Wheatley’s Wit

 

phillis-wheatleyPhillis Wheatley (c.1754-1784) was a Christian, a published African-American poet, and for 17 years a slave in colonial Boston. She wrote dozens of poems on both classical and religious topics. The following selections are from Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral (1773).

Let sin, that baneful evil to the soul,
By you be shun’d, nor once remit your guard;
Suppress the deadly serpent in its egg.
Ye blooming plants of human race divine,
An Ethiop tells you ‘tis your greatest foe;
Its transient sweetness turns to endless pain,
And in immense perdition sinks the soul.
– “To the University of Cambridge, in New-England”

Take him, ye wretched, for your only good,
Take him, ye starving sinners, for your food;
Ye thirsty, come to this life-giving stream,
Ye preachers, take him for your joyful theme;
Take him, my dear Americans, he said,
Be your complaints on his kind bosom laid:
Take him, ye Africans, he longs for you,
Impartial Saviour is his title due:
Wash’d in the fountain of redeeming blood,
You shall be sons, and kings, and priests to God.
– “On the Death of the Rev. Mr. George Whitefield” (1770)

Shall day to day, and night to night conspire
To show the goodness of the Almighty Sire?
This mental voice shall man regardless hear,
And never, never raise the filial pray’r?
To-day, O hearken, nor your folly mourn
For time misspent, that never will return….
What pow’r, O man! thy reason then restores,
So long suspended in nocturnal hours?
What secret hand returns the mental train,
And gives improv’d thine active pow’rs again?
From thee, O man, what gratitude should rise!
And, when from balmy sleep thou op’st thine eyes,
Let thy first thoughts be praises to the skies.
– “Thoughts on the Works of Providence”

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