Monday Open Thread | Black Poets Week: Phillis Wheatley


Phillis Wheatley, 1753–1784

Although she was an African slave, Phillis Wheatley was one of the best-known poets in prenineteenth-century America. Pampered in the household of prominent Boston commercialist John Wheatley, lionized in New England and England, with presses in both places publishing her poems, and paraded before the new republic’s political leadership and the old empire’s aristocracy, Wheatley was the abolitionists’ illustrative testimony that blacks could be both artistic and intellectual. Her name was a household word among literate colonists and her achievements a catalyst for the fledgling antislavery movement.

Wheatley was seized from Senegal/Gambia, West Africa, when she was about seven years old. She was transported to the Boston docks with a shipment of “refugee” slaves, who because of age or physical frailty were unsuited for rigorous labor in the West Indian and Southern colonies, the first ports of call after the Atlantic crossing. In the month of August 1761, “in want of a domestic,” Susanna Wheatley, wife of prominent Boston tailor John Wheatley, purchased “a slender, frail female child … for a trifle” because the captain of the slave ship believed that the waif was terminally ill, and he wanted to gain at least a small profit before she died. A Wheatley relative later reported that the family surmised the girl—who was “of slender frame and evidently suffering from a change of climate,” nearly naked, with “no other covering than a quantity of dirty carpet about her”—to be “about seven years old … from the circumstances of shedding her front teeth.”

After discovering the girl’s precociousness, the Wheatleys, including their son Nathaniel and their daughter Mary, did not entirely excuse Wheatley from her domestic duties but taught her to read and write. Soon she was immersed in the Bible, astronomy, geography, history, British literature (particularly John Milton and Alexander Pope), and the Greek and Latin classics of Vergil, Ovid, Terence, and Homer. In “To the University of Cambridge in New England” (probably the first poem she wrote but not published until 1773) Wheatley indicated that despite this exposure, rich and unusual for an American slave, her spirit yearned for the intellectual challenge of a more academic atmosphere.

Although scholars had generally believed that An Elegiac Poem, on the Death of that Celebrated Divine, and Eminent Servant of Jesus Christ, the Reverend and Learned George Whitefield … (1770) was Wheatley’s first published poem, Carl Bridenbaugh revealed in 1969 that thirteen-year-old Wheatley—after hearing a miraculous saga of survival at sea—wrote “On Messrs. Hussey and Coffin,” a poem which was published on 21 December 1767 in the Newport, Rhode Island, Mercury. But it was the Whitefield elegy that brought Wheatley national renown. Published as a broadside and a pamphlet in Boston, Newport, and Philadelphia, the poem was published with Ebenezer Pemberton’s funeral sermon for Whitefield in London in 1771, bringing her international acclaim.


By the time she was eighteen, Wheatley had gathered a collection of twenty-eight poems for which she, with the help of Mrs. Wheatley, ran advertisements for subscribers in Boston newspapers in February 1772. When the colonists were apparently unwilling to support literature by an African, she and the Wheatleys turned in frustration to London for a publisher. Wheatley had forwarded the Whitefield poem to Selina Hastings, Countess of Huntingdon, to whom Whitefield had been chaplain. A wealthy supporter of evangelical and abolitionist causes, the countess instructed bookseller Archibald Bell to begin correspondence with Wheatley in preparation for the book.

Wheatley, suffering from a chronic asthma condition and accompanied by Nathaniel, left for London on 8 May 1771. The now-celebrated poetess was welcomed by several dignitaries: abolitionists’ patron the Earl of Dartmouth, poet and activist Baron George Lyttleton, Sir Brook Watson (soon to be the Lord Mayor of London), philanthropist John Thorton, and Benjamin Franklin. While Wheatley was recrossing the Atlantic to reach Mrs. Wheatley, who, at the summer’s end, had become seriously ill, Bell was circulating the first edition of Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral (1773), the first volume of poetry by an American Negro published in modern times.

Poems on Various Subjects revealed that Wheatley’s favorite poetic form was the couplet, both iambic pentameter and heroic. More than one-third of her canon is composed of elegies, poems on the deaths of noted persons, friends, or even strangers whose loved ones employed the poet. The poems that best demonstrate her abilities and are most often questioned by detractors are those that employ classical themes as well as techniques. In her epyllion “Niobe in Distress for Her Children Slain by Apollo, from Ovid’s Metamorphoses , Book VI, and from a “View of the Painting of Mr. Richard Wilson,” she not only translates Ovid but adds her own beautiful lines to extend the dramatic imagery. In “To Maecenas” she transforms Horace’s ode into a celebration of Christ.”

In addition to classical and neoclassical techniques, Wheatley applied biblical symbolism to evangelize and to comment on slavery. For instance, “On Being Brought from Africa to America,” the best-known Wheatley poem, chides the Great Awakening audience to remember that Africans must be included in the Christian stream: “Remember, Christians, Negroes, black as Cain, /May be refin’d and join th’ angelic train.” The remainder of Wheatley’s themes can be classified as celebrations of America. She was the first to applaud this nation as glorious “Columbia” and that in a letter to no less than the first president of the United States, George Washington, with whom she had corresponded and whom she was later privileged to meet. Her love of virgin America as well as her religious fervor is further suggested by the names of those colonial leaders who signed the attestation that appeared in some copies of Poems on Various Subjects to authenticate and support her work: Thomas Hutchinson, governor of Massachusetts; John Hancock; Andrew Oliver, lieutenant governor; James Bowdoin; and Reverend Mather Byles. Another fervent Wheatley supporter was Dr. Benjamin Rush, one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence.

Wheatley was manumitted some three months before Mrs. Wheatley died on 3 March 1774. Although many British editorials castigated the Wheatleys for keeping Wheatley in slavery while presenting her to London as the African genius, the family had provided an ambiguous haven for the poet.

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27 Responses to Monday Open Thread | Black Poets Week: Phillis Wheatley

  1. rikyrah says:

    THIS is Dad of the Year: Devoted Chinese father carries his disabled son EIGHTEEN MILES to school every day

    A dad from China’s Yibin county takes his son to a school 4.5 miles away
    Yu Xukang then walks to work and carries his son back home again
    So far he has walked around 1,600 miles up and down hills
    Government offered him nearby housing after his story got press attention

    By Ted Thornhill

    PUBLISHED: 11:22 EST, 10 March 2014 | UPDATED: 13:25 EST, 10 March 2014

  2. Ametia says:

    Glorifying this treasonist asshole

  3. rikyrah says:

    Why Republicans should embrace immigration reform, in one chart
    By Greg Sargent
    March 10 at 1:24 pm

    The analysis finds that the share of the eligible voting population that is Latino will rise by two percentage points from 2012-2016 in three critical presidential swing states: Florida, Colorado, and Nevada. It will rise by two percentage points in New Mexico, Texas, and Arizona. And it will rise by one percentage point in Virginia, Georgia, and North Carolina. While that last finding may seem negligible, it is a sign demographics in those three states — one purple swing state that’s key in presidential elections; the others long reliably red — are trending in a favorable direction for Dems:

    McDonald’s analysis, which is based on current and projected American Community Survey data, was put in chart form by the crack Post polling team. Drag your cursor over the bars to see percentages.

    GOP pollster Whit Ayres, who favors reform, tells me Republicans should take the two point rise in critical swing states very seriously.

    “It’s significant,” Ayres says. “Some aspects of the future are difficult to see clearly. The increasing proportion of Hispanics in the electorates in key swing states is not one of them.”

  4. rikyrah says:

    High School Wrestler Brings Crowd to Tears in Classy Move After Loss

    Malik Stewart, a Minnesota high school wrestler, shows the crowd the true definition of a champion.

    By: Stephen A. Crockett Jr.

    Posted: March 10 2014 7:50 AM

    A Minnesota high school wrestler showed the crowd the true meaning of a champion after a tough loss in the state championship match, news station KARE 11 reports.

    After losing the title to Mitchell McKee, Malik Stewart went over and embraced McKee’s father, Steve, who is battling terminal cancer.

    “I got a little teary because I lost the match, and I knew the hard times he was going through,” Malik told the news station.

    “The crowd went wild and I heard a couple people say after I did it, that was pretty classy, but I just did it straight from the heart.”

    Malik knew the enormity and the importance of Mitchell McKee’s victory, who had vowed to win a state championship to honor his father. Malik lost his father to a heart attack when he was only 7.

    “It was a big match for him and to be able to hug my dad like that and not be mad and storm off like a lot of kids do,” Mitchell said. “Really respectful.”

    According to the news station, it was tough to find a dry eye in the house.

  5. rikyrah says:

    The utter coolness of one of the major faces of SCIENCE in modern times being a Black Man, tickles me to no end.


    Sunday, March 9, 2014

    Last Call For The Entire Universe

    If you missed the premier of Cosmos, hosted by astrophysicist Neil Degrasse Tyson tonight, you can catch it on NatGeo Monday at 10 PM.

    My first thought is “Everyone needs to see this.”

    My second thought is “A whole lot of future astrophysicists just did.”

  6. rikyrah says:

    Presidential breaks aren’t ‘startling’
    03/10/14 09:41 AM
    By Steve Benen

    President Obama occasionally takes a breather because, well, humans in stressful jobs sometimes need a break. For some reason, Republicans seem to find this fascinating.

    While Russia beefed up its forces in Ukraine and the U.S. unemployment rate ticked up slightly, President Obama was criticized for spending the weekend on vacation with his family at an ultra-exclusive private community in the Florida Keys…. The Obamas combined their excursion with a stop at a high school in Miami to promote the president’s education agenda.

    “Only President Obama would deliver a brief speech about education and then have the nerve to jet over to the posh Ocean Reef Clubs – an exclusive members-only resort for the wealthy – for a quick vacation,” said RNC spokesman Jahan Wilcox. “As President Obama enjoys the Florida Keys and Vice President Biden vacations in the Virgin Islands for the weekend, their economic policies are still leaving millions of middle-class Americans and young adults struggling to get by in the Obama economy.”


    But even putting this aside, all of this handwringing wouldn’t be quite so annoying if Republicans weren’t conveniently ignoring the president’s immediate predecessor.

    Every president chooses to spend some time away from the White House, but some take more time than others. Ronald Reagan, for example, set the record for most vacation days for a sitting president – a record that stood until George W. Bush shattered Reagan’s seemingly unbreakable benchmark.

    Obama practically lives in the Oval Office compared to the last couple of two-term Republican presidents.

  7. rikyrah says:

    Bush’s Defense Secretary Destroys GOP Talking Points Against Obama’s Handling Of Crimea

    By Igor Volsky on March 9, 2014 at 10:04 am

    Former Defense Secretary Robert Gates pushed back on Sunday against conservatives who’ve blamed President Obama’s “weak” foreign policy for Russian President Vladimir Putin’s decision to invade Crimea.

    Appearing on Fox News Sunday, Gates dismissed arguments that Obama’s handling of the conflict in Syria or his efforts to trim the defense budget emboldened Putin, arguing that the Russian president also invaded Georgia during the George W. Bush administration.

    “My own view is, after all, Putin invaded Georgia when George W. Bush was president. Nobody ever accused George W. Bush of being weak or unwilling to use military force,” Gates, who served as Defense Secretary for Presidents George W. Bush and Obama said. “So I think Putin is very opportunistic in these arenas. I think that even if — even if we had launched attacks in Syria, even if we weren’t cutting our defense budget — I think Putin saw an opportunity here in Crimea, and he has seized it.” Earlier this week, Gates told the Washington Post that the GOP lawmakers should “tone down” their criticism and “try to be supportive of the president rather than natter at the president.”

    Though most Republicans agree with Obama’s policy for handling the Crimean crisis, some conservatives have argued that Obama’s perceived “weakness” on the global stage has given Putin the space to move Russian troops into Crimea. “We have a weak and indecisive president” and that “invites aggression,” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) said last week. “Putin is playing chess and I think we’re playing marbles,” Rep. Mike Rogers (R-MI), the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee claimed, adding that Russia is “running circles around us.”

  8. rikyrah says:

    Honing her craft: Lupita Nyong’o seen in rare photos from her acting days at Yale School of Drama

    By Hanna Flint

    PUBLISHED: 03:20 EST, 10 March 2014 | UPDATED: 07:50 EST, 10 March 2014

    She thanked Yale School of Drama when accepting her Oscar for Best Supporting Actress, and now Lupita Nyong’o can be seen in rare photos from her acting days at the prestigious institution.

    Lupita, 31, was midway through her studies at Yale when she was offered the role of Patsey in 12 Years A Slave, but it was because of her star turns in various stage productions at the school that an audition was secured.

    Yale’s Chair of the Acting Department Ron Van Lieu directed the actress in their 2010 production of Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya: ‘she brought a deep understanding of the spirituality by which that character had learned to survive… somewhat of the same quality she was able to bring to 12 Years A Slave

    Read more:
    Follow us: @MailOnline on Twitter | DailyMail on Facebook

  9. rikyrah says:

    The right’s new clothes
    By E.J. Dionne Jr.,

    Are conservatives interested in new ideas, or are they merely infatuated with the idea of new ideas? Are they really reappraising their approach, or are they trying to adjust their image just enough to win elections?

    One way to look at this year’s Conservative Political Action Conference is as a face-off between the “No Surrender” cries of Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) and the “Let’s Try to Win” rhetoric of such politicians as Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey and Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis). Seen in this light, Republicans truly are having the internal debate that Ryan called “messy,” “noisy” and “a little bit uncomfortable.”

    But Ryan may have revealed more than he intended when he downplayed conservative divisions. “For the most part,” Ryan insisted, “these disagreements have not been over principles or even policies. They’ve been over tactics.”

    In which case, this is not an argument over ideas at all, but a discussion of packaging.

    Christie was quite direct on this point. “We don’t get to govern if we don’t win,” he said. “Let us come out of here resolved not only to stand for our principles. Let’s come out of this conference resolved to win elections again.”

  10. rikyrah says:

    Liberty, Equality, Efficiency

    MARCH 9, 2014

    Most people, if pressed on the subject, would probably agree that extreme income inequality is a bad thing, although a fair number of conservatives believe that the whole subject of income distribution should be banned from public discourse. (Rick Santorum, the former senator and presidential candidate, wants to ban the term “middle class,” which he says is “class-envy, leftist language.” Who knew?) But what can be done about it?

    The standard answer in American politics is, “Not much.” Almost 40 years ago Arthur Okun, chief economic adviser to President Lyndon Johnson, published a classic book titled “Equality and Efficiency: The Big Tradeoff,” arguing that redistributing income from the rich to the poor takes a toll on economic growth. Okun’s book set the terms for almost all the debate that followed: liberals might argue that the efficiency costs of redistribution were small, while conservatives argued that they were large, but everybody knew that doing anything to reduce inequality would have at least some negative impact on G.D.P.

    But it appears that what everyone knew isn’t true. Taking action to reduce the extreme inequality of 21st-century America would probably increase, not reduce, economic growth.

    Let’s start with the evidence

  11. rikyrah says:

    March 09, 2014, 04:30 pm
    Dems see healthcare opening on Medicaid

    By Jonathan Easley

    States run by Republican governors and legislatures are slowly adopting the Medicaid expansion under ObamaCare, boosting Democratic hopes they can run on the issue in the midterm elections.

    Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) has launched a petition on her website urging Gov. Bobby Jindal (R-La.) to agree to the expansion, which she argues would bring health insurance to more people who cannot afford it.

    The issue is giving Landrieu a chance to run not only against her GOP opponent Rep. Bill Cassidy (R-La.), who opposes the extension, but against Jindall as well. She argues the expansion would close “the Jindal Gap.”

    “Our governor may not like the president, but this is not about the president,” she writes. “It’s about providing health coverage for 240,000 Louisianans who work 40 or 50 hours a week, but still make too little to qualify for assistance in the new marketplace — and too much to qualify for Louisiana’s current Medicaid.”

    Read more:
    Follow us: @thehill on Twitter | TheHill on Facebook

  12. Rev Al SYG Rally

    Rev Al SYG Rally

  13. rikyrah says:

    Morning Plum: As GOP certainty about Obamacare’s collapse deepens, number of uninsured falls again
    By Greg Sargent
    March 10 at 8:49 am

    The most important political and policy news of the day is Gallup’s new finding that the rate of uninsured Americans has now fallen in three straight Gallup surveys:

    The percentage of Americans without health insurance continues to fall, measuring 15.9% so far in 2014 compared with 17.1% in the fourth quarter of 2013. […]

    The uninsured rate has been declining since the fourth quarter of 2013, after hitting an all-time high of 18.0% in the third quarter. The uninsured rate for the first quarter of 2014 so far includes a 16.2% reading for January and 15.6% for February.

    The uninsured rate for almost every major demographic group has dropped in 2014 so far. The percentage of uninsured Americans with an annual household income of less than $36,000 has dropped the most — by 2.8 percentage points — to 27.9% since the fourth quarter of 2013, while the percentage of uninsured blacks has fallen 2.6 points to 18.3%. Hispanics remain the subgroup most likely to lack health insurance, with an uninsured rate of 37.9%.

    The percentage of uninsured has declined across all age groups this year, except for those aged 65 and older. The uninsured rate for that group has likely remained stable because most Americans aged 65 and older have Medicare. The uninsured rate among 26- to 34-year olds and 35- to 64-year olds continues to decline — now at 26.6% and 16.3%, respectively.

    To be sure, we still don’t know for certain whether Obamacare is the reason for this, as I noted the last time Gallup issued a similar finding. But Gallup has now found this three straight times, which suggests it may not be statistical noise and could be a trend, though caution is still in order. As Kaiser’s Larry Levitt told me last time:

  14. rikyrah says:

    About That Rand Paul CPAC Straw Poll…

    So Rand Paul easily won this year’s CPAC straw poll, but as to why, well…

    Rand Paul handily won the presidential straw poll at the Conservative Political Action Conference Saturday, one gauge of the Republican base’s mood less than two years before the 2016 primary season kicks off.

    The Kentucky senator received 31 percent, far ahead of second place Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), who received 11 percent. Neurosurgeon Ben Carson finished third with 9 percent, ahead of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who received 8 percent.

    The announcement came at the end of the group’s annual three-day confab. Organizers said that 2,459 attendees voted on computer kiosks.

    Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum tied for fifth place, with 7 percent.

    Certainly seems like there’s an overwhelming favorite in the 2016 race for the GOP, right?

  15. rikyrah says:

    Uninsurance Rate Falls As Millions Sign Up For Obamacare, Survey Finds

    By Sy Mukherjee on March 10, 2014 at 9:14 am

    The U.S. uninsurance rate has hit another five-year low as Americans continue enrolling in health coverage during Obamacare’s first open enrollment period, according to a new Gallup survey. All told, the uninsurance rate in the first three months of 2014 stood at 15.9 percent, compared to 17.1 percent in the last quarter of 2013 — and the largest drops in uninsurance occurred among African Americans and lower-income people, who are among the most likely to benefit from the ACA’s financial assistance.

  16. rikyrah says:

    skeptical brotha @skepticalbrotha
    Five years in, I’m still pinching myself every time I see the Obamas in the White House. I’ll never get tired of seeing them there.

    5:46 PM – 9 Mar 2014

  17. Ametia says:

    Putin’s Pique
    by David Remnick
    March 17, 2014

    n 1990, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn emerged from his isolation in Cavendish, Vermont, and issued a vatic manifesto entitled “How to Revitalize Russia.” Published at great length in Komsomolskaya Pravda, it was a document out of time, written in a prophetic nineteenth-century voice, with archaic diction and priestly cadences. Solzhenitsyn, a heroic dissident, was always at the nationalist end of the spectrum, but he was not calling for some sort of tsarist revival and imperial maintenance. Rather, he endorsed a hyper-local, Swiss-style democratic politics, a transition to private property, and the dissolution of the Soviet Union.

    “We do not have the energy to run an Empire!” he wrote. “Let us shrug it off. It is crushing us, it is draining us, and it is accelerating our demise.” Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia, along with the Caucasian republics, were to make their own way. But on the question of Ukraine he had a different view. Russia must be at the center of a “Russian union,” he declared, and Ukraine was integral to it.

    Read more:

  18. Ametia says:

    The Reckoning

    The father of the Sandy Hook killer searches for answers.
    by Andrew Solomon
    March 17, 2014

    n Peter Lanza’s new house, on a secluded private road in Fairfield County, Connecticut, is an attic room overflowing with shipping crates of what he calls “the stuff.” Since the day in December, 2012, when his son Adam killed his own mother, himself, and twenty-six people at Sandy Hook Elementary School, strangers from across the world have sent thousands upon thousands of letters and other keepsakes: prayer shawls, Bibles, Teddy bears, homemade toys; stories with titles such as “My First Christmas in Heaven”; crosses, including one made by prison inmates.

    People sent candy, too, and when I visited Peter, last fall, he showed me a bag of year-old caramels. He had not wanted to throw away anything that people sent. But he said, “I was wary about eating anything,” and he didn’t let Shelley Lanza—his second wife—eat any of the candy, either. There was no way to be sure it wasn’t poisoned. Downstairs, in Peter’s home office, I spotted a box of family photographs. He used to display them, he told me, but now he couldn’t look at Adam, and it seemed strange to put up photos of his older son, Ryan, without Adam’s. “I’m not dealing with it,” he said. Later, he added, “You can’t mourn for the little boy he once was. You can’t fool yourself.”

  19. rikyrah says:

    Good Morning, Everyone :)

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