Quote of the Moment: American poet Phillis Wheatley, the drive for freedom

February 19, 2018

Poet Phillis Wheatley at the Boston Women's Memorial; Lucy Stone in the background.

Phillis Wheatley at the Boston Women’s Memorial; Lucy Stone Abigail Adams in the background.

Phillis Wheatley lived as a slave in Boston, Massachusetts, during the American Revolution. Because she wrote so well, she avoided many of the problems of slavery until her master died. She died a few years later, in poverty, never achieving the fame or income she deserved.

She wrote about the Love of Freedom:

. . . in every human Breast, God has implanted a Principle, which we call Love of Freedom; it is impatient of Oppression, and pants for Deliverance … the same Principle lives in us.

Letter to the Reverend Samson Occom, February 11, 1774

Wheatley is featured in a stunning sculpture in Boston’s Women’s Memorial, with Abigail Adams and Lucy Stone.

Boston Women's Memorial at the Commonwealth Avenue Mall, featuring Phillis Wheatley, Lucy Stone and Abigail Adams.

Boston Women’s Memorial at the Commonwealth Avenue Mall, featuring Phillis Wheatley, Lucy Stone and Abigail Adams.

More:


Phillis Wheatley: Poem for General Washington, on Presidents Day

February 19, 2018

What is a good flag flying occasion without some inspiring poetry?

Get your flag up (if it’s not up already), and read some poetry from a remarkable woman, in this encore post.

Wheatley called this a poem to “His Excellency General Washington.” Sadly, she died in 1784, so she never got to see him as president.

From the Poem-a-Day folks at the American Academy of Poets:

His Excellency General Washington
by Phillis Wheatley

George Washington

George Washington, as he appears on the one-dollar bill.

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 fight.
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.

American Poet Phyllis Wheatley, detail from the Boston Women's Memorial on Commonwealth Ave.

American Poet Phillis Wheatley, detail from the Boston Women’s Memorial on Commonwealth Ave.

Who was the inspiring woman, Phillis Wheatley? Read her biography at the Academy of American Poets site.

Phillis Wheatley was the first black poet in America to publish a book. She was born around 1753 in West Africa and brought to New England in 1761, where John Wheatley of Boston purchased her as a gift for his wife. Although they brought her into the household as a slave, the Wheatleys took a great interest in Phillis’s education. Many biographers have pointed to her precocity; Wheatley learned to read and write English by the age of nine, and she became familiar with Latin, Greek, the Bible, and selected classics at an early age. She began writing poetry at thirteen, modeling her work on the English poets of the time, particularly John Milton, Thomas Gray, and Alexander Pope. Her poem “On the Death of the Rev. Mr. George Whitefield” was published as a broadside in cities such as Boston, New York, and Philadelphia and garnered Wheatley national acclaim. This poem was also printed in London. Over the next few years, she would print a number of broadsides elegizing prominent English and colonial leaders.

More, at the AAP site.

Remember to fly your flag today, February 19, for Presidents Day. If you wish, you may fly it again on February 22, the birthday of George Washington (on the Gregorian Calendar).

This is an encore post.

Yes, this is an encore post. Defeating ignorance takes patience and perseverance.


%d bloggers like this: