To S. M., a Young African Painter, on Seeing His Works

Phillis Wheatley - 1753-1784

To show the lab'ring bosom's deep intent,
And thought in living characters to paint,
When first thy pencil did those beauties give,
And breathing figures learnt from thee to live,
How did those prospects give my soul delight,
A new creation rushing on my sight?
Still, wond'rous youth! each noble path pursue;
On deathless glories fix thine ardent view:
Still may the painter's and the poet's fire,
To aid thy pencil and thy verse conspire!
And may the charms of each seraphic theme
Conduct thy footsteps to immortal fame!
High to the blissful wonders of the skies
Elate thy soul, and raise thy wishful eyes.
Thrice happy, when exalted to survey
That splendid city, crown'd with endless day,
Whose twice six gates on radiant hinges ring:
Celestial Salem blooms in endless spring.
   Calm and serene thy moments glide along,
And may the muse inspire each future song!
Still, with the sweets of contemplation bless'd,
May peace with balmy wings your soul invest!
But when these shades of time are chas'd away,
And darkness ends in everlasting day,
On what seraphic pinions shall we move,
And view the landscapes in the realms above?
There shall thy tongue in heav'nly murmurs flow,
And there my muse with heav'nly transport glow;
No more to tell of Damon's tender sighs,
Or rising radiance of Aurora's eyes;
For nobler themes demand a nobler strain,
And purer language on th' ethereal plain.
Cease, gentle Muse! the solemn gloom of night
Now seals the fair creation from my sight.

More by Phillis Wheatley

On Being Brought from Africa to America

'Twas mercy brought me from my Pagan land,
Taught my benighted soul to understand
That there's a God, that there's a Saviour too:
Once I redemption neither sought nor knew.
Some view our sable race with scornful eye,
"Their colour is a diabolic die."
Remember, Christians, Negros, black as Cain,
May be refin'd, and join th' angelic train.

A Farewell to America

              I.

Adieu, New-England's smiling meads,
   Adieu, th' flow'ry plain:
I leave thine op'ning charms, O spring,
   And tempt the roaring main.

              II.

In vain for me the flow'rets rise,
   And boast their gaudy pride,
While here beneath the northern skies
   I mourn for health deny'd.

              III.

Celestial maid of rosy hue,
   Oh let me feel thy reign!
I languish till thy face I view,
   Thy vanish'd joys regain.

              IV.

Susannah mourns, nor can I bear
   To see the crystal shower
Or mark the tender falling tear
   At sad departure's hour;

              V.

Not regarding can I see
   Her soul with grief opprest
But let no sighs, no groans for me
   Steal from her pensive breast.

              VI.

In vain the feather'd warblers sing
   In vain the garden blooms
And on the bosom of the spring
   Breathes out her sweet perfumes.

              VII.

While for Britannia's distant shore
   We weep the liquid plain,
And with astonish'd eyes explore
   The wide-extended main.

              VIII.

Lo! Health appears! celestial dame!
   Complacent and serene,
With Hebe's mantle oe'r her frame,
   With soul-delighting mien.

              IX.

To mark the vale where London lies
   With misty vapors crown'd
Which cloud Aurora's thousand dyes,
   And veil her charms around.

              X.

Why, Phoebus, moves thy car so slow?
   So slow thy rising ray?
Give us the famous town to view,
   Thou glorious King of day!

              XI.

For thee, Britannia, I resign
   New-England's smiling fields; 
To view again her charms divine,
   What joy the prospect yields!

              XII.

But thou! Temptation hence away,
   With all thy fatal train,
Nor once seduce my soul away,
   By thine enchanting strain.

              XIII.

Thrice happy they, whose heavenly shield
   Secures their souls from harm,
And fell Temptation on the field
   Of all its pow'r disarms.

To the Right Honourable William, Earl of Dartmouth

HAIL, happy day, when, smiling like the morn,
Fair Freedom rose New-England to adorn:
The northern clime beneath her genial ray,
Dartmouth, congratulates thy blissful sway:
Elate with hope her race no longer mourns,
Each soul expands, each grateful bosom burns,
While in thine hand with pleasure we behold
The silken reins, and Freedom's charms unfold.
Long lost to realms beneath the northern skies
She shines supreme, while hated faction dies:
Soon as appear'd the Goddess long desir'd,
Sick at the view, she languish'd and expir'd;
Thus from the splendors of the morning light
The owl in sadness seeks the caves of night.
  No more, America, in mournful strain
Of wrongs, and grievance unredress'd complain,
No longer shalt thou dread the iron chain,
Which wanton Tyranny with lawless hand
Had made, and with it meant t' enslave the land.
  Should you, my lord, while you peruse my song,
Wonder from whence my love of Freedom sprung,
Whence flow these wishes for the common good,
By feeling hearts alone best understood,
I, young in life, by seeming cruel fate
Was snatch'd from Afric's fancy'd happy seat:
What pangs excruciating must molest,
What sorrows labour in my parent's breast?
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?
  For favours past, great Sir, our thanks are due,
And thee we ask thy favours to renew,
Since in thy pow'r, as in thy will before,
To sooth the griefs, which thou did'st once deplore.
May heav'nly grace the sacred sanction give
To all thy works, and thou for ever live
Not only on the wings of fleeting Fame,
Though praise immortal crowns the patriot's name,
But to conduct to heav'ns refulgent fane,
May fiery coursers sweep th' ethereal plain,
And bear thee upwards to that blest abode,
Where, like the prophet, thou shalt find thy God.

Related Poems

An Address to Miss Phillis Wheatley

I
O come you pious youth! adore
   The wisdom of thy God,
In bringing thee from distant shore,
   To learn His holy word.

II
Thou mightst been left behind
   Amidst a dark abode;
God's tender mercy still combin'd
   Thou hast the holy word.

III
Fair wisdom's ways are paths of peace,
   And they that walk therein,
Shall reap the joys that never cease
   And Christ shall be their king.

IV
God's tender mercy brought thee here;
   Tost o'er the raging main;
In Christian faith thou hast a share,
   Worth all the gold of Spain.

V
While thousands tossed by the sea,
   And others settled down,
God's tender mercy set thee free,
   From dangers that come down.

VI
That thou a pattern still might be,
   To youth of Boston town,
The blessed Jesus set thee free,
   From every sinful wound.

VII
The blessed Jesus, who came down,
   Unvail'd his sacred face,
To cleanse the soul of every wound,
   And give repenting grace.

VIII
That we poor sinners may obtain
   The pardon of our sin;
Dear blessed Jesus now constrain
   And bring us flocking in.

IX
Come you, Phillis, now aspire,
   And seek the living God,
So step by step thou mayst go higher,
   Till perfect in the word.

X
While thousands mov'd to distant shore,
   And others left behind,
The blessed Jesus still adore,
   Implant this in thy mind.

XI
Thou hast left the heathen shore;
   Thro' mercy of the Lord,
Among the heathen live no more,
   Come magnify thy God.

XII
I pray the living God may be,
   The shepherd of thy soul;
His tender mercies still are free,
   His mysteries to unfold.

XIII
Thou, Phillis, when thou hunger hast,
   Or pantest for thy God;
Jesus Christ is thy relief,
   Thou hast the holy word.

XIV
The bounteous mercies of the Lord
   Are hid beyond the sky,
And holy souls that love His word,
   Shall taste them when they die.

XV
These bounteous mercies are from God,
   The merits of His Son;
The humble soul that loves his word,
   He chooses for His own.

XVI
Come, dear Phillis, be advis'd
   To drink Samaria's flood,
There's nothing that shall suffice
   But Christ's redeeming blood.

XVII
While thousands muse with earthly toys;
   and range about the street;
Dear Phillis, seek for heaven's joys,
   Where we do hope to meet.

XVIII
When God shall send his summons down
   And number saints together
Blest angels chant (Triumphant sound)
   Come live with me forever.

XIX
The humble soul shall fly to God,
   And leave the things of time.
Stand forth as 'twere at the first word,
   To taste things more divine.

XX
Behold! the soul shall waft away,
   Whene'er we come to die,
And leave its cottage made of clay,
   In twinkling of an eye.

XXI
Now glory be to the Most High,
   United praises given
By all on earth, incessantly,
   And all the hosts of heav'n.

Ode on a Grecian Urn

Thou still unravish'd bride of quietness, 
  Thou foster-child of Silence and slow Time,
Sylvan historian, who canst thus express 
  A flowery tale more sweetly than our rhyme:
What leaf-fringed legend haunts about thy shape 
  Of deities or mortals, or of both,
    In Tempe or the dales of Arcady?
  What men or gods are these? what maidens loth? 
What mad pursuit? What struggle to escape?
   What pipes and timbrels? What wild ecstasy?
 
Heard melodies are sweet, but those unheard 
  Are sweeter; therefore, ye soft pipes, play on;
Not to the sensual ear, but, more endear'd, 
  Pipe to the spirit ditties of no tone:
Fair youth, beneath the trees, thou canst not leave 
  Thy song, nor ever can those trees be bare;
    Bold lover, never, never canst thou kiss, 
Though winning near the goal—yet, do not grieve;
  She cannot fade, though thou hast not thy bliss, 
    For ever wilt thou love, and she be fair!

Ah, happy, happy boughs! that cannot shed 
  Your leaves, nor ever bid the Spring adieu;
And, happy melodist, unwearied,
  For ever piping songs for ever new;
More happy love! more happy, happy love! 
  For ever warm and still to be enjoy'd,
    For ever panting, and for ever young; 
All breathing human passion far above,
  That leaves a heart high-sorrowful and cloy'd, 
    A burning forehead, and a parching tongue.

Who are these coming to the sacrifice? 
  To what green altar, O mysterious priest,
Lead'st thou that heifer lowing at the skies, 
  And all her silken flanks with garlands drest?
What little town by river or sea shore, 
  Or mountain-built with peaceful citadel,
    Is emptied of this folk, this pious morn? 
And, little town, thy streets for evermore
  Will silent be; and not a soul to tell 
    Why thou art desolate, can e'er return.

O Attic shape! Fair attitude! with brede 
  Of marble men and maidens overwrought,
With forest branches and the trodden weed; 
  Thou, silent form, dost tease us out of thought
As doth eternity: Cold pastoral!
  When old age shall this generation waste, 
    Thou shalt remain, in midst of other woe
Than ours, a friend to man, to whom thou say'st,
  'Beauty is truth, truth beauty'—that is all 
    Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.

Before a Painting

I knew not who had wrought with skill so fine
    What I beheld; nor by what laws of art
    He had created life and love and heart
On canvas, from mere color, curve and line.
Silent I stood and made no move or sign;
    Not with the crowd, but reverently apart;
    Nor felt the power my rooted limbs to start,
But mutely gazed upon that face divine.

And over me the sense of beauty fell,
    As music over a raptured listener to
        The deep-voiced organ breathing out a hymn;
Or as on one who kneels, his beads to tell,
    There falls the aureate glory filtered through
        The windows in some old cathedral dim.