On Being Brought from Africa to America

by Phillis Wheatley

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Explain how Phillips Wheatley’s rhyming and use of meter create emphasis on certain words and, in turn, themes. Cite evidence from the text to support your answer.

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In Phillis Wheatley's poem "On Being Brought from Africa to America," a somewhat surprising argument is laid out with a logical rigor characteristic of the Enlightenment, in the space of a mere eight lines of iambic pentameter. In the first line, the words "mercy" and "pagan" are stressed, both by their positions and by their being the only words that are not monosyllabic. The contrast is underscored by the opposition of "benighted" and "understand" in the next line.

The polysyllabic "redemption" is likewise emphasized by the unusual sentence structure, which places it directly after the pronoun. In the final couplet, the biblical Cain is rhymed with the "angelic train." This ends the series of contrasts between Wheatley's past and her future and between the blackness others see and the redemption of which she now feels assured. The smooth confident lines and simple full rhymes lend weight to the argument.

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