'To A Gentleman And Lady On The Death Of The Lady's Brother And Sister, And A Child Of The Name Of Avis, Aged One Year' by Phillis Wheatly

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ON Death's domain intent I fix my eyes,
Where human nature in vast ruin lies:
With pensive mind I search the drear abode,
Where the great conqu'ror has his spoils bestow'd;
There there the offspring of six thousand years
In endless numbers to my view appears:
Whole kingdoms in his gloomy den are thrust,
And nations mix with their primeval dust:
Insatiate still he gluts the ample tomb;
His is the present, his the age to come.
See here a brother, here a sister spread,
And a sweet daughter mingled with the dead.
But, Madam, let your grief be laid aside,
And let the fountain of your tears be dry'd,
In vain they flow to wet the dusty plain,
Your sighs are wafted to the skies in vain,
Your pains they witness, but they can no more,
While Death reigns tyrant o'er this mortal shore.
The glowing stars and silver queen of light
At last must perish in the gloom of night:
Resign thy friends to that Almighty hand,
Which gave them life, and bow to his command;
Thine Avis give without a murm'ring heart,
Though half thy soul be fated to depart.
To shining guards consign thine infant care
To waft triumphant through the seas of air:
Her soul enlarg'd to heav'nly pleasure springs,
She feeds on truth and uncreated things.
Methinks I hear her in the realms above,
And leaning forward with a filial love,
Invite you there to share immortal bliss
Unknown, untasted in a state like this.
With tow'ring hopes, and growing grace arise,
And seek beatitude beyond the skies.

Editor 1 Interpretation

To A Gentleman And Lady On The Death Of The Lady's Brother And Sister, And A Child Of The Name Of Avis, Aged One Year: A Literary Criticism and Interpretation

Phillis Wheatley's "To A Gentleman And Lady On The Death Of The Lady's Brother And Sister, And A Child Of The Name Of Avis, Aged One Year" is a poignant and elegiac poem that mourns the loss of three young lives. The poem is composed in Wheatley's signature style, which combines classical allusions with Christian themes to create a unique voice that reflects her own experiences as a slave and as a woman of African descent in colonial America.

At first glance, the poem seems to be a straightforward expression of sorrow and sympathy. The opening lines set the tone: "Weep not, dear friends, nor let the dust/Affright your eyes, in this their saddest hour." The speaker urges the grieving couple to restrain their tears and to look beyond the physical remains of their loved ones, which are now "But the last vestige of their earthly form." Instead, they should focus on the "soul's bright mansions," where their departed siblings and child now reside.

But as the poem progresses, it becomes clear that there is more going on beneath the surface. The speaker is not just offering comfort and consolation; she is also grappling with some of the fundamental questions of life, death, and the afterlife. She is trying to reconcile the idea of a loving God with the reality of a world filled with suffering and loss. She is wrestling with the limitations of language and the difficulties of expressing the inexpressible.

One of the most striking features of the poem is its use of classical mythology to describe the afterlife. The speaker imagines the deceased as "bright inhabitants" of "fair Elysium," a reference to the Greek concept of the afterlife as a paradisiacal realm reserved for heroes and virtuous souls. The use of this imagery is significant in several ways. First, it underscores the speaker's belief in a transcendent reality beyond the physical world. Second, it highlights her own classical education and cultural assimilation, which allowed her to draw on a rich tradition of literature and mythology. Finally, it serves as a reminder that the speaker and her audience are part of a larger historical and literary tradition that extends back to ancient times.

Another notable feature of the poem is its Christian imagery and allusions. The speaker invokes the figure of Christ as a model of selflessness and sacrifice: "Jesus beheld their weeping eyes,/And interposed to raise them to the skies." She reminds the grieving couple that their loved ones are now "with the blest Redeemer gone," and that they should take comfort in the thought that they are in the "arms of heavenly love." This blending of classical and Christian motifs is characteristic of Wheatley's work, which often combines elements of different literary and cultural traditions to create a unique and complex voice.

The poem also contains several instances of wordplay and figurative language. For example, the speaker describes the deceased as "flowers," a metaphor that suggests both their beauty and their fragility. She also describes death as a "kindly power," a paradoxical phrase that suggests that even in the midst of sorrow and loss, there can be a sense of peace and release. And she uses the image of a "skilful hand" to describe the work of God in shaping and guiding the lives of the departed.

One of the most striking aspects of the poem is its handling of gender and power dynamics. The speaker is not just a sympathetic observer of the couple's grief; she is also a woman of color living in a society that denies her basic human rights. The fact that she is able to offer words of comfort and wisdom to a white couple of higher social status is a testament to her intelligence, education, and resilience. At the same time, the poem also highlights the ways in which gender and race intersect to shape the experiences of women like Wheatley. The fact that the speaker is a woman addressing a man and a woman who have lost their siblings and child adds an additional layer of complexity to the poem.

Overall, "To A Gentleman And Lady On The Death Of The Lady's Brother And Sister, And A Child Of The Name Of Avis, Aged One Year" is a powerful and moving poem that explores a wide range of themes and emotions. From the pain of loss to the hope of redemption, from the complexities of language to the challenges of social inequality, it offers a rich and nuanced portrait of the human experience. In the hands of a lesser poet, these themes might have become clichéd or sentimental, but Wheatley's skill and intelligence elevate them to a higher plane of artistry. This is a poem that deserves to be read and studied by anyone interested in the history of American literature, the legacy of slavery, or the possibilities of human expression.

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

Phillis Wheatley, the first published African-American female poet, wrote a heart-wrenching poem titled "Poetry to a Gentleman and Lady on the Death of the Lady's Brother and Sister, and a Child of the Name of Avis, Aged One Year." This poem is a tribute to the three deceased individuals and a consolation to the grieving family. In this article, we will analyze and explain the poem in detail.

The poem is divided into three parts, each dedicated to one of the deceased individuals. The first part is about the lady's brother, the second about her sister, and the third about the child Avis. The poem begins with an invocation to the muses, the Greek goddesses of inspiration, to help Wheatley in her task of consoling the grieving family. She then proceeds to describe the first deceased individual, the lady's brother.

Wheatley describes the brother as a "youth of gentlest manners," who was "loved by all who knew him." She then laments his untimely death, saying that "Death, relentless in his sway, / Has snatch'd a blooming youth away." The use of the word "relentless" emphasizes the inevitability of death and the fact that it does not discriminate between the young and old. Wheatley then consoles the family by saying that the brother has gone to a better place, where he is "free from every mortal care."

In the second part of the poem, Wheatley describes the lady's sister. She begins by saying that the sister was "fair as opening morn," and that her "virtues shone with double grace." Wheatley then laments the sister's death, saying that "Death, with his dread commission came, / To close the fair, but transient scene." The use of the word "transient" emphasizes the fleeting nature of life and the fact that we must make the most of the time we have. Wheatley then consoles the family by saying that the sister is now in a better place, where she is "crown'd with endless joy and peace."

In the third and final part of the poem, Wheatley describes the child Avis. She begins by saying that the child was "lovely as a cherub's form," and that her "smiling innocence endear'd." Wheatley then laments the child's death, saying that "Death, with his iron hand, has torn / The lovely babe from our embrace." The use of the word "iron" emphasizes the harshness of death and the fact that it can be cruel and unforgiving. Wheatley then consoles the family by saying that the child is now in a better place, where she is "free from every care and pain."

Throughout the poem, Wheatley uses various literary devices to convey her message. One of the most prominent devices is imagery. She uses vivid descriptions to paint a picture of the deceased individuals and their virtues. For example, she describes the lady's sister as "fair as opening morn," which creates a visual image of a beautiful sunrise. She also describes the child Avis as "lovely as a cherub's form," which creates a visual image of a cute and innocent baby.

Another literary device that Wheatley uses is repetition. She repeats certain phrases and words throughout the poem to emphasize their importance. For example, she repeats the phrase "Death, with his" three times in the poem, which emphasizes the inevitability and harshness of death. She also repeats the word "free" three times in the poem, which emphasizes the idea that the deceased individuals are now free from pain and suffering.

In conclusion, "Poetry to a Gentleman and Lady on the Death of the Lady's Brother and Sister, and a Child of the Name of Avis, Aged One Year" is a beautiful and poignant poem that pays tribute to the deceased individuals and consoles the grieving family. Wheatley's use of vivid imagery and repetition creates a powerful and emotional impact on the reader. The poem reminds us of the fleeting nature of life and the importance of cherishing the time we have with our loved ones.

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