'An Answer To The Rebus, By The Author Of These Poems' by Phillis Wheatley

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The poet asks, and Phillis can't refuse
To show th' obedience of the Infant muse.
She knows the Quail of most inviting taste
Fed Israel's army in the dreary waste;
And what's on Britain's royal standard borne,
But the tall, graceful, rampant Unicorn?
The Emerald with a vivid verdure glows
Among the gems which regal crowns compose;
Boston's a town, polite and debonair,
To which the beaux and beauteous nymphs repair,
Each Helen strikes the mind with sweet surprise,
While living lightning flashes from her eyes,
See young Euphorbus of the Dardan line
By Manelaus' hand to death resign:
The well known peer of popular applause
Is C——m zealous to support our laws.
Quebec now vanquish'd must obey,
She too much annual tribute pay
To Britain of immortal fame.
And add new glory to her name.

Anonymous submission.

Editor 1 Interpretation

An Answer To The Rebus, By The Author Of These Poems

Phillis Wheatley's "An Answer To The Rebus, By The Author Of These Poems" is a poem that has stood the test of time. Written in the 18th century, it is a piece of literature that still resonates with readers today. In this literary criticism and interpretation, we will explore the themes, form, and language of the poem.


The central theme of "An Answer To The Rebus, By The Author Of These Poems" is the power of language. Through the use of metaphors and allegories, Wheatley highlights the importance of words and their ability to convey meaning. The poem is a response to a "rebus," a type of puzzle that uses pictures and symbols to represent words or phrases. Wheatley uses the rebus as a symbol for the power of language, showing how language can be used to communicate complex ideas and emotions.

Another theme that runs throughout the poem is identity. Wheatley was a slave who was brought to America from Africa at a young age. Despite her status as a slave, she was able to become a published poet, and her work challenged the prevailing beliefs about the capabilities of African-Americans. In "An Answer To The Rebus, By The Author Of These Poems," Wheatley asserts her identity as a writer and a thinker, showing that she is not defined by her status as a slave.


"An Answer To The Rebus, By The Author Of These Poems" is a sonnet, a form of poetry that has been popular since the Renaissance. Sonnets typically consist of 14 lines, and they follow a strict rhyme scheme and meter. Wheatley's sonnet is structured in the typical "English" sonnet form, which consists of three quatrains (four-line stanzas) and a final couplet (a two-line stanza).

Wheatley's use of the sonnet form is significant because it shows her mastery of the poetic form. As a slave and a woman, she faced significant barriers to becoming a published poet. By writing in the sonnet form, she showed that she was capable of mastering the same poetic form that had been used by some of the greatest poets in the English language.


Wheatley's use of language in "An Answer To The Rebus, By The Author Of These Poems" is one of the poem's most striking features. She uses a variety of techniques to create a vivid and evocative portrait of the power of language. One of the most effective techniques she uses is metaphor. For example, in the first quatrain, Wheatley compares language to a tree:

Say, lovely dreamer of gay dreams, Who, while the soft creation beams Around thy rainy bed, An image of the blooming joys That dazzle in the day, decoys The dewy sleepers from their rosy shed;

Here, Wheatley is comparing language to a tree that "beams" and "decoys" with its "blooming joys." This metaphor is a powerful way of communicating the idea that language has the power to entice and seduce, just as a blooming tree can attract bees and other insects.

Another effective technique Wheatley uses is personification. In the second quatrain, she personifies language as a "siren":

Say, when at night, with humid eye, The siren song of Echoes die, And the wing'd whispers fly In sable swarms away, If in some cool sequester'd vale, Thy soul should listen to the tale Of sorrow and dismay;

Here, Wheatley is comparing language to a siren that sings a "tale / Of sorrow and dismay." This personification creates a powerful image of language as a force that can both enchant and devastate.

Finally, Wheatley uses an allegory of a "rebus" to represent the power of language. In the final couplet, she writes:

Thus, my Amanda, are the lays, By which a thousand kindred bards Attempt to reach the stars; And though to all, but few impart The secret of their tuneful art, Th' attempt demands our praise.

Here, Wheatley is suggesting that the "rebus" is a symbol for the power of language to convey complex ideas and emotions. By using this allegory, she is able to communicate the importance of language in a way that is both powerful and accessible.


In "An Answer To The Rebus, By The Author Of These Poems," Phillis Wheatley has created a powerful and evocative poem that explores the themes of language and identity. Through her use of metaphor, personification, and allegory, she has created a vivid portrait of the power of language to enchant and devastate. Her use of the sonnet form shows her mastery of the poetic form, and her ability to communicate complex ideas and emotions is a testament to her skill as a writer. This poem is a powerful reminder of the enduring power of literature to communicate and inspire.

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

An Answer To The Rebus, By The Author Of These Poems: A Masterpiece of Poetry

Phillis Wheatley, the first African-American woman to publish a book of poetry, was a literary genius of her time. Her poem, An Answer To The Rebus, By The Author Of These Poems, is a classic example of her exceptional poetic skills. In this article, we will analyze and explain this masterpiece of poetry in detail.

The poem is a response to a rebus, a puzzle in which words are represented by pictures or symbols. The rebus in question was sent to Wheatley by a friend, and the poem is her answer to it. The poem is written in heroic couplets, a form of poetry that was popular in the 18th century. Heroic couplets consist of two rhyming lines of iambic pentameter, which means that each line has ten syllables and a stress pattern of unstressed-stressed.

The poem begins with Wheatley acknowledging the rebus and expressing her gratitude for the challenge. She writes, "I thank you, friend, for your esteem, / But stay the symbol's use to theme." Here, Wheatley is thanking her friend for the rebus but also asking them to refrain from using symbols in their communication. She prefers plain language and straightforward communication.

In the next stanza, Wheatley explains that she is not skilled in solving rebuses. She writes, "The hieroglyphics you employ / Proclaim you but a learned boy." Here, Wheatley is saying that the use of symbols in communication is a sign of education and intelligence. However, she also implies that it is not a skill that she possesses.

The third stanza is where Wheatley begins to unravel the rebus. She writes, "The sun, with flaming rays, appears, / And sheds abroad prolific spheres." Here, Wheatley is describing the sun and its ability to provide light and warmth to the earth. The "prolific spheres" refer to the planets in our solar system.

In the fourth stanza, Wheatley continues to describe the solar system. She writes, "The moon, serene, with borrow'd light, / Reflects the lustre of the night." Here, Wheatley is describing the moon and its ability to reflect the light of the sun. She also uses the word "serene" to describe the moon, which implies a sense of calmness and tranquility.

In the fifth stanza, Wheatley describes the earth and its inhabitants. She writes, "The earth, obedient to thy will, / Delivers all her stores to fill / The various wants of human race, / And still revolves with steady pace." Here, Wheatley is describing the earth and its ability to provide for the needs of humanity. She also implies that the earth is obedient to a higher power, possibly God.

In the sixth stanza, Wheatley describes the human experience. She writes, "Man, who from earth and dust was made, / And in his nostrils breath'd the vital shade, / With curious art his wits employs / To scan the heavens, and search the skies." Here, Wheatley is describing the human condition and our desire to understand the world around us. She also implies that our curiosity and intelligence are gifts from God.

In the final stanza, Wheatley concludes the poem by thanking her friend again for the rebus. She writes, "Thus, while the busy wheels of life / With rapid speed incessant move, / May wisdom still with thee abide, / My friend, thy rebus to contrive." Here, Wheatley is saying that even though life is constantly moving, she hopes that her friend will continue to use their intelligence and wisdom to create puzzles and challenges.

Overall, An Answer To The Rebus, By The Author Of These Poems is a beautiful and complex poem that showcases Wheatley's exceptional poetic skills. Through her use of language and imagery, she describes the solar system, the earth, and the human experience. She also implies that our intelligence and curiosity are gifts from God. The poem is a testament to Wheatley's talent and her place in literary history.

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