Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

Any analysis of any work written by Wheatley would be incomplete without a basic understanding of the unusual life circumstances of the author. Unlike most of her poetic contemporaries, whose lives were graced by wealth and privilege, Wheatley stood out during her era as being one of a very few published black authors and probably the only published black female author. In contrast with such writers as Thomas Godfrey and Anne Bradstreet, Wheatley was not a native of her homeland but was brought to America during her early childhood and raised as a slave, albeit a privileged one, in the house of John Wheatley, a fairly well-to-do tailor in Boston.

Further, at the time that her earliest poems were written, Wheatley had been speaking and writing English for only ten years and suffered constantly from ill health. Certainly good fortune played a large part in establishing Wheatley’s poetic fame, but it should also be noted that only a very facile mind could have absorbed such as mass of cultural information as Wheatley did during her youth. Wheatley’s training consisted of astronomy, some ancient and modern geography, considerable Bible knowledge, grammar and rhetoric, and classic literature—training that resulted in the poetess’s considerable fluency in Greek and Latin, her favorite work being Pope’s translation of Greek poet Homer. For any young woman, let alone a household slave, such training was the mark of accomplishment and great natural...

(The entire section is 494 words.)