A Poem of Phillis Wheatley
Today I learned about America’s first black poet, and America’s first female black poet, Phillis Wheatley. She was born in Africa and brought to Boston when she was only eight years old in 1761. She was purchased by John Wheatley, a wealthy tailor, as a companion for his wife Susannah. In their household, Phillis was taught how to read and write, and she studied the Bible and famous poets. She was considered a literary prodigy; by the age of twenty her first book was published in London, and she became a poetic superstar in the British America.
She wrote several poems, but one in particular really struck me. Titled, “Thoughts on the Works of Providence,” the poem reveals how truly deep and profound her thoughts and observations were about God’s nature and how He intimitely He is involved with His creation. And I think that’s why she took Britain and America by storm. Here was this ninteen-year-old-girl, writing about nature and theology – abstractions – in a time where women were considered little more than house-keepers, and she was a slave! And I think it’s amazing. Her story proves that the human spirit, when relying on God, can achieve the greatest of things. All we have to do is trust in Him.
Thoughts on the Works of Providence
Arise, my soul, on wings enraptured, rise
To praise the monarch of the earth and skies,
Whose goodness and benificence appear
As round its centre moves the rolling year,
Or when the morning glows with rosy charms,
Or the sun slumbers in the ocean’s arms:
Of light divine be a rich portion lent
To guide my soul, and favour my intend.
Celestial muse, my arduous flight sustain
And raise my mind to a seraphic strain!
Adored for ever be the God unseen,
Which round the sun revolves this vast machine,
Though to His eye its mass a point appears:
Ador’d the God that whirls surrounding spheres,
Which first ordain’d that mighty Sol should reign
The peerless monarch of the ethereal train:
Of miles twice forty millions is his height,
And yet his radiance dazzles mortal sight
So far beneath–from him the extended earth
Vigour derives, and every flowery birth:
Vast through her orb she moves with easy grace
Around her Phoebus in unbounded space;
True to her course the impetuous storm derides,
Triumphant o’er the winds, and surging tides.
Almighty, in these wond’rous works of Thine,
What Power, what Wisdom, and what Goodness shine!
And are thy wonders, Lord, by men explored,
And yet creating glory unadored!
Creation smiles in various beauty gay,
While day to night, and night succeeds to day:
That Wisdom, which attends Jehovah’s ways,
Shines most conspicuous in the solar rays:
Without them, destitute of heat and light,
This world would be the reign of endless night:
In their excess how would our race complain,
Abhorring life! how hate its lengthened chain!
From air adust what num’rous ills would rise?
What dire contagion taint the burning skies?
What pestilential vapours, fraught with death,
Would rise, and overspread the lands beneath?
Hail, smiling morn, that from the orient main
Ascending dost adorn the heav’nly plain!
So rich, so various are thy beauteous dies,
That spread through all the circuit of the skies,
That, full of thee, my soul in rapture soars,
And thy great God, the cause of all adores.
O’er beings infinite His love extends,
His Wisdom rules them, and His Power defends.
When tasks diurnal tire the human frame,
The spirits faint, and dim the vital flame,
Then too that ever active bounty shines,
Which not infinity of space confines.
The sable veil, that Night in silence draws,
Conceals effects, but shows the Almighty Cause,
Night seals in sleep the wide creation fair,
And all is peaceful but the brow of care.
Again, gay Phoebus, as the day before,
Wakes every eye, but what shall wake no more;
Again the face of nature is renewed,
Which still appears harmonious, fair, and good.
May grateful strains salute the smiling morn,
Before its beams the eastern hills adorn!
Shall day to day, and night to night conspire
To show the goodness of the Almighty Sire?
This mental voice shall man regardless hear,
And never, never raise the filial prayer?
Today, O hearken, nor your folly mourn
For time mispent, that never will return.
But see the sons of vegetation rise,
And spread their leafy banners to the skies.
All-wise Almighty Providence we trace
In trees, and plants, and all the flowery race;
As clear as in the nobler frame of man,
All lovely copies of the Maker’s plan.
The power the same that forms a ray of light,
That call d creation from eternal night.
“Let there be light,” He said. From his profound
Old Chaos heard, and trembled at the sound:
Swift as the word, inspir’d by pow’r divine,
Behold the light around its Maker shine,
The first fair product of the omnific God,
And now through all His works diffused abroad.
As reason’s powers by day our God disclose,
So we may trace Him in the night’s repose:
Say what is sleep? and dreams how passing strange!
When action ceases, and ideas range
Licentious and unbounded o’er the plains,
Where Fancy’s queen in giddy triumph reigns.
Hear in soft strains the dreaming lover sigh
To a kind fair, or rave in jealousy;
On pleasure now, and now on vengeance bent,
The laboring passions struggle for a vent.
What power, O man! thy reason then restores,
So long suspended in nocturnal hours?
What secret hand returns the mental train,
And gives improved thine active powers again?
From thee, O man, what gratitude should rise!
And, when from balmy sleep thou op’st thine eyes,
Let thy first thoughts be praises to the skies.
How merciful our God who thus imparts
O’erflowing tides of joy to human hearts,
When wants and woes might be our righteous lot,
Our God forgetting, by our God forgot!
Among the mental pow’rs a question rose,
“What most the image of the Eternal shows?”
When thus to Reason (so let Fancy rove)
Her great companion spoke immortal Love.
“Say, mighty power, how long shall strife prevail,
“And with its murmurs load the whisp’ring gale?
“Refer the cause to Recollection’s shrine,
“Who loud proclaims my origin divine,
“The cause whence heav’n and earth began to be,
“And is not man immortalized by me?
“Reason let this most causeless strife subside.”
Thus Love pronounced, and Reason thus replied.
“Thy birth, coelestial queen! ’tis mine to own,
“In thee resplendent is the Godhead shown;
“Thy words persuade, my soul enraptured feels
“Resistless beauty which thy smile reveals.”
Ardent she spoke, and, kindling at her charms,
She clasped the blooming goddess in her arms.
Infinite Love where’er we turn our eyes
Appears: this ev’ry creature’s wants supplies;
This most is heard in Nature’s constant voice,
This makes the morn, and this the eve rejoice;
This bids the fost’ring rains and dews descend
To nourish all, to serve one general end,
The good of man: yet man ungrateful pays
But little homage, and but little praise.
To Him, whose works arryed with mercy shine,
What songs should rise, how constant, how divine!