'On Recollection' by Phillis Wheatly

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MNEME begin.Inspire, ye sacred nine,
Your vent'rous Afric in her great design.
Mneme, immortal pow'r, I trace thy spring:
Assist my strains, while I thy glories sing:
The acts of long departed years, by thee
Recover'd, in due order rang'd we see:
Thy pow'r the long-forgotten calls from night,
That sweetly plays before the fancy's sight.
Mneme in our nocturnal visions pours
The ample treasure of her secret stores;
Swift from above the wings her silent flight
Through Phoebe's realms, fair regent of the night;
And, in her pomp of images display'd,
To the high-raptur'd poet gives her aid,
Through the unbounded regions of the mind,
Diffusing light celestial and refin'd.
The heav'nly phantom paints the actions done
By ev'ry tribe beneath the rolling sun.
Mneme, enthron'd within the human breast,
Has vice condemn'd, and ev'ry virtue blest.
How sweet the sound when we her plaudit hear?
Sweeter than music to the ravish'd ear,
Sweeter than Maro's entertaining strains
Resounding through the groves, and hills, and plains.
But how is Mneme dreaded by the race,
Who scorn her warnings and despise her grace?
By her unveil'd each horrid crime appears,
Her awful hand a cup of wormwood bears.
Days, years mispent, O what a hell of woe!
Hers the worst tortures that our souls can know.
Now eighteen years their destin'd course have run,
In fast succession round the central sun.
How did the follies of that period pass
Unnotic'd, but behold them writ in brass!
In Recollection see them fresh return,
And sure 'tis mine to be asham'd, and mourn.
O Virtue, smiling in immortal green,
Do thou exert thy pow'r, and change the scene;
Be thine employ to guide my future days,
And mine to pay the tribute of my praise.
Of Recollection such the pow'r enthron'd
In ev'ry breast, and thus her pow'r is own'd.
The wretch, who dar'd the vengeance of the skies,
At last awakes in horror and surprise,
By her alarm'd, he sees impending fate,
He howls in anguish, and repents too late.
But O! what peace, what joys are hers t' impart
To ev'ry holy, ev'ry upright heart!
Thrice blest the man, who, in her sacred shrine,
Feels himself shelter'd from the wrath divine!

Editor 1 Interpretation

"On Recollection" by Phillis Wheatley: A Journey of Nostalgia and Perseverance

When we talk about literature, it's hard not to mention Phillis Wheatley, the first African American woman to publish a book of poetry. Her talent and perseverance in the face of adversity are nothing short of inspiring. In her poem "On Recollection," Wheatley takes us on a journey of nostalgia and remembrance, exploring the power of memory to connect us to our past and shape our present.

At first glance, "On Recollection" seems like a simple poem about remembering a loved one who has passed away. The speaker begins by describing how memories of her friend flood her mind:

When with a Reaſon ſtrong my heart

Would into ſilence forced be,

Sorrow would herſelf impart,

And the ſeed of miſery,

Being planted in my heart,

Dawned the beauteous form I ſaw

Late in friendſhip lov'd before,

And recall'd with eager awe.

We can almost feel the weight of grief in these lines, the struggle to keep her emotions in check. But as the poem progresses, we see that Wheatley is doing much more than just mourning a lost friend. She is exploring the power of memory to shape our identity and our sense of self.

The first hint of this comes in the second stanza, when the speaker reflects on how memory can transport us across time and space:

Memory oft the ſcenes revives

Of ſcenes long ſince paſt away;

And ſhould we from our ſoulſ ſurvive

This large expanse of life's dull day,

'Twill be our happineſs to give

A looſe to memory's ſtrong chain,

And o'er the ſcene again to live,

Which gives our ſouls ſuch pleaſure vain.

Here, Wheatley is suggesting that memory can be a source of happiness, a way to revisit the past and find joy in the present. But she also acknowledges the limitations of memory, the way that time can distort and blur our recollections:

But ah! how frail is human life!

And time's unbounded ſea

Shall ſoon the voice of mortals ſwallow,

And ocean's ſilent depths ſhall flow

O'er our forgetful heads, and follow

The monuments we here do raiſe.

Oblivion ſhall our memories hide,

And not a trace behind remain

Of beings who in ſorrow died,

Or lived amid a life of pain.

This is a poignant reminder of the fragility of life, and the fleeting nature of memory. But even as Wheatley acknowledges this, she also suggests that memory can be a source of strength and resilience. The final stanza of the poem is a testament to the power of memory to help us persevere in the face of hardship:

But if the ſpirit, freed from clay,

At length ſhall ſoar to realms above,

With what ſublime delight to ſay

To parent ſoul, "I've kept thy love!"

And o'er the joys of Heaven survey

The ſcenes that we tranſacted here,

The remembrance of each paſt day

Shall waft us to each other dear.

Here, Wheatley is suggesting that memory can help us transcend our earthly troubles and connect with those we have lost. As we remember our loved ones and the moments we shared with them, we can find comfort and solace in the thought that they are still with us in some way. Memory becomes a way to transcend time and space, to bridge the gap between the living and the dead.

Overall, "On Recollection" is a powerful exploration of the power of memory and the resilience of the human spirit. Through her words, Wheatley reminds us that even in the face of loss and grief, we can find strength in our memories and the love that we shared with those we have lost. As we reflect on our own memories and the people who have shaped our lives, we can find comfort and inspiration in Wheatley's words, and the enduring power of poetry to connect us to our past and shape our present.

So, what do you think? Are you inspired by Wheatley's words? Do you see the power of memory in your own life? As we reflect on this poem and the legacy of Phillis Wheatley, we are reminded of the enduring power of literature to inspire and uplift us, even in the darkest of times.

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

Poetry On Recollection: A Masterpiece by Phillis Wheatley

Phillis Wheatley, the first African-American woman to publish a book of poetry, was a literary genius. Her works are a testament to her talent and her ability to express herself through words. One of her most famous poems is "On Recollection," a beautiful piece that explores the power of memory and the importance of remembering the past.

The poem begins with the speaker reflecting on the past, saying "Often I muse on the days gone by, / When I sat me down on my mother's knee." This opening line sets the tone for the rest of the poem, as the speaker takes us on a journey through her memories. She describes the sights, sounds, and smells of her childhood, painting a vivid picture of a time long gone.

As the poem progresses, the speaker begins to explore the idea of memory itself. She says, "Memory, thou fond deceiver, / Still importunate and vain, / To thy faded joys, and pleasures / Fondly would I turn again." Here, the speaker acknowledges that memory can be deceiving, as it often paints a rosier picture of the past than reality. However, she also admits that she is still drawn to the memories of her youth, despite their imperfections.

The poem then takes a more philosophical turn, as the speaker ponders the nature of time and the fleeting nature of life. She says, "Time, who steals our years away, / Shall steal our pleasures too." This line is a reminder that nothing in life is permanent, and that even our happiest moments will eventually fade away.

Despite this melancholy thought, the speaker remains hopeful. She says, "The mem'ry of the past remains, / And drives all else away." This line is a testament to the power of memory, and its ability to transport us back to a time and place that no longer exists.

The poem ends with a beautiful image of the speaker's mother, who is now gone but still lives on in memory. The speaker says, "And still that face is in my view, / Which once was kind to me." This final image is a reminder that even though the past is gone, it still lives on in memory, and that the people we have loved and lost are never truly gone.

Overall, "On Recollection" is a beautiful and poignant poem that explores the power of memory and the importance of remembering the past. Through her words, Phillis Wheatley reminds us that even though time may steal our pleasures, the memories of those pleasures will always remain. She also reminds us that the people we have loved and lost are never truly gone, as they live on in memory.

In conclusion, "On Recollection" is a masterpiece of poetry that deserves to be read and appreciated by all. Its timeless themes and beautiful language make it a work of art that will continue to inspire and move readers for generations to come. Phillis Wheatley's legacy as a poet and a trailblazer for African-American women in literature is secure, and "On Recollection" is just one example of her incredible talent and vision.

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