Phillis Wheatley: Poems

From Ignorance To Enlightenment: Wheatley's OBBAA College

West African autochthon Phillis Wheatley employs her tactful methods of writing to convey a subtle but powerful message in her poem ”On Being Brought from Africa to America” (1773). At a very young age, about 7 or 8, Phillis was enslaved and brought to America as chattel, with the inability to read and write. Four years later, Phillis was able to read and write in English and Latin, demonstrating how intellectually precocious she was. She soon began writing poems on various topics such as religion, morals, and death. Phillis was inspired by Neoclassical writers, such as Alexander Pope, and often referenced stories of that time. In her poem OBBAA, she expresses her gratitude for being taken to America from Africa, but she does so in a sardonic tone, thus addressing racial inequality, and religion.

The opening of OBBAA finds Phillis Wheatley showing gratitude and describing the circumstances of her metamorphosis: “Twas mercy brought me from my Pagan land; /Taught my benighted soul to understand” (143; 1-2). Wheatley uses the term “Pagan land,” to describe her native land of Africa, and she uses the word pagan, because her native land was devoid of Christianity. This is the reason she says that...

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