May 7, 2010

Wheatley says farewell to America

Phillis Wheatley wrote the poem "Farewell to America" on May 7, 1773, addressed to her master Mrs. Susanna Wheatley. Susanna had made sure the young slave they purchased in 1763 was taught to read and write. Soon, Phillis (named after the slave ship that brought her to Boston) was writing poetry.

Phillis accompanied her master Mr. Wheatley to London in 1773; there she published her first collection of poems after finding a number of prominent white males to offer their names in support of the idea that an enslaved young black woman was capable of writing poetry. That background may make the poem she wrote right before she left somewhat more poignant (I have removed the numbers above each stanza):

Adieu, New-England's smiling meads,
Adieu, th' flow'ry plain:
I leave thine op'ning charms, O spring,
And tempt the roaring main.

In vain for me the flow'rets rise,
And boast their gaudy pride,
While here beneath the northern skies
I mourn for health deny'd.

Celestial maid of rosy hue,
Oh let me feel thy reign!
I languish till thy face I view,
Thy vanish'd joys regain.

Susannah mourns, nor can I bear
To see the crystal shower
Or mark the tender falling tear
At sad departure's hour;

Not regarding can I see
Her soul with grief opprest
But let no sighs, no groans for me
Steal from her pensive breast.

In vain the feather'd warblers sing
In vain the garden blooms
And on the bosom of the spring
Breathes out her sweet perfumes.

While for Britannia's distant shore
We weep the liquid plain,
And with astonish'd eyes explore
The wide-extended main.

Lo! Health appears! celestial dame!
Complacent and serene,
With Hebe's mantle oe'r her frame,
With soul-delighting mien.

To mark the vale where London lies
With misty vapors crown'd
Which cloud Aurora's thousand dyes,
And veil her charms around.

Why, Phoebus, moves thy car so slow?
So slow thy rising ray?
Give us the famous town to view,
Thou glorious King of day!

For thee, Britannia, I resign
New-England's smiling fields;
To view again her charms divine,
What joy the prospect yields!

But thou! Temptation hence away,
With all thy fatal train,
Nor once seduce my soul away,
By thine enchanting strain.

Thrice happy they, whose heavenly shield
Secures their souls from harm,
And fell Temptation on the field
Of all its pow'r disarms.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.