Phillis Wheatley – To S.M.,* A Young African Painter, on Seeing His Works, 1793


TO show the lab’ring bosom’s deep intent,
And thought in living characters to paint,
When first thy pencil did those beauties give,
And breathing figures learnt from thee to live,
How did those prospects give my soul delight,
A new creation rushing on my sight!
Still, wondrous youth! each noble path pursue;
On deathless glories fix thine ardent view:
Still may the painter’s and the poet’s fire,
To aid thy pencil and thy verse conspire!
And may the charms of each seraphic theme
Conduct thy footsteps to immortal fame!
High to the blissful wonders of the skies
Elate thy soul, and raise thy wishful eyes.
Thrice happy, when exalted to survey
That splendid city, crowned with endless day,
Whose twice six gates on radiant hinges ring:
Celestial Salem blooms in endless spring.
Calm and serene thy moments glide along,
And may the muse inspire each future song!
Still, with the sweets of contemplation blessed,
May peace with balmy wings your soul invest!
But when these shades of time are chased away,
And darkness ends in everlasting day,
On what seraphic pinions shall we move,
And view the landsapes in the realms above!
There shall thy tongue in heavenly murmurs flow,
And there my muse with heavenly transport glow;
No more to tell of Damon’s tender sighs,
Or rising radiance of Aurora’s eyes;
For nobler themes demand a nobler strain,
And purer language on the ethereal plain.
Cease, gentle Muse! the solemn gloom of night
Now seals the fair creation from my sight.

Phillis Wheatley, c.1753 – 1784

To S.M.,* A Young African Painter, on Seeing His Works.   Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral, 1793

*Scipio Moorhead

Phyllis Wheatley was born in Senegal and taken into slavery in America. She was the first African American to publish a volume of literature. Scipio Moorhead was an African American artist, active c. 1773, who lived in slavery in Boston. His only known work is the engraving of the portrait of Phillis Wheatley.

Image: Scipio Moorhead. Frontespiece to: Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral, 1793

Author: jeh

Jeremy Hunt is Director of the AAJ Press (Art & Architecture Journal / Press) – a writer and consultant on art and public space

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