Phillis Wheatley

Vincent Carretta (ed.), The Writings of Phillis Wheatley

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[8]"America"

  • 1                     New England first a wilderness was found
  • 2                     Till for a continent 'twas destin'd round
  • 3                     From feild to feild the savage monsters run
  • 4                     E'r yet Brittania had her work begun
  • 5                     Thy Power, O Liberty, makes strong the weak
  • 6                     And (wond'rous instinct) Ethiopians speak
  • pg 137                     Sometimes by Simile, a victory's won
  • 8                     A certain lady had an only son
  • 9                     He grew up daily virtuous as he grew
  • 10                     Fearing his Strength which she undoubted knew
  • 11                     She laid some taxes on her darling son
  • 12                     And would have laid another act there on
  • 13                     Amend your manners I'll the task remove
  • 14                     Was said with seeming Sympathy and Love
  • 15                     By many scourges she his goodness try'd
  • 16                     Untill at length the Best of Infants cry'd
  • 17                     He wept, Brittania turn'd a senseless ear
  • 18                     At last awaken'd by maternal fear
  • 19                     Why weeps americus why weeps my Child
  • 20                     Thus spake Brittania, thus benign and mild
  • 21                     My dear mama said he, shall I repeat—
  • 22                     Then Prostrate fell, at her maternal feet
  • 23                     What ails the rebel, great Brittania Cry'd
  • 24                     Indeed said he, you have no cause to Chide
  • 25                     You see each day my fluent tears my food.
  • 26                     Without regard, what no more English blood?
  • 27                     Has length of time drove from our English viens
  • 28                     The kindred he to Great Brittania deigns?
  • 29                     Tis thus with thee O Brittain keeping down
  • 30                     New English force, thou fear'st his Tyranny and thou didst frown
  • 31                     He weeps afresh to feel this Iron chain
  • 32                     Turn, O Brittania claim thy child again
  • Editor’s Note33                     Riecho Love drive by thy powerful charms
  • 34                     Indolence Slumbering in forgetful arms
  • Editor’s Note35                     See Agenoria diligent imploy's
  • 36                     Her sons, and thus with rapture she replys
  • 37                     Arise my sons with one consent arise
  • 38                     Lest distant continents with vult'ring eyes
  • 39                     Should charge America with Negligence
  • 40                     They praise Industry but no pride commence
  • 41                     To raise their own Profusion, O Brittain See
  • 42                     By this, New England will increase like thee

[1768]

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Notes

Editor’s Note
[8] "America"
Library Company of Philadelphia manuscript at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania (Rush Family Papers, Series IV. Miscellaneous Documents, Box 14/Folder 27). Included in Wheatley's 1772 "Proposals" [18]. Unpublished.
Wheatley responded to the growing tension between Britain and its colonies in several poems, only one of which was published during her lifetime. "America" is more subversive than her published work on the Stamp Act crisis and Britain's other efforts to tax the colonies. "America" is no doubt a draft version of "On America, 1768," listed in her 1772 "Proposals." "America" is a brief allegorical history of New England from its founding to the crisis of relations between "A certain lady" [i.e., Britannia] and her "only son" [i.e., America]. The poem calls for reconciliation between the mother and son before the child grows strong enough to overpower the parent. The invocation of "Liberty" in a work by an enslaved person of African descent, who identifies herself as such—"Thy Power, O Liberty, makes strong the weak | And (wond'rous instinct) Ethiopians speak" (ll. 5–6)—as well as her mention of "scourges" (l. 15) and "rebel" (l. 23), and her comment that "[America] weeps afresh to feel this Iron chain" (l. 31), introduce the subtext of slavery to the poem.
Editor’s Note
13:33 "Riecho": probably re-echo.
Editor’s Note
13:35 "Agenoria": In light of "Indolence" (line 34) and "Industry" (line 40), cf. An Universal, Historical, Geographic, Chronological and Poetical Dictionary (London, 1703), 2 vols.: "Agenoria, or Agenora, the Goddess of Industry, that makes Men Active"; Society of Gentlemen, A New and Complete Dictionary of Arts and Sciences (London, 1754), 1: 68: "AGENORIA, in mythology, the goddess of courage and industry, as Vacuna was of indolence."
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