Phillis Wheatley (1753–1784)
An Hymn to the Evening
Soon as the sun forsook the eastern main
The pealing thunder shook the heav’nly plain;
Majestic grandeur! From the zephyr’s wing,
Exhales the incense of the blooming spring.
Soft purl the streams, the birds renew their notes,
And through the air their mingled music floats.
Through all the heav’ns what beauteous dies are spread!
But the west glories in the deepest red:
So may our breasts with ev’ry virtue glow,
The living temples of our God below!
Fill’d with the praise of him who gives the light,
And draws the sable curtains of the night,
Let placid slumbers sooth each weary mind,
At morn to wake more heav’nly, more refin’d;
So shall the labours of the day begin
More pure, more guarded from the snares of sin.
Night’s leaden sceptre seals my drowsy eyes,
Then cease, my song, till fair Aurora rise.
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 Phillis 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.