Phillis Wheatley

The poems by Phillis Wheatley surpassed my expectations as to the quality of the poetry itself. I don’t know what I had been expecting, but the poems had a fantastic rhythm to them, as well as wonderful structure. The vocabulary that Wheatley uses in her poems was spectacular, and it shows how intelligent and gifted she was as a poet. Her ability to rhyme the words so well without losing the meaning to the lines of the poem is excellent. During her times, she must have been a modern marvel, being an educated female slave directly from Africa. Her works not only proved stereotypes of race and gender to be wrong, but she must have surpassed the level of skill of most of the other poets of her time as well, despite race, status, or gender. She was able to relay emotion and thoughts in comprehensive, flowing structure that was easy to follow and even easier to read and enjoy.

I really enjoyed her poem to General Washington; it relayed so much emotion in such an elegant and powerful way that you can almost feel how passionate she really was about the work that General Washington was doing. Lines 21 – 28 embody her passion for General Washington as well as express the talent that she had for writing poetry:

“In bright array they seek the work of war,

Where high unfurled the ensign waves in air.

Shall I to Washington their praise recite?

Enough thou know’st them in the fields of fight.

Thee, first in place and honors – we demand

The grade and glory of thy martial band.

Famed for thy valor, for thy virtues more,

Hear every tongue thy guardian aid implore!”

As an African-American slave girl, Wheatley was presented with several obstacles to overcome in the world of literature and poetry. But because of her obvious skill in writing poetry, and her mastery of the English language, she easily rose above those obstacles to become a very important figure in American history. Professor Freeman expressed in class that some people believe Phillis Wheatley’s poetry to be the beginning of recognition for African-American poetry in America.

Do you believe that Phillis Wheatley and her poetry deserve this kind of recognition? Is her poetry that significant to American history? Why does she or does she not deserve this recognition?

I believe that Phillis Wheatley’s poetry may not be literature, but it is very significant to the history of the United States of America. Wheatley herself is a very important historical figure because she was the first female slave to write poetry that was so well written it was published and read by people all over the country, and still holds a significant place in what today’s society views as important history.

Can her poetry be called literature? Do you feel that she is still viewed as an important figure in American History? Why did her poetry receive such a positive respose? Was it because it was actually good poetry? Or was it because that society was astonished that a slave girl could actually write decent poetry?

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2 Responses to Phillis Wheatley

  1. emcd23 says:

    I think that you’d have to be dealing with a very specific definition of ‘literature’ for Wheatley’s poems not to count; they are very well-formed written works, which is good enough for me. As to why her poems received a positive response at the time, I would suppose that the primary reason is because they actually are good poems, confidently written by a clearly gifted individual. However, the fact that she was a slave probably did enter into it; my guess would be that it was a shocking fact that may have helped to identify her to some people and make her better known.
    These poems still deserve recognition, and Wheatley is still a signifcant historical figure both because of her personal accomplishments and because of her role as a forerunner of African-American literature, which I do think she helped to establish a place for. (Funnily enough, though, I don’t think she really helped to set up women’s literature; Wheatley herself doesn’t seem to have drawn attention to her gender, and since she was already a curiosity because of her race, I doubt people really felt that their ideas of women were challenged as well.)

  2. sfeingold12 says:

    I agree with the above comment that it would be very hard to not qualify Wheatley as American Literature. Her poetry is giving a voice not only to African Americans but to woman as well. I could continue to list the reasons why I feel that she should be included in American Literature but I feel I would be echoing many of the reasons already listed. I am wondering why carnold13 feels that Wheatley is not considered American Literature?

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