The two poets, Phillis Wheatley and Philip Freneau, whose poems are under discussion here to study their attitude to slavery, belong to the same period of eighteenth century. It was a period of transition in America. The spirit of Puritanism and the master-slave attitude were…
This makes clear the importance of Phillis as the first African American writer. Philip Freneau was a friend of Jefferson, and he is also known the “Father of American Literature”. What slavery means in their poems is the focus of this paper.
Fortunately, when Phillis Wheatley was sold in the American slave market, she was bought by a Bostonian named Wheatley, who was kind towards the girl. She was only seven years old, with a fragile body. She could not live long. She was always ill. She learned English within a short period. She was also an ardent Christian. She being the first slave woman to become a poet, the readers naturally had expectations about her. They expected her personal emotions to run through the poems. But she wrote poems mainly addressed to the white people. Her first volume of poems, Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral, was published in 1773. Most of her poems are either dedicated to famous personalities, or they are elegies. Her own situations, revealing her emotions as a slave hardly appear anywhere. In fact, there is nothing much in her poems to bracket her as a slave poet, speaking for the emancipation of the oppressed class in America. The only recognition is that she proved that a slave is also a human being capable of being intelligent and becoming a great poet, a genius. This gave the abolitionists a chance to quote her as a fine example for giving better attention to the blacks in the field of education.
Sometimes, the impression Phillis gives is that she was grateful to God for being a Negro, a slave, and for getting a chance to be a Christian and American. She even pleaded God to save all Negroes similarly. In her poem, “On being Brought from Africa to America”, she says “It was mercy brought me from my pagan land”. The word “mercy” is a confusing word. Mercy to God for whatever happened to her in her life could be the ...
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