Oscar Wegelin (essay date 1915)
SOURCE: "Biographical Sketch," in America's First Negro Poet: The Complete Works of Jupiter Hammon of Long Island, edited by Stanley Austin Ransom, Jr., Kennikat Press, 1970, pp. 29-31.
[In the following excerpt from an essay originally published in 1915, Wegelin appraises Hammon's poetry as "commonplace" but concludes that his role as America's first black poet is noteworthy.]
As a poet Hammon will certainly not rank among the "Immortals." His verse is stilted, and while some of his rhymings are fairly even, we can easily comprehend that they were written by one not well versed in the art of poesy. They have a sameness which is wearying to the reader and there is too much reiteration, in some cases the same or nearly the same words being employed again and again.
His verse is saturated with a religious feeling not always well expressed, as he did not possess the ability to use the right word at the proper time. Hammon was undoubtedly deeply religious, but his religion was somewhat tinged with narrowness and superstition, a not uncommon fault of the time in which he lived and wrote.
Although grammatically almost perfect, it seems certain that an abler and more experienced hand than his own was responsible for this.
Compared with the verses of Phillis Wheatley, his lines are commonplace and few would care to read them more than once. When we consider, however, that this poor slave had probably no other learning than what he had been enabled to secure for himself during his hours of relaxation from labor, it is surprising that the results are not more meagre....
(The entire section is 686 words.)