She was considered to be one of a kind, during the time she lived. She was able to write and publish in a time when women weren’t supposed to do so. She was the first African-American poetess whose work got published. This is the poem “An hymn to the morning” by Phillis Wheatley.
The name Phillis Wheatley wasn’t the name she was given at birth. She was born in 1753 in West Africa. At the age of only seven or eight years old when she was sold as a slave. She was transported to North America, where the Wheatley family of Boston bought her. The family taught her to read and write and not soon after, they realised that she had writing talent. Especially when it came down to poetry. She made an overseas trip to London (1773) where her master’s son was trying to get her work published. At that time she was officially still enslaved.
In London, her poems were published as of 1773. In both England and the colonies, she became a well-known poet. Even George Washington read her work. Then she was set free by the Wheatleys.
When the family died, she fell into poverty. Wheatley got married, but could not escape poverty. Her fame didn’t help her much in the end. She died on 5 December 1784 at the age of 31.
About “A hymn to the morning”
The poem “A hymn to the morning” is considered as one of Wheatley’s masterpieces. In this poem, she calls upon the Muses. These Muses are from Greek mythology and they are the inspirational goddesses of literature, science and arts. In ancient times the Muses inspired others. Inspiration to write poetry.
In the poem, she asks for both mental and physical guidance. It is the goddess of the dawn who asks her to write her song, dedicated to the goddess of morning.
Throughout the poem, she calls upon the ancient gods, to help her with everything. It’s more than saying grace to the morning. She wants to start a new period in her life. With this new period come uncertainties. In the end, it doesn’t matter what’s important: to find out if she’s doing the right thing or that darkness will fade and a new morning arrives.
A hymn to the morning
ATTEND my lays, ye ever honour’d nine,
Assist my labours, and my strains refine;
In smoothest numbers pour the notes along,
For bright Aurora now demands my song.
Aurora hail, and all the thousand dies,
Which deck thy progress through the vaulted skies:
The morn awakes, and wide extends her rays,
On ev’ry leaf the gentle zephyr plays;
Harmonious lays the feather’d race resume,
Dart the bright eye, and shake the painted plume.
Ye shady groves, your verdant gloom display
To shield your poet from the burning day:
Calliope awake the sacred lyre,
While thy fair sisters fan the pleasing fire:
The bow’rs, the gales, the variegated skies
In all their pleasures in my bosom rise.
See in the east th’ illustrious king of day!
His rising radiance drives the shades away–
But Oh! I feel his fervid beams too strong,
And scarce begun, concludes th’ abortive song.
— Phillis Wheatley