Phillis Wheatley: Poems Summary

Phillis Wheatley: Poems Summary

“To the King’s Most Excellent Majesty”

A poetic expression of gratitude on behalf of the people for the repeal of the Stamp Act addressed to King George III.

“An Hymn to the Evening”

Heroic couplets deliver 18 lines of pastoral imagery separated into four distinct stanzas that declare the majesty of nature while reminding readers that such majesty is but a mere glimpse at the surface of the truly breathtaking majesty of God which remains unknown and unseen.

“To the Right Honourable William, Earl of Dartmouth, his Majesty’s Principal Secretary of State of North America”

A poetic declaration of admiration and gratitude, this time in praise of the unlikely subject of a bureaucratic appointment by the Crown to the Colonial government.

“To His Excellency General Washington”

A poem written in honor of and sent to General George Washington in 1775 extolling his virtues as a leader of the vanguard looking fighting for the central thematic component of the poem: the cause of freedom. The poem was one of the first to celebrate Washington in terms of being the father of a country as it was written well before the outcome of the war could be certain.

“Liberty and Peace”

Wheatley quotes herself from the previous poem about General Washington in this reminder to readers of that poems foretelling of peace coming in from of revolution against the British. The poem becomes another strong admonition against British imperialist dreams of a reclaiming of the former colonies.

“On Being Brought from Africa”

Wheatley’s best-known poem is a complex examination of the slaves’ attitude toward forced conversion to Christianity which starts out as an expression of thanks for being shown the light of Jesus, but then twists its way into an inspired poetic undermining of the very purpose for some whites to enforce that conversion by gently reminding those white Christians who position themselves in superior rank to black Christians that Jesus views everyone as equal.

“On the Death of General Wooster”

One of Wheatley’s most strongly expressed indictments of slavery takes the form of the final prayer of a dying general that calls upon God to see America victorious at the end of the Revolutionary War, but with the recognition of the presumption that exists in such a prayer for a country still holding so many in bondage.

“On Imagination”

A poem that celebrates the truly magnificent power of the imagination to transform poetry into a life-transforming event. The power of imagination as applied to poetry is given the power to reinvent the harsh realities as a brand new land created out of the simple ability to manipulate and exploit the meaning of words and phrases.

“Goliath of Gath”

One of Wheatley’s longest poems is an epic retelling of the showdown between David and Goliath that endows David with the power of the muse to travel across time and influence those who take up the paper and set the pen down to it just like Wheatley herself did in the creation of this very poetic endeavor.

“Thoughts on the Works of Providence”

A poem that is a celebratory adulation of the God of nature as a way of contemplation and examining the nature of creation.

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