Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral

by Phillis Wheatley
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  • Describe the unusual circumstances that led to Phillis Wheatley's publication of her collection, Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral.
  • Identify specific lines from Wheatley's poem in which she describes the horror of enslavement.
  • Why did Wheatley dedicate this work to the Earl of Dartmouth?
  • Create a two-columned chart. Citing passages from either the excerpt or the full poem, in one column identify passages that describe Wheatley’s personal experience; in the other column identify corresponding passages that describe an experience of the American colonists.
  • Carefully examine the frontispiece of Wheatley's book. Why would her image and the wording surrounding her portrait be unusual at the time of publication?
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    We can only address one question per posting, so I will address the second in your list. Please feel free to post the others separately, and we will be happy to help you with them.

    In "To the Right Honorable William, Earl of Dartmouth," Wheatley writes:

    I, young...

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    We can only address one question per posting, so I will address the second in your list. Please feel free to post the others separately, and we will be happy to help you with them.

    In "To the Right Honorable William, Earl of Dartmouth," Wheatley writes:

    I, young in life, by seeming cruel fate
    Was snatch'd from Afric's fancy'd happy seat:
    What pangs excruciating must molest,
    What sorrows labour in my parent's breast?
    Steel'd was that soul and by no misery mov'd
    That from a father seiz'd his babe belov'd:
    Such, such my case. And can I then but pray
    Others may never feel tyrannic sway?

    Here, then, she references the tyranny of slavery and speculates about the pain her poor parents must have felt when she was stolen away from them and how they must continue to feel such great sorrow as a result of their loss. She prays that others never have to experience the misery her father must have felt when his beloved baby was ripped from his arms. Further, she wants no one else to experience the "cruel fate" that she has.

    In "On Being Brought from Africa to America," Wheatley describes how her "sable race" is viewed with a "scornful eye" in America. She admonishes white Christians to remember that slaves are not cast in a "'diabolic die'" when they deal with persons of color.

    Honestly, Wheatley tends not to speak explicitly of the horrors of slavery, as her work would likely never have been published if it had. She would not want to upset the man who enslaved her either else she could incur harsh consequences for herself.

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