Phillis Wheatley: 1753 – 1784

From Progressive Eruptions:

PhyllisWheatleyPhyllis Wheatley was America's first African-American poet. A bronze sculpture, by Meredith Bergmann, celebrating Ms. Wheatley is on the mall on Commonwealth Ave., Boston, Mass. Wheatley, a slave in colonial Boston, was our first published African-American poet. Her pose is derived from the only extant image of her. She represents youth and Imagination.

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, Negro's, black as Cain,
May be refin'd, and join th' angelic train.

I read this poem as supremely sarcastic in the poet's intent. “Twas mercy brought me from my “Pagan land…” Really? Mercy took her away from her “Pagan” land? And taught her “benighted soul?” Benighted by the white masters? The most heartbreaking lines are the last 3: “Their colour is a diabolic die.”/Remember, Christians, Negro's, black as Cain,/May be refine'd, and join th' angelic train.”

More here. (Note: In honor of African American History Month, we will be linking to at least one related post throughout February. The 2012 theme is Black Women in American Culture and History).