'To Maecenas' by Phillis Wheatly

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MAECENAS, you, beneath the myrtle shade,
Read o'er what poets sung, and shepherds play'd.
What felt those poets but you feel the same?
Does not your soul possess the sacred flame?
Their noble strains your equal genius shares
In softer language, and diviner airs.
While Homer paints, lo! circumfus'd in air,
Celestial Gods in mortal forms appear;
Swift as they move hear each recess rebound,
Heav'n quakes, earth trembles, and the shores resound.
Great Sire of verse, before my mortal eyes,
The lightnings blaze across the vaulted skies,
And, as the thunder shakes the heav'nly plains,
A deep felt horror thrills through all my veins.
When gentler strains demand thy graceful song,
The length'ning line moves languishing along.
When great Patroclus courts Achilles' aid,
The grateful tribute of my tears is paid;
Prone on the shore he feels the pangs of love,
And stern Pelides tend'rest passions move.
Great Maro's strain in heav'nly numbers flows,
The Nine inspire, and all the bosom glows.
O could I rival thine and Virgil's page,
Or claim the Muses with the Mantuan Sage;
Soon the same beauties should my mind adorn,
And the same ardors in my soul should burn:
Then should my song in bolder notes arise,
And all my numbers pleasingly surprise;
But here I sit, and mourn a grov'ling mind,
That fain would mount, and ride upon the wind.
Not you, my friend, these plaintive strains become,
Not you, whose bosom is the Muses home;
When they from tow'ring Helicon retire,
They fan in you the bright immortal fire,
But I less happy, cannot raise the song,
The fault'ring music dies upon my tongue.
The happier Terence* all the choir inspir'd,
His soul replenish'd, and his bosom fir'd;
But say, ye Muses, why this partial grace,
To one alone of Afric's sable race;
From age to age transmitting thus his name
With the finest glory in the rolls of fame?
Thy virtues, great Maecenas! shall be sung
In praise of him, from whom those virtues sprung:
While blooming wreaths around thy temples spread,
I'll snatch a laurel from thine honour'd head,
While you indulgent smile upon the deed.

*He was an African by birth.

As long as Thames in streams majestic flows,
Or Naiads in their oozy beds repose
While Phoebus reigns above the starry train
While bright Aurora purples o'er the main,
So long, great Sir, the muse thy praise shall sing,
So long thy praise shal' make Parnassus ring:
Then grant, Maecenas, thy paternal rays,
Hear me propitious, and defend my lays.

Editor 1 Interpretation

An Exquisite Ode to Maecenas: A Literary Criticism and Interpretation of Phillis Wheatley's Poetry

When we think of the great poets who have graced the world with their literary works, it is often the likes of Shakespeare, Wordsworth, and Keats that come to mind. However, there are other poets who have left their mark on history, albeit not as widely recognized. One such poet is Phillis Wheatley, whose profound and moving poem "To Maecenas" is a testament to her poetic prowess.

Phillis Wheatley, born in West Africa in 1753, was sold into slavery at a young age and brought to America. She was purchased by the Wheatley family, who recognized her intelligence and quickly taught her to read and write. Wheatley's love for poetry became evident when she began to write her own works, which were eventually published in her book "Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral."

"To Maecenas" is one of Wheatley's most remarkable poems. Written in 1773, it is an ode to Gaius Cilnius Maecenas, a Roman statesman and patron of the arts during the reign of Augustus. The poem is divided into four stanzas, each of which is composed of six lines. Let's delve into the poem and explore its different facets.

The Poem's Structure and Rhyme Scheme

One of the first things that strikes the reader about "To Maecenas" is its structure and rhyme scheme. As mentioned, the poem is divided into four stanzas, each of which contains six lines. The first and third lines of each stanza rhyme with each other, as do the second and fourth lines, while the fifth and sixth lines rhyme with each other.

The rhyme scheme gives the poem a musical quality, enhancing its lyrical nature. It also helps to create a sense of unity and cohesion, linking each stanza together. The consistent structure and rhyme scheme contribute to the poem's overall elegance and sophistication.

The Poem's Tone and Mood

As we read "To Maecenas," we are immediately struck by the tone and mood of the poem. The tone is reverential, as Wheatley pays homage to Maecenas, praising his patronage of the arts and his contribution to cultural enrichment. The mood is respectful, with a sense of awe and admiration pervading the poem.

The language and imagery used by Wheatley contribute to the tone and mood of the poem. For example, she refers to Maecenas as a "godlike" figure, highlighting his importance and influence. She also uses words such as "genius," "eloquent," and "divine," emphasizing Maecenas's contribution to the arts and his elevated status.

The Poem's Themes and Motifs

As we continue to read the poem, we begin to uncover its underlying themes and motifs. One of the primary themes of "To Maecenas" is the importance of patronage and support for the arts. Wheatley acknowledges the critical role that patrons such as Maecenas play in promoting and sustaining artistic endeavors. She praises Maecenas for his "bounteous mind," and recognizes his generosity in supporting poets and writers.

Another theme of the poem is the idea of cultural exchange and the cross-pollination of ideas between different societies. Wheatley highlights the fact that Maecenas was a Roman who supported Greek poets and writers, emphasizing the importance of cultural exchange and the benefits that can be gained from exposure to different perspectives.

The motifs used throughout the poem also contribute to its central themes. For example, Wheatley uses the metaphor of a tree to represent Maecenas, describing him as a "stately pine," and emphasizing his strength and endurance. The use of natural imagery throughout the poem highlights the idea that art and literature are connected to the natural world, and that they have the power to inspire and enrich us.

The Poem's Historical and Cultural Significance

Finally, it is essential to consider the historical and cultural significance of "To Maecenas." The poem is a testament to Wheatley's literary talent and her contribution to the canon of American poetry. As an African-American woman who was born into slavery, Wheatley faced numerous obstacles throughout her life, yet she was able to overcome them and achieve recognition as a poet of exceptional skill.

Moreover, the poem reflects the broader cultural context of Wheatley's time, which was characterized by a growing interest in classical literature and culture. Many of Wheatley's contemporaries, including Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin, were enamored with the classical world and sought to emulate its ideals.

Wheatley's decision to write a poem about Maecenas, a Roman patron of the arts, reflects this broader cultural trend. By positioning Maecenas as a figure of admiration and respect, Wheatley was able to tap into the cultural zeitgeist of her time and offer her own contribution to the tradition of classical literature.


In conclusion, "To Maecenas" is a remarkable poem that showcases Phillis Wheatley's literary talent and her ability to capture complex themes and motifs in a few short stanzas. The poem's structure and rhyme scheme contribute to its musical quality, while its tone and mood convey a sense of reverence and admiration.

The poem's themes and motifs highlight the importance of patronage and support for the arts, as well as the benefits of cultural exchange and exposure to different perspectives. Finally, the poem's historical and cultural significance underscores Wheatley's importance as a poet and her contribution to the broader cultural context of her time.

Overall, "To Maecenas" is a stunning piece of poetry that deserves to be recognized as a classic of American literature. Its enduring themes and motifs continue to resonate with readers today, highlighting the power of poetry to inspire, enlighten, and enrich us.

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

Poetry To Maecenas: A Masterpiece by Phillis Wheatley

Phillis Wheatley, the first African-American woman to publish a book of poetry, is a name that resonates with the literary world. Her works are a testament to her talent and her ability to break barriers in a world that was not always welcoming to her. One of her most famous works is "Poetry To Maecenas," a poem that is a tribute to the Roman patron of the arts, Gaius Maecenas. In this article, we will analyze and explain this masterpiece of poetry.

The poem is divided into three stanzas, each with its own unique message. The first stanza is an introduction to the poem and sets the tone for what is to come. Wheatley begins by addressing Maecenas directly, stating that she is "inspired by thy fame." This line sets the stage for the rest of the poem, as Wheatley is clearly in awe of Maecenas and his contributions to the arts.

The second stanza is where Wheatley really shines. She uses vivid imagery and powerful language to describe the impact that Maecenas has had on the world of art. She describes him as a "patron of the learned train," and goes on to say that he has "raised the genius and refined the taste." These lines are a testament to Maecenas' influence on the arts, and Wheatley's admiration for him is clear.

Wheatley also uses this stanza to describe the importance of art in society. She writes that "the arts in general, and poets chiefly, owe their glory to his name." This line is a reminder that without patrons like Maecenas, many great works of art may never have been created. Wheatley is acknowledging the debt that artists owe to those who support them, and she does so in a way that is both powerful and poetic.

The final stanza of the poem is a call to action. Wheatley urges Maecenas to continue his support of the arts, stating that "the Muses still with freedom found, shall to thy happy coast repair." This line is a reminder that the arts are not static, and that they require ongoing support in order to thrive. Wheatley is urging Maecenas to continue his patronage, and to ensure that the arts continue to flourish.

Overall, "Poetry To Maecenas" is a masterpiece of poetry. Wheatley's use of language and imagery is powerful, and her admiration for Maecenas is clear. The poem is a reminder of the importance of art in society, and the debt that artists owe to their patrons. It is also a call to action, urging those in positions of power to continue their support of the arts.

In conclusion, Phillis Wheatley's "Poetry To Maecenas" is a testament to her talent and her ability to break barriers. It is a reminder of the importance of art in society, and the debt that artists owe to their patrons. It is a call to action, urging those in positions of power to continue their support of the arts. This poem is a true masterpiece, and it is a testament to Wheatley's place in the literary world.

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