God Could Not Make Her a Poet

Thomas Jefferson said this, more or less,
After he read the musings of the clever African
Phillis Wheatley, a sensation of both the Colonies
And England, a black patriot, though a slave.
Whatever a black hand can build, he knew,
Could only be guided by a master’s vision,

Like this room of the mansion he probably
Wrote his opinion inwhat black mind could
Dream in these proportions? And gather
The slope of these Virginia hills so lovingly
To his window? God could give her words,
But the subtle turn? Like giving a gull
A sack of gold.


Copyright © 2022 by Cornelius Eady. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on February 24, 2022, by the Academy of American Poets.

About this Poem

This is a poem in a cycle I am writing about Phillis Wheatley Peters, the first Black poet to publish a full-length book of poetry in America. My cycle explores that period of time between the loss of her native West African tongue and its replacement with English. The title of my poem, ‘God Could Not Make Her a Poet,’ is based on what Thomas Jefferson wrote after reading Wheatley-Peters’s book: ‘Religion, indeed, has produced a Phillis Wheatley; but it could not produce a poet.’”
Cornelius Eady