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Phillis Wheatley: To His Excellency General Washington

05 Feb

Ms. Wheatley’s bio via wikipedia:
Phillis Wheatley (1753 – December 5, 1784) was the first African American poet and the first African-American woman whose writings were published. Born in Gambia, Senegal, she was enslaved at age seven. She was purchased by the Wheatley family of Boston, who taught her to read and write, and helped encourage her poetry.

Phillis Wheatley: To His Excellency General Washington

[The following LETTER and VERSES, were written by the famous Phillis Wheatley, The African Poetess, and presented to his Excellency Gen. Washington.]

SIR.
I Have taken the freedom to address your Excellency in the enclosed poem, and entreat your acceptance, though I am not insensible to its inaccuracies. Your being appointed by the Grand Continental Congress to be Generalissimo of the armies of North America, together with the fame of your virtues, excite sensations not easy to suppress. Your generosity, therefore, I presume, will pardon the attempt. Wishing your Excellency all possible success in the great cause you are so generously engaged in, I am

Your Excellency’s most obedient humble servant,

Phillis Wheatley
Providence, Oct 26, 1775.
His Excellency Gen. Washington.

Celestial choir! Enthroned in realms of light,
Columbia’s scenes of glorious toils I write
While freedom’s cause her anxious breast alarms,
She flashes dreadful in refulgent arms.
See mother earth her offspring’s fate bemoan,
And nations gaze at scenes before unknown!
See the bright beams of heaven’s revolving light
Involved in sorrows and the veil of night!
The goddess comes, she moves divinely fair,
Olive and laurel binds her golden hair:
Wherever shines this native of the skies,
Unnumbered charms and recent graces rise.
Muse! Bow propitious while my pen relates
How pour her armies through a thousand gates,
As when Eolus heaven’s fair face deforms,
Enwrapped in tempest and a night of storms;
Astonished oceans feels the wind uproar,
The refluent surges beat the sounding shore;
Or thick as leaves in Autumn’s golden reign,
Such, and so many, moves the warrior’s train.
In bright array they seek the work of war,
Where high unfurl’d the ensign waves in air.
Shall I to Washington their praise recite?
Enough thou knowest them in the fields of fight.
Thee, first in peace and honours, – we demand
The grace and glory of thy martial band.
Fam’d for thy valour, for thy virtues more,
Hear every tongue thy guardian aid implore!
One Century scarce perform’d its destined round,
When Gallic powers Columbia’s fury found;
And so may you, whoever dares disgrace
The land of freedom’s heaven-defended race!
Fix’d are the eyes of nations on the scales,
For in their hopes Columbia’s arm prevails.
Anon Britannia droops the pensive head,
While round increase the rising hills of dead.
Ah! cruel blindness to Columbia’s state!
Proceed, great chief, with virtue on thy side,
Thy every action let the goddess glide.
A crown, a mansion, and a throne that shine,
With gold unfading, WASHINGTON! be thine.

Note to Phillis Wheatley’s Letter and Poem to George Washington

[General Washington’s reply to Phillis Wheatley’s poem was as follows.]

Cambridge, Mass.
February 28, 1776

Miss Phillis, Your favor of the 26th of October did not reach my hands, till the middle of December. Time enough, you will say, to have given an answer ere this. Granted. But a variety of important occurances, continually interposing to distract the mind and withdraw the attention, I hope will apologize for the delay, and plead my excuse for the seeming but not real neglect. I thank you most sincerely for your polite notice of me, in the elegant lines you enclosed; and however underserving I may be of such encomium and panegyric, the style and manner exhibits a striking proof of your poetical talents; in honor of which, and as a tribute justly due to you, I would have published the poem, had I not been apprehensive, that, while I only meant to give the world this new instance of your genius, I might have incurred the imputation of vanity. This, and nothing else, determined me not to give it place in the public prints.
If you should ever come to Cambridge, or near headquarters, I shall be happy to see a person so favored by the Muses, and to whom nature has been so liberal and beneficent in her dispensations. I am, with great respect,

Your obedient humble servant,

GEORGE WASHINGTON.

(source: Black Writers of America: A Comprehensive Anthology – Barksdale/Kinnamon)

For more of Ms. Wheatley’s poems, click on this link:
http://www.poemhunter.com/phillis-wheatley/

 
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Posted by on February 5, 2010 in Uncategorized

 

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