is the clever syntax of the last two lines of the poem: "Remember, Christians, Negros, black as Cain / May be refin'd." What were their beliefs about slavery? Retrieved January 12, 2021 from Encyclopedia.com: https://www.encyclopedia.com/arts/educational-magazines/being-brought-africa-america. 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. 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. Wheatley may also cleverly suggest that the slaves' affliction includes their work in making dyes and in refining sugarcane (Levernier, "Wheatley's"), but in any event her biblical allusion subtly validates her argument against those individuals who attribute the notion of a "diabolic die" to Africans only. Line 7 is one of the difficult lines in the poem. Chosen by Him, the speaker is again thrust into the role of preacher, one with a mission to save others. LitCharts Teacher Editions. 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. She was bought by Susanna Wheatley, the wife of a Boston merchant, and given a name composed from the name of the slave ship, "Phillis," and her master's last name. Washington was pleased and replied to her. The poem describes Wheatley's experience as a young girl who was enslaved and brought to the American colonies in 1761. It is also pointed out that Wheatley perhaps did not complain of slavery because she was a pampered house servant. For instance, “ On Being Brought from Africa to America,” the best-known Wheatley poem, chides the Great Awakening audience to remember that Africans must be included in the Christian stream: “Remember, Christians, Negroes, black as Cain, /May be refin’d and join th’ angelic train.” Began “Simple…, Curse HISTORICAL CONTEXT The first two children died in infancy, and the third died along with Wheatley herself in December 1784 in poverty in a Boston boardinghouse. This phrase can be read as Wheatley's effort to have her privileged white audience understand for just a moment what it is like to be singled out as "diabolic." The African-American’s place in society has been and still is a sensitive issue in America. In effect, the reader is invited to return to the start of the poem and judge whether, on the basis of the work itself, the poet has proven her point about the equality of the two races in the matter of cultural well as spiritual refinement. 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. At this point, the poem displaces its biblical legitimation by drawing attention to its own achievement, as inherent testimony to its argument. Levernier considers Wheatley predominantly in view of her unique position as a black poet in Revolutionary white America. The question of slavery weighed heavily on the revolutionaries, for it ran counter to the principles of government that they were fighting for. ." — A discussion of Phillis Wheatley's controversial status within the African American community. When the un-Christian speak of "‘their color,"’ they might just as easily be pointing to the white members of the audience who have accepted the invitation into Wheatley's circle. She does not, however, stipulate exactly whose act of mercy it was that saved her, God's or man's. Wheatley and Women's History The difficulties she may have encountered in America are nothing to her, compared to possibly having remained unsaved. She also indicates, apropos her point about spiritual change, that the Christian sense of Original Sin applies equally to both races. Such couplets were usually closed and full sentences, with parallel structure for both halves. Postcolonial criticism began to account for the experience and alienation of indigenous peoples who were colonized and changed by a controlling culture. In fact, blacks fought on both sides of the Revolutionary War, hoping to gain their freedom in the outcome. While Wheatley included some traditional elements of the elegy, or praise for the dead, in "On Being Brought from Africa to America," she primarily combines sermon and meditation techniques in the poem. Although her intended audience is not black, she still refers to "our sable race." The eighteen judges signed a document, which Phillis took to London with her, accompanied by the Wheatley son, Nathaniel, as proof of who she was. 3, 1974, pp. She was the first African American to publish a full book, although other slave authors, such as Lucy Terry and Jupiter Hammon, had printed individual poems before her. Wheatley continues her stratagem by reminding the audience of more universal truths than those uttered by the "some." She wrote and published verses to George Washington, the general of the Revolutionary army, saying that he was sure to win with virtue on his side. This position called for a strategy by which she cleverly empowered herself with moral authority through irony, the critic claims in a Style article. As placed in Wheatley's poem, this allusion can be read to say that being white (silver) is no sign of privilege (spiritually or culturally) because God's chosen are refined (purified, made spiritually white) through the afflictions that Christians and Negroes have in common, as mutually benighted descendants of Cain. Published First Book of Poetry Her poems have the familiar invocations to the muses (the goddesses of inspiration), references to Greek and Roman gods and stories, like the tragedy of Niobe, and place names like Olympus and Parnassus. On Being Brought from Africa to America by Phillis Wheatley: Summary and Analysis Phillis Wheatley was brought to America from Africa at the age of eight. She does more here than remark that representatives of the black race may be refined into angelic matter—made, as it were, spiritually white through redemptive Christianizing. POEM SUMMARY — More on Wheatley's work from PBS, including illustrations of her poems and a portrait of the poet herself. Redemption in that, the subject is saved from her pagan way of life. Following fuller scholarly investigation into her complete works, however, many agree that this interpretation is oversimplified and does not do full justice to her awareness of injustice. From the start, critics have had difficulty disentangling the racial and literary issues. Over a third of her poems in the 1773 volume were elegies, or consolations for the death of a loved one. Wheatley was hailed as a genius, celebrated in Europe and America just as the American Revolution broke out in the colonies. To a Christian, it would seem that the hand of divine Providence led to her deliverance; God lifted her forcibly and dramatically out of that ignorance. Source: Susan Andersen, Critical Essay on "On Being Brought from Africa to America," in Poetry for Students, Gale, Cengage Learning, 2009. It's probably Africa, because, ummm, the title is "On Being Brought from Africa to America," but it's also a country that didn't practice Christianity. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list. Mary Beth Norton presents documents from before and after the war in. In fact, the Wheatleys introduced Phillis to their circle of Evangelical antislavery friends. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list. The Wheatleys had to flee Boston when the British occupied the city. In "On Being Brought from Africa to America," Wheatley identifies herself first and foremost as a Christian, rather than as African or American, and asserts everyone's equality in God's sight. 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. Those who have contended that Wheatley had no thoughts on slavery have been corrected by such poems as the one to the Earl of Dartmouth, the British secretary of state for North America. What difficulties did they face in considering the abolition of the institution in the formation of the new government? Deonca Pierce ENG 350 American Literature I 2 September 2011 Response paper 3: “On Being Brought from Africa to America” To the literary world, Phillis Wheatley is recognized as the first black American poet (Archiving Early America, 2011). Benjamin Franklin visited her. Lines 1 to 4 here represent such a typical meditation, rejoicing in being saved from a life of sin. Betsy Erkkila describes this strategy as "a form of mimesis that mimics and mocks in the act of repeating" ("Revolutionary" 206). Encyclopedia.com. 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. — An online version of Wheatley's poetry collection, including "On Being Brought from Africa to America.". Western notions of race were still evolving. In addition, Wheatley's language consistently emphasizes the worth of black Christians. Cite this article Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography. 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