Poet's Pick April 26
Phillis Wheatley: "An Hymn to the Morning"
Selected by Jessica Fjeld
National Poetry Month 2016

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Jessica Fjeld's Poetry Month Pick, April 26, 2016

"An Hymn to the Morning"
by Phillis Wheatley (1753-1784)

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 thousands 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.


* Jessica Fjeld Comments:
This morning I drove through Boston — a city Wheatley and I share — in a soaking spring rain. The "pleasing fire" was barely in evidence, but this poem was nonetheless on my mind. I'll trust others to describe its technical accomplishments; I can't say I'm good enough to understand them. All the same, I love this wry, ambivalent ode. It's so human. Wheatley's all, Good lord the sunrise is gorgeous and wow those birds are just a miracle of cuteness and isn't the Western canon full of truth and beauty but ugh the sun is in my eyes and I just want it over with. I'm with her. It's a timeless sentiment.

Of course this poem is more than Monday morning whining. Wheatley lived in Boston not by choice but because she was purchased in 1761 by a tailor who lived here. The Wheatley family was in some ways supportive of this extraordinary woman — they educated her and encouraged her literary and intellectual efforts — but they enslaved her for more than a decade. You could describe the life they allowed her, I think, as a a certain kind of sunshine accompanied by a certain kind of pain.

Jessica Fjeld:
Jessica Fjeld is the author of the chapbooks The Tide (2010) and On animate life (2006), for which she received the Poetry Society of America's Chapbook Fellowship. Her poems have appeared in ConduitFou, iOjubilatPoetry, and elsewhere. In 2015, she was awarded a "Discovery" Poetry Prize by the 92Y Unterberg Poetry Center and the Boston Review. She lives in Boston, Massachusetts.

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