Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral is the first published volume of poetry written by an African-American author Phillis Wheatley (Mulder et al.). Published in 1773, Wheatley had an opportunity to speak out on the tyranny she and her race faced from day to day. Without any fear, she criticized white slave owners for the cruel treatment of black people, and that is why her poetry is crucial for the country’s cultural heritage.
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It is essential to comment on Wheatley’s life journey, as her poems are based on her experience of being a slave. However, she was lucky enough to have kind slave owners who allowed her to learn and write. Wheatley’s book was her way of demonstrating that people of color have talent too. It was a loud statement that black people were not spiritually dependent on their slave owners but were equal to whites. The young poet proved that an African American could be graced with the same artistic talent as a white writer.
Even though in most of her poems, Wheatley avoided writing about slavery, she could not entirely omit it. Her famous poem “On Being Brought from Africa to America” (1768), represents an open critique of slave owners: “Remember, Christians, Negroes, black as Cain / May be refined, and join th’ angelic train” (Wheatley 15). The poetess speaks her mind about injustice her people face, like hatred, physical, and psychological abuse based only on their skin color. Wheatley wants to bring attention to the detrimental effect of racism. In the poem “To the Right Honourable William, Earl of Dartmouth,” Wheatley projects her hopes for Dartmouth to not be as cruel and despotic towards the slaves as his predecessor:
Steel’d was that soul and by no misery mov’d
That from a father seiz’d his babe belov’d:
Such, such my case. And can I then but pray
Others may never feel tyrannic sway? (Wheatley 53).
Poems of Phillis Wheatley often go along the line of comparing freedom and oppression of African Americans. One should never forget that she was the first African American to write about the tyranny of slavery and, subsequently, made history as the first published black writer in her country. She spoke out on the unjust relationship between white slave owners and her race. Wheatley had an opportunity to make herself heard before any other African American.
Mulder, Megan, et al. “Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral, by Phillis Wheatley (1773).” ZSR Library. Web.
Wheatley, Phillis. Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral. Books on Demand, 2003.
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