Phillis Wheatley, “On Virtue”

PHILLIS WHEATLEY

 “On Virtue”

 

O Thou bright jewel in my aim I strive
To comprehend thee. Thine own words declare
Wisdom is higher than a fool can reach.
I cease to wonder, and no more attempt
Thine height t’explore, or fathom thy profound.                                                        5
But, O my soul, sink not into despair,
Virtue is near thee, and with gentle hand
Would now embrace thee, hovers o’er thine head.
Fain would the heav’n-born soul with her converse,
Then seek, then court her for her promis’d bliss.                                                       10

Auspicious queen, thine heav’nly pinions spread,
And lead celestial Chastity along;
Lo! Now her sacred retinue descends,
Array’d in glory from the orbs above.
Attend me, Virtue, thro’ my youthful years!                                                                 15
O leave me not to the false joys of time!
But guide my steps to endless life and bliss.
Greatness, or Goodness, say what I shall call thee,
To give me an higher appellation still,
Teach me a better strain, a nobler lay                                                                          20
O thou, enthron’d with Cherubs in the realms of day!

NOTES

7 Virtue “A quality of people, divine beings” (OED).

9 fain “Glad, rejoiced, well-pleased” (OED).

11 pinions “The wing of a bird in flight” (OED).

12 Chastity “Purity from unlawful sexual intercourse; continence” (OED).

18 Greatness “Innate nobility or dignity,…grandeur” (OED); Goodness “The quality of being morally good; virtue; worthiness” (OED).

21 Cherubs Angels.

Source: Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral (London, 1773), pg. 13-14. [Archive.org]

Edited by Joseph R. Adams


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