A Public Sphere for Poetry, Politics, and Nature
Hail, happy day, when, smiling like the morn, Fair Freedom rose New-England to adorn: The northern clime beneath her genial ray, Dartmouth, congratulates thy blissful sway: Elate with hope her race no longer mourns, Each soul expands, each grateful bosom burns, While in thine hand with pleasure we behold The silken reins, and Freedom's charms unfold. Long lost to realms beneath the northern skies She shines supreme, while hated faction dies: Soon as appear'd the Goddess long desir'd, Sick at the view, she languish'd and expir'd; Thus from the splendors of the morning light The owl in sadness seeks the caves of night. No more, America, in mournful strain Of wrongs, and grievance unredress'd complain, No longer shalt thou dread the iron chain, Which wanton Tyranny with lawless hand Had made, and with it meant t' enslave the land. Should you, my lord, while you peruse my song, Wonder from whence my love of Freedom sprung, Whence flow these wishes for the common good, By feeling hearts alone best understood, I, young in life, by seeming cruel fate Was snatch'd from Afric's fancy'd happy seat: What pangs excruciating must molest, What sorrows labour in my parent's breast? Steel'd was that soul and by no misery mov'd That from a father seiz'd his babe belov'd: Such, such my case. And can I then but pray Others may never feel tyrannic sway? For favours past, great Sir, our thanks are due, And thee we ask thy favours to renew, Since in thy pow'r, as in thy will before, To sooth the griefs, which thou did'st once deplore. May heav'nly grace the sacred sanction give To all thy works, and thou for ever live Not only on the wings of fleeting Fame, Though praise immortal crowns the patriot's name, But to conduct to heav'ns refulgent fane, May fiery coursers sweep th' ethereal plain, And bear thee upwards to that blest abode, Where, like the prophet, thou shalt find thy God. ----
“To the Right Honorable William, Earl of Dartmouth” by Phillis Wheatley was written as a thank you to the newly appointed earl for freeing the colonies from the tyranny of Britain. In its idealization of freedom, the poem cleverly relates the bondage of the colonies to the bondage of the poet's own enslaved people. For a close reading of the poem, click here.
Bio of author:
Phillis Wheatley, also spelled Phyllis and Wheatly (c. 1753 – December 5, 1784) was the first African-American author of a book of poetry. Born in West Africa, she was sold into slavery at the age of seven or eight and transported to North America. She was purchased by the Wheatley family of Boston, who taught her to read and write and encouraged her poetry when they saw her talent. On a 1773 trip to London with her master’s son, seeking publication of her work, she was aided in meeting prominent people who became patrons. The publication in London of her Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral on September 1, 1773, brought her fame both in England and the American colonies. Figures such as George Washington praised her work. A few years later, African-American poet Jupiter Hammon praised her work in a poem of his own. Wheatley was emancipated by the Wheatleys shortly after the publication of her book. She married in about 1778. Two of her children died as infants. After her husband was imprisoned for debt in 1784, Wheatley fell into working poverty and died of illness. Her last infant son died soon after. (adapted from Wikipedia)