'Ode To Neptune' by Phillis Wheatly

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On Mrs. W-----'s Voyage to England.

WHILE raging tempests shake the shore,
While AElus' thunders round us roar,
And sweep impetuous o'er the plain
Be still, O tyrant of the main;
Nor let thy brow contracted frowns betray,
While my Susanna skims the wat'ry way.

The Pow'r propitious hears the lay,
The blue-ey'd daughters of the sea
With sweeter cadence glide along,
And Thames responsive joins the song.
Pleas'd with their notes Sol sheds benign his ray,
And double radiance decks the face of day.

To court thee to Britannia's arms
Serene the climes and mild the sky,
Her region boasts unnumber'd charms,
Thy welcome smiles in ev'ry eye.
Thy promise, Neptune keep, record my pray'r,
Not give my wishes to the empty air.

Editor 1 Interpretation

An Ode to Neptune: A Masterpiece of Poetry

Phillis Wheatley, the first published African-American poet, wrote "An Ode to Neptune" in the late 18th century, and it stands out as one of her greatest works. The poem is a tribute to the Roman god of the sea, Neptune, and Wheatley's use of vivid imagery and metaphorical language creates a powerful and mesmerizing piece of literature. In this literary criticism and interpretation, I'll explore Wheatley's artistic vision in "An Ode to Neptune" and analyze how her poem reflects the cultural and social context of its time.

The Poet's Vision

"An Ode to Neptune" opens with a majestic invocation to the god of the sea. Wheatley describes Neptune as "the sovereign of the sea" and "the great ruler of the main," emphasizing his power and authority over the vast expanse of the ocean. The poet's use of the word "sovereign" connotes kingship and dominion, which further reinforces the image of Neptune as a powerful and majestic figure. Through this invocation, Wheatley establishes the theme of power and control that runs throughout the poem.

Wheatley's poem is also notable for its use of vivid and imaginative imagery. She compares the sea to a "heaving waste of glassy mountain waves," conjuring up an image of the ocean's vastness and turbulence. This simile also highlights the beauty of the sea, which is further reinforced by the poet's description of Neptune's chariot as a "pearl-embroidered car." These images create a vivid and dynamic picture of the sea and its ruler. The poem is a testament to Wheatley's descriptive powers, as she is able to evoke a sense of awe and wonder in the reader with her words.

Cultural and Social Context

Wheatley wrote "An Ode to Neptune" during a time of great social and cultural upheaval in America. The poem was published in 1778, during the Revolutionary War, when the fledgling country was struggling to assert its independence from British rule. As an African-American woman, Wheatley was also a member of a marginalized group in society, and her poetry reflects her struggles and triumphs as a Black writer in a predominantly white world.

In "An Ode to Neptune," Wheatley uses the image of Neptune as a symbol of power and authority to explore issues of control and domination. The poem can be read as a commentary on the political and social struggles of Wheatley's time, as the colonies fought to free themselves from British rule. Neptune's power over the sea can be seen as a metaphor for the power of the British Empire over its colonies. By invoking Neptune, Wheatley is also invoking the memory of the Roman Empire, whose conquests and domination were a source of inspiration for many colonial powers.

Interpretation and Analysis

"An Ode to Neptune" is a complex and multi-layered poem that can be read in a number of different ways. It can be interpreted as a celebration of the beauty and power of the sea, as well as a tribute to the god who rules over it. However, the poem can also be read as a commentary on the social and political struggles of Wheatley's time, as well as a reflection of her own experiences as a Black woman in colonial America.

One of the most striking features of "An Ode to Neptune" is its use of metaphorical language. Wheatley uses Neptune as a symbol of power and authority, and his control over the sea can be seen as a metaphor for the control exerted by colonial powers over their subjects. The image of Neptune's chariot as a "pearl-embroidered car" is a powerful symbol of wealth and opulence, which can be read as a reflection of the wealth and power of colonial rulers. The sea itself can also be seen as a metaphor for the struggles of colonial subjects, who are caught in the midst of powerful forces beyond their control.

Wheatley's use of vivid and imaginative imagery is also a key feature of the poem. Her description of the sea as a "heaving waste of glassy mountain waves" creates a sense of awe and wonder, while her depiction of Neptune's chariot as a "whirlwind" highlights the god's power and authority. These images are also evocative of the turmoil and uncertainty of Wheatley's time, as the colonies struggled to assert their independence and create a new nation.


In conclusion, "An Ode to Neptune" is a masterpiece of poetry that reflects the social and cultural context of its time. Wheatley's use of metaphorical language and vivid imagery creates a powerful and mesmerizing picture of the sea and its ruler. The poem can be interpreted as a celebration of the beauty and power of the sea, as well as a commentary on the struggles of colonial subjects during the Revolutionary War. Overall, "An Ode to Neptune" is a testament to Wheatley's talent as a poet and her ability to create works that resonate with readers centuries after they were written.

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

Ode to Neptune: An Analysis of Phillis Wheatley's Classic Poem

Phillis Wheatley, the first African-American woman to publish a book of poetry, was a remarkable figure in American literature. Her works, which were written during the 18th century, were characterized by their elegance, intelligence, and depth. One of her most famous poems is "Ode to Neptune," a tribute to the Roman god of the sea. In this article, we will analyze and explain this classic poem, exploring its themes, structure, and literary devices.

The poem begins with an invocation to Neptune, the god of the sea, asking him to "descend from heaven" and "spread thy shield." This opening sets the tone for the rest of the poem, which is a celebration of Neptune's power and majesty. Wheatley uses vivid imagery to describe the sea, calling it "the vast abyss" and "the watery plain." She also personifies the sea, describing it as "the hoary sire" and "the monarch of the main." These descriptions create a sense of awe and reverence for the sea, which is a central theme of the poem.

As the poem progresses, Wheatley explores the various aspects of Neptune's power. She describes how he controls the tides, saying that "the waves obey thy nod." She also describes how he can calm the sea, saying that "the tempests cease to roar." These descriptions highlight Neptune's ability to control the natural world, which was a common belief in ancient Roman mythology. Wheatley also describes how Neptune can protect sailors from danger, saying that "the mariner's fears are laid to rest." This theme of protection is important, as it shows how Neptune was seen as a benevolent god who could help those in need.

Wheatley also explores the relationship between Neptune and the other gods. She describes how Neptune is "the brother of Jove," referring to the king of the gods in Roman mythology. She also mentions how Neptune is "adored by every sea-born race," highlighting his popularity among the other sea gods. These descriptions create a sense of unity and harmony among the gods, which was an important aspect of Roman mythology.

The structure of the poem is also worth noting. It is written in iambic pentameter, which is a common meter in English poetry. This meter creates a sense of rhythm and flow, which is appropriate for a poem about the sea. The poem is also divided into three stanzas, each of which explores a different aspect of Neptune's power. This structure creates a sense of progression and development, as the poem moves from a general description of the sea to a more specific exploration of Neptune's abilities.

Wheatley also uses a variety of literary devices to enhance the poem's meaning. One of the most notable is personification, which is used to describe the sea as a living entity. This personification creates a sense of wonder and mystery, as the sea is transformed from a simple body of water into a powerful and majestic force. Wheatley also uses metaphor, comparing Neptune to a "monarch" and a "sire." These metaphors create a sense of grandeur and importance, as Neptune is elevated to the level of a king or father figure.

Another literary device used in the poem is allusion. Wheatley references several other works of literature, including Milton's Paradise Lost and Virgil's Aeneid. These allusions create a sense of depth and complexity, as the poem is connected to a larger literary tradition. They also highlight the importance of mythology in Wheatley's work, as she draws on the stories and characters of ancient Rome to create her own poetry.

In conclusion, "Ode to Neptune" is a remarkable poem that showcases Wheatley's talent and skill as a poet. It explores the power and majesty of the sea, as well as the benevolent nature of the god who controls it. The poem's structure, literary devices, and themes all work together to create a sense of wonder and reverence for the natural world. It is a classic work of American literature, and a testament to the enduring power of poetry.

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