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POETRY ANALYSIS TEXT
(Wheatley’s “On Being Brought from Africa to America”)
Phillis Wheatley was the pioneer African-American woman to produce and publish
poetic books and journals. The history of Wheatley is profound, and she was among the few
slavery survivors from the hands of the brutal and post American independence reign. During her
disturbing stay in a foreign country, almost everything went against her. Despite being in the
wrong gender, wrong country and racial complexity, she excelled and turned out to be a
successful poet. Her poetic products were typically addressing issues of racism and Christianity.
However, this did not inhibit her expansive mind and school of thought to reach other significant
topics. “On B Being Brought from Africa to America” is a powerful, short and charismatic poem
focusing on the theme of slavery. The remarkable poetry work surprised many who never
thought of meeting a slave with such outstanding ability in poetry. Her writing and reading
strength left many natives in utter shock and awe. “On Being Brought from Africa and America”
is an anthologized piece of literature which incorporated old-school trickeries like iambic
pentameter and rhyme (Wheatley, 1783). In a nutshell, the poem was a perfect blend of
Christianity, slavery and salvation themes. This poem is known for its strategic approach to
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addressing ideas of religion, racial equality, and liberty. The following is an outline of the
rhetorical analysis and value of “On Being Brought from Africa to America.”
“On Being Brought from Africa to America” Imagery, Symbolism and Allegory
The rhetorical build-up of the poem forms a critical component of the poem. The
existence of imagery, symbolism, and Allegory is fundamental. The taste of the poem is
controlled by the availability of the above rhetorical elements (Fianzbaum, 1993).
It talks about nighttime. However, this does not mean the dark moments before daylight.
It is super-fascinating to see how the speaker avoids the literal meaning of the word “dark.” But
she utilizes several darkness images across the structure of the poem to depict the elements of
spiritual and physical darkness. The speaker is a black, and the poem revolves around spiritual
and racial issues of a black America. Even though the author avoids the actual usage of
“darkness” she demonstrates a talented character who seeks brilliant and beautiful ways to
establish and depict the sense of darkness in the whole poem.
In line 2 of the poem, the speaker is quoted saying “my benighted soul.” The benighted
term is used to mean some ignorance (Wheatley, 1783). Her soul was enclosed in a darkened
casing before the great Godly light came knocking. It happened when she was in Africa, a
strongly condemned “dark” place. The arrival of mercy brought the light of God to her life
In line 5 the speaker is quoted saying “our sable race.” She is speaking about the African
race. However, it is very unclear of the kind of sense she was referring to. Sable could mean
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enclosed in dark clothes. A lot of negative associations of being a black America transpire the
speaker to use a figurative phrase.
The Imagery of Christianity
Despite being neither preacher nor nun, she is a talented Christian poet. Christian beliefs
and arguments engulf her poems, and this piece is no exception (Wheatley, 1783). Christian is
considered a safe topic for those in slavery, and she ends up using it as her lenses to establish a
strategic look and focus on racial inequality. She does not hit anyone with direct biblical verses,
but she engages in hidden and powerful faith effects which transformed her soul. In line 1, we
have the term “mercy and “Pagan land” these two words shows how her current status changed
in the name of Christianity (Wheatley, 1783). She does not mention Christianity, but she was
opening up on her godly belief which came even before she officially became a believer in God.
Literary Terms Used in the Poem “On Being Brought from Africa to America”
A simile is used by the author in line seven when she claims the Negroes are as black as
Cain. Cain was labeled his creator, God and many believe he was a mark showing blackness. He
fled for his life once he destroys the life of his brother Abel, and consequently, God marked him,
and no one could correctly predict who he was (Fianzbaum, 1993).
'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.
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Some view our sable race with scornful eye,
"Their color is a diabolic die."
Remember, Christians, Negros, black as Cain,
Maybe refin'd, and join th' angelic train.
From the stanza above, line two carries a metaphor which claims that her life and soul is
benighted or darkened. She tries to express a comparison to her soul turning unenlightened and
black character. In line 6, Wheatley, she employs hyperbole by saying that her race is “is a
diabolic die” (Wheatley, 1783). The term diabolic is referring to Devil or Satan. It drives the
thought of exaggeration about his race considered colored by the Satan
In line seven, a metaphor is used in the description of the train. It is described as angelic.
In a hidden domain, this could be a reference to train which is heaven-oriented and tasked with
the role of transporting people to eternal bliss (Wheatley, 1783).
The poem enjoys a steady rhythm, the classic iambic pentameter of a pentagon beats in
each line gives it a traditional pace when narrating some its stanza lines. Poetic devices are not so
often, but they could not go missing. The thread of silent consonants Taught/Brought,
Sought/Benighted contrasts sound propagation and texture with difficult consonants like
diabolic/scornful/black/th’angelic. Also, alliteration happens with the wicked dye, and there
exists an allusion to Cain, the Old Testament character in the bible (Wheatley, 1783)
In the poem, Wheatley shows explicitly in the concluding lines of the poem. Being
ostensibly speaking about the fate of the black Christians who are saved and see some light, the
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final line in “On Being Brought from Africa to America” is a unique reminder to the audience
about her fate whenever they engage in unwise choices and decisions. The rhetorical value of
this poem has continued to fascinate many who are attached to poetry, and it is beyond doubt that
those who wish to enter the world of poetry should consider the work of Wheatley as a living
example and challenge as well.
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Fianzbaum, H. (1993). Unprecedented Liberties: Re-reading Phillis Wheatley. MELUS 18.3 , 71-
Wheatley, P. (1783). On Being Brought from Africa to America. The Heath Anthology of
American Literature, Vol. 2, 3rd Edition. Ed. Paul Lauter. Boston and New York.