Phillis Wheatley, “To the University of Cambridge, in New-England”

PHILLIS WHEATLEY

 “To the University of CAMBRIDGE, in NEW-ENGLAND.”

 

While an intrinsic ardor prompts to write,
The muses promise to assist my pen;
’Twas not long since I left my native shore,
The land of errors, and Egyptian gloom:
Father of mercy, twas thy gracious hand                                         5
Brought me to safety from those dark abodes.

Students, to you ‘tis giv’n to scan the heights
Above, to traverse the ethereal space,
And mark the systems of revolving worlds.
Still more, ye sons of science ye receive                                           10
The blissful news by messengers from heav’n,
How Jesus blood for your redemption flows.
See him with hands out-stretcht upon the cross;
Immense compassion in his bosom glows;
He hears revilers, nor resents their scorn:                                       15
What matchless mercy in the Son of God!
When the whole human race by sin had fall’n,
He deign’d to die, that they might rise again,
And share with him in the sublimest skies,
Life without death, and glory without end.                                        20

Improve your privileges while they stay,
Ye pupils, and each hour redeem, that bears
Or good or bad report of you to heav’n.
Let sin, that baneful evil to the soul,
By you be shunn’d, nor once remit your guard;                                 25
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.                                            30

NOTES:

 Title   Harvard University, named after benefactor John Harvard (1607-1638), was established
in 1637 in Newetowne, MA, renamed “Cambridge” in 1638 (harvard.edu).

 1  ardor   “Enthusiasm or passion” (OED).

 2   muses   “The Nine Muses in Greek mythology, goddesses of the arts, literature and
science,” daughters of the Greek god Zeus and Titan goddess of memory, Mnemosyne
(OED).

18  deigned   “Beneath one’s dignity” (OED).

21  improve   “Profit from” (OED).

24  baneful   “Harmful, destructive” (OED).

26  deadly serpent  Alluding to the serpent in The Garden of Eden, from the book of
Genesis (Genesis 3:14, King James Bible).

28  Ethiop “ From Latin Aethiops, Ethiopian, negro” (OED).

30  perdition   Eternal damnation, hell (OED).

Source: Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral (London, 1773), pp. 15-16. [archive.org]

Edited by Vivian Barbulescu


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