’Twas mercy brought me from my Pagan land,Phillis Wheatley, On Being Brought from Africa to America
Taught my benighted soul to understand
That there’s a God, that there’s a Saviour too:
Once I redemption neither sought nor knew.
Some view our sable race with scornful eye,
‘Their colour is a diabolic die.’
Remember, Christians, Negros, black as Cain,
May be refin’d, and join th’ angelic train.
I first heard of Phillis Wheatley and her poetry many years ago, I believe in middle school while studying American history. Her story, along with so many others, is inspiring to me. Here is this young girl, stolen from her home and sold into slavery, finding hope and comfort in a new land and the Gospel. She was the first published African American poet, and though she was not well-known in her day, her work was preserved for us today. From her writing, you cannot say that she pitied herself or allowed herself to succumb to her circumstances. Instead, she worked through her adversity and left a lasting mark on history. For that, and much more, do I admire her.
Of all her poems, I love this one especially. In this piece, Wheatley compares elements of light and dark, both physically and metaphorically. She describes a story of magnificent proportion in such a small frame. She boldly confronts evil in its day, proclaiming the truth that has been known since creation. She does not succumb to despair but clings to the hope of the Gospel. This alone makes her admirable, but combined with the rest, there is little wonder why her work has stood the test of time.
Wheatley does not claim here that slavery was good, or that what was done to her was acceptable. Yet she sees, like so many of God’s people have seen, that God takes our sufferings and uses them for good, for His glory. Though she was stolen from her people, God made her part of His people. She was once in darkness, but now she has been brought into the light, into a knowledge that she not only didn’t seek but didn’t know to seek. For this, she is thankful. Her darkness is one that all those separate from Christ experience, yet she found and embraced the redemption made for her! She finds joy in all this pain, knowing she was made, loved, and saved by the Savior. Though she repeats some misconceptions about Scripture (the mark of Cain is not scriptural but was invented from man’s sinful ideas of origins and used abusively by those who claimed to be of the Church). Yet she proclaims this truth: though many men view people of her complexion scornfully, claiming that their appearance is somehow a mark of evil, she knows the truth, and she is not alone in that knowledge. Christ died for her, too, and has made her a part of His Body.
This bold assertion is inspiring. Wheatley stood up for so many people, not just herself, in writing this poem. She proclaimed the sanctity of life, the unity of mankind, the love of the Savior, and the hope of all people however they may be enslaved. She found hope and joy in terrible circumstances. She proclaimed the Gospel from her position. How can we not admire and be inspired by that? Her’s is a story to be known, her work that should be shared.
Blessings to you and yours,
~Madelyn Rose Craig