Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral

by Phillis Wheatley
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What does the poem "A Rebus" by Phillis Wheatley mean?

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The first important point to make is that the poem "A Rebus" is not by Phillis Wheatley. It is marked "by I.B." (now generally believed to be James Bowdoin, for whom Bowdoin College was named) and is included in collected editions of Wheatley's poems as context for her poem "An Answer to the Rebus," in which she solves the riddles posed in Bowdoin's poem.

A rebus is a picture showing objects which symbolize a family or estate. The initial poem describes six pictures, three in the first stanza, two in the second, and one in the third. The first contains a bird, a horned creature and a green gem. The second depicts a town and a Trojan hero. The third shows a popular lord. The concluding lines then state that the initial letters of each of the preceding six clues form an acrostic giving the name of a town conquered by the British.

Wheatley solves the riddle in her answer, giving the six words depicted as quail, unicorn, emerald, Boston, Euphorbus and Chatham (which refers to William Pitt,...

(The entire section contains 2 answers and 749 words.)

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