Tag Archives: Phillis Wheatley

Phillis Wheatley, “Ode to Neptune. On Mrs. W–‘s Voyage to England”

PHILLIS WHEATLEY

“ODE to NEPTUNE. On Mrs. W—’s Voyage to England”

 

I.

WHILE raging tempests shake the shore,
While Aelus’ thunders round us roar,
And sweep impetuous o’er the plain,
Be still, O tyrant of the main;
Nor let thy brow contracted frowns betray,                             5
While my Susannah skims the wat’ry way.

II.

The Pow’r propitious hears the lay,
The blue-ey’d daughters of the sea
With sweeter cadence glide along,
And Thames responsive joins the song.                                     10
Pleas’d with their notes Sol sheds benign his ray,
And double radiance decks the face of day.

III.

To court thee to Brittannia’s arms
Serene the climes and mild the sky,
Her region boasts unnumber’d charms,                                    15
Thy welcome smiles in ev’ry eye.
Thy promise Neptune keep, record my pray’r,
Nor give my wishes to the empty air.

Boston, October 10, 1772.

NOTES:

 Title Mrs. W—’s  The poem suggests this might be Wheatley’s mistress, Susanna Wheatley (see line 6); however, there is no surviving evidence that she ever traveled to England.  For a discussion of this issue, see Julian D. Mason, ed., The Poems of Phillis Wheatley, p. 84.

Aelus’  Greek god of the winds.

8  blue-ey’d daughters of the sea  The Nereids, sea nymphs of Greek mythology.

10  Thames  Father Thames; god of the river Thames flowing through southern England.

11  Sol  Roman god of the sun.

13  Brittannia’s  “Britain personified as a woman” (OED).

14  climes  “Atmosphere” (OED).

17  Neptune  Roman god of water and, because of his identification with Poseidon, the sea (OCD).

Source: Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral (Albany, 1793), p. 55. [Google Books]

Edited by Marco Varni

Phillis Wheatley, “To Maecenas”

PHILLIS WHEATLEY

“To Maecenas”

 

MAECENAS, you, beneath the myrtle shade,
Read o’er what poets sung, and shepherds played.
What felt those poets but you feel the same?
Does not your soul possess the sacred flame?
Their noble strains your equal genius shares                                          5
In softer language, and diviner airs.
While Homer paints lo! circumfus’d in air,
Celestial Gods in mortal forms appear;
Swift as they move hear each recess rebound,
Heaven quakes, earth trembles, and the shores resound.                    10
Great Sire of verse, before my mortal eyes,
The lightnings blaze across the vaulted skies;
And, as the thunder shakes the heav’nly plains,
A deep-felt horror thrills thro’ all my veins.
When gentler strains demand thy graceful song,                                    15
The length’ning line moves languishing along.
When great Patroclus courts Achilles’ aid,
The grateful tribute of my tears is paid;
Prone on the shore he feels the pangs of love,
And stern Pelides tenderest passions move.                                            20

Great Maro’s strain in heav’nly numbers flows,
The Nine inspire, and all the bosom glows.
O, could I rival thine and Virgil’s page,
Or claim the Muses with the Mantuan Sage;
Soon the same beauties should my mind adorn,                                    25
And the same ardors in my soul should burn:
Then should my song in bolder notes arise,
And all my numbers pleasingly surprise;
But here I sit and mourn a grov’ling mind,
That fain would mount, and ride upon the wind.                                     30

Not you, my friend, these plaintive strains become,
Not you, whose bosom is the Muses home;
When they from tow’ring Helicon retire,
They fan in you the bright immortal fire,
But I, less happy, cannot raise the song,                                                    35
The falt’ring music dies upon my tongue.

The happier Terence all the choir inspired,
His soul replenish’d, and his bosom fir’d;
But say, ye Muses, why this partial grace,
To one alone of Afric’s sable race;                                                                40
From age to age, transmitting thus his name
With the first glory in the rolls of fame?

Thy virtues, great Maecenas! shall be sung
In praise of him, from whom those virtues sprung:
While blooming wreaths around thy temples spread,                              45
I’ll snatch a laurel from thine honour’d head,
While you indulgent smile upon the deed.

As long as Thames in streams majestic flows,
Or Naiads in their oozy beds repose,
While Phoebus reigns above the starry train,                                              50
While bright Aurora purples o’er the main,
So long, great Sir, the muse thy praise shall sing,
So long thy praise shall make Parnassus ring:
Then grant, Maecenas, thy paternal rays,
Hear me propitious and defend my lays.                                                    55

NOTES :

Title  Maecenas  Gaius Cilnius Maecenas (c.70 BC-c. 8 BC), Roman politician, counselor to the emperor Augustus, and wealthy patron of such poets as Virgil and Horace. His name became synonymous with ideal literary patronage by the eighteenth century (Encyclopedia Britannica). Likely a reference to Selina Hastings, Countess of Huntingdon (1707-1791), to whom Wheatley dedicated her 1773 volume of poems (Vincent Carretta, Phillis Wheatley: Biography of a Genius in Bondage, p. 106).

1  Myrtle  “An evergreen shrub” (OED).

7  Homer  Greek poet, famous for epic poems The Iliad and The Odyssey.

17  Patroclus  Beloved friend of Achilles; Achilles  The hero and main subject of the epic poem The Iliad. Wheatley is alluding to Book 16, ll. 40-45, in which Patroclus asks Achilles to lend him his armour to lead the Myrmidons into battle with the Trojans (OCD).

20  Pelides  Another name for Achilles.

21  Maro  Publius Vergilius Maro (70 BC – 19 BC), ancient Roman poet, more commonly known as “Virgil.”

22  the Nine The Muses, nine Greek goddesses who ruled over the arts and sciences.

24  Mantuan Sage  Virgil was born in Andes, a village near Mantua in northern Italy (OCD).

33  Helicon  Mountain sacred to the Muses, “hence used allusively in reference to poetic inspiration” (OED).

37  Terence  “An African by Birth” [Author’s Note], Publius Terentius (c.190 BC – c.159 BC), ancient Roman playwright of North African descent (OCD).

46 Laurel  “Leaves woven into a wreath worn on the head, given to poets as a reward for excellence” (OED).

48  Thames  The river that flows through London.  Wheatley traveled to London with Nathaniel Wheatley in 1773 to support the publication of her poems.

49  Naiads  Water nymphs “thought to inhabit rivers, springs, etc.” (OED).

51  Aurora  Roman goddess of the dawn (OED).

53  Parnassus  A mountain in central Greece, home of the Muses.

Source: Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral (London, 1773), pp. 9-11 [Google Books] 

Edited by Chrisangel Colon

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

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), pp. 13-14. [Archive.org]

Edited by Joseph R. Adams