Lucy Terry Prince (c.1730-1821) was taken from Africa and became a slave in Rhode Island. She is believed to be the author of the first poem composed by an African American woman. Prince's poem, "Bars Fight," is a ballad about an attack by American Indians on white families on August 25, 1746, in Deerfield, Massachusetts. Prince was enslaved in Deerfield at the time. The attack occurred in an area of Deerfield called, “The Bars,” which was a term, at that time, for a meadow.
Phillis Wheatley (c. 1753-1784) was the first African American author of a book of poetry. She was also the first African American woman to achieve an international reputation as a writer. Wheatley was born in West Africa, sent to North America, and sold into slavery when she was either 7 years old or 8 years old. She was bought by the Wheatley family of Boston, who taught her how to read and write.
In Wheatley's poem, "On Imagination," Wheatley views imagination as having power over an individual’s creativity, love, and soul, among other things. Wheatley calls upon Helicon, to help in composing a song about imagination. In Greek mythology, Helicon is important to the Muses and seen as a source of poetic inspiration.
Some poetry analyses view Fancy as the freedom that releases the writer from the fetters placed on her, while Winter symbolizes the reality of slavery that restricts the opportunities brought by imagination. Wheatley calls for the "unequal lay" or inequality between "reality" and imagination to "cease."
Listen to DR C’s podcast where she reads the works of Lucy Terry Prince and Phillis Wheatley.
Follow along with DR C as she recites the poems below:
By Lucy Terry Prince
|An oil painting of Lucy Terry Prince by Louise Minks.|
Courtesy of Louise Minks.
August, 'twas the twenty-fifth,
Seventeen houndred forthy-six;
The Indians did in ambush lay,
Some very valiant men to slay
The names of whom I'll not leave out,
Samuel Allen like a hero foute,
And though he was so brave and bold,
His face no more shall we behold.
Eleazer Hawks was killed outright,
Before he had time to fight,
Before he did the Indians see,
Was shot and killed immediately.
Oliver Amsden he was slain,
Which caused his friends much grief pain.
Simeon Amsden they found dead
Not many rods from Oliver's head.
Adonijah Gillett, we do hear,
Did lose his life which was so dear.
John Sadler fled across the water,
And thus escaped the dreadful slaughter.
Eunice Allen see the Indians comeing
And hoped to save herself by running:
And had not her petticoats stopt her,
The awful creatures had not cotched her,
Not tommyhawked her on the head,
And left her on the ground for dead.
Young Samuel Allen, Oh! lack-a-day!
Was taken and carried to Canada.
By Phillis Wheatley
|Photo by Bob Linsdell / CC BY |
Thy wond'rous acts in beauteous order stand,
And all attest how potent is thine hand.
From Helicon's refulgent heights attend,
Ye sacred choir, and my attempts befriend:
To tell her glories with a faithful tongue,
Ye blooming graces, triumph in my song.
Now here, now there, the roving Fancy flies,
Till some lov'd object strikes her wand'ring eyes,
Whose silken fetters all the sense bind,
And soft captivity involves the mind.
Imagination! who can sing thy force?
Or who describes the swiftness of thy course?
Soaring through air to find the bright abode,
Th' empyreal palace of the thund'ring God,
We on thy pinions can surpass the wind,
And leave the rolling universe behind:
From star to star the mental optics rove,
Measure the skies, and range the realms above.
There in one view we grasp the mighty whole,
Or with new worlds amaze th' unbounded soul.
Though Winter frowns to Fancy's raptur'd eyes
The fields may flourish, and gay scenes arise;
The frozen deeps may break their iron bands,
And bid their waters murmur o'er the sands.
Fair Flora may resume her fragrant reign,
And with her flow'ry riches deck the plain;
Sylvanus may diffuse his honours round,
And all the forest may with leaves be crown'd:
Show'rs may descend, and dews their gems disclose,
And nectar sparkle on the blooming rose.
Such is thy pow'r, nor are thine orders vain,
O thou the leader of the mental train:
In full perfection all thy works are wrought,
And thin the sceptre o'er the realms of thought.
Before thy throne the subject-passions bow,
Of subject-passions sov'reign rule thou;
At thy command joy rushes on the heart,
And through the glowing veins the spirits dart.
Fancy might now her silken pinions try
To rise from earth, and sweep th' expanse on high:
From Tithon's bed now might Aurora rise,
Her cheeks all glowing with celestial dies,
While a pure stream of light o'erflows the skies.
The monarch of the day I might behold,
And all the mountains tipt with radiant gold,
But I reluctant leave the pleasing views,
Which Fancy dresses to delight the Muse;
Winter austere forbids me to aspire,
And northern tempests damp the rising fire;
They chill the tides of Fancy's flowing sea,
Cease then, my song, cease the unequal lay.
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