Phillis Wheatley (1753–1784)
An 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 was born in Senegal, then taken as a slave to the United States at the age of eight (1761). There she was purchased by a Boston tailor, John Wheatley, whose daughter taught Phyllis to read English, Latin, and Greek. Her first and only book of poetry, a compilation of thirty-nine poems, was entitled Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral (1773), and published in London. Wheatley was the first African American to publish a book of poetry, and the first woman of any race to publish a book in America. She died in Boston in extreme poverty at the age of thirty-one.