“On Being Brought from Africa to America” by Wheatley
Phillis Wheatley was the first female African-American writer who was published. When transported from West Africa to America, she was sold into slavery. Later the family that purchased Wheatley assisted her; the woman learned to read and write and mastered several languages. Wheatley’s poems frequently investigate her Christian values, glorify America, and engage in remarks about contemporary issues in her time. It is essential to analyze her poem “On Being Brought from Africa to America.”
Form and Language of the Poem
The poem “On Being Brought from Africa to America” consists of eight lines, one stanza, and four rhyming couplets formed into a section. Phillis Wheatley wrote it in iambic pentameter and it is organized according to the rhyming pattern of AABBCCDD. Furthermore, the last words in lines one through two, three through four, four through five, and seven through eight all have the same sound (Wheatley 26). It is the common and consistent template of the closed form. Her language is direct, participatory, and deeply personal but also gently cautionary, and the shift occurs in the middle of the verse. This is to remember that Africans can be educated and spiritual. Phillis Wheatley uses such literary techniques as personification; one can see this in the first lines, in which the poetess mentions that “mercy” led her to America. Alliteration is a common and beneficial technique that aids in strengthening the rhythm of the verse; for example, “savior” and “sought” in lines three and four, and “diabolic die” inline six (Wheatley 43). Thus, the author applies strong literary tools and techniques to demonstrate the powerful literary thought of the poem.
The Meanings of the Poem
This poem is interesting because it was written by a black woman who was a servant during the days when white owners could buy and sell black people at their pleasure. The poem refers strangely to salvation through Christianity and feels that she was redeemed from a pagan land. In contrast, it also addresses the subject of slavery and discusses the problems Africans face (Wheatley 65). However, its popularity results from its praise of God for his role in restoring human happiness. The primary themes in “On Being Brought from Africa to America” are mercy, racism, and divinity. Throughout the poem, Phillis Wheatley discusses God’s mercy and the people’s indifferent attitude toward the African American community. Although individuals say that all are equal before God, they never allow them to enjoy the benefits of life (Wheatley 65). Instead, they consider people of color animals, which eventually harms their mental health.
I suppose the poem illustrates two ideas: the poet’s excitement at the presence of God and her frustration at the painful experience of slavery in America. She begins by declaring that God’s grace brought her from Africa and saved her from death (Wheatley 70). Phillis Wheatley admires the virtue of the Christian tradition; despite the adversities and terrible injustices of life, she admires God’s ability to endure it. The age of chaos in her life has ended through divine intervention, and she is saved from soul redemption. Moreover, she is exuding her soul as she recounts black people’s mistreatment. They have to endure hatred, bitterness, and neglect simply because of their black skin color. However, one crucial factor that remains in readers’ minds is how she deals with the pernicious effects of racism. The author used symbols to denote ideas and qualities by attaching a symbolic meaning to them other than their literal meaning. This is where the “sable race” symbolizes the African race (Wheatley 76). It is also personification to attribute human characteristics to inanimate objects; for example, mercy is personified in the first words of the poem.
Important Parts of the Poem
The structure of the verse is divided into two thematic segments. The first part explicitly refers to the fact that the writer entered America as a slave. Phillis Wheatley writes in the first person, using “I” in order to tell her story, such as “Once I redemption neither sought nor knew” (Wheatley 78). That is, it is fortunate that she was transported from Africa and that the arrival in America acquainted her with Christianity, which introduced her to a sense of peace and salvation she did not even know she had.
There is a change in the second part of the poem. The author now uses the third person when writing about “some” people rather than herself (Wheatley 70). In addition, Phyllis Wheatley applies the imperative, a grammatical form, for the commands she issues. Phillis operates strong language to teach her readers a moral lesson. That is, if they consider themselves good “Christians,” they should remember that Africans too can be educated, enlightened, and spiritual “th’angelic train” (Wheatley 75). Therefore, these lines point to two separate motifs in the poem, where the author expresses her gratitude to God and, at the same time, speaks against discrimination in society.
Hence, in “On Being Brought from Africa to America,” the author argues that Christian teachings encouraged her to abandon racism on the grounds that all individuals are equal in the eyes of God. She wrote an eight-line poem in iambic pentameter to describe her attitude toward her enslavement and the perception of black people in America. Accordingly, the verse contains themes of slavery, Christianity, and salvation.
Wheatley, Phillis. Memoir & Poems of Phillis Wheatley: A Native African and a Slave. Read Books Ltd, 2022.