On Being Brought from Africa to America

On Being Brought from Africa to America

by Phillis Wheatley

‘Twas mercy brought me from my Pagan land,
Taught my benighted soul to understand
That there’s a God, that there’s a Saviour too:
Once I redemption neither sought nor knew.
Some view our sable race with scornful eye,
“Their colour is a diabolic die.”
Remember, ChristiansNegros, black as Cain,
May be refin’d, and join th’ angelic train.

Summary of On Being Brought from Africa to America

  • Popularity of “On Being Brought from Africa to America”: This poem was written by Phillis Wheatley, a distinguished African American poet. It is a short narrative poem and was first published in 1773. Phillis was the first African-American female poet. The poem strangely speaks about being saved due to Christianity and feels that she is redeemed from the pagan land. On the contrary, it also deals with the subject of slavery and discusses the problems faced by the African. Its popularity, however, lies in that it praises God for the role He plays to restore man’s happiness.
  • “On Being Brought from Africa to America” As a Representative of Joy: The poem illustrates two things: poet’s excitement on the presence of God and her resentment on the painful existence in America during the slavery. She begins by declaring that it is God’s grace which brought her out from Africa and has saved her from ruination. She admires the virtue of the Christian tradition. Despite having troubles and terrible injustices in life, she admires God’s gift of giving her forbearance. It is due to divine intervention that the chaotic era of her life is now over, and she is saved from the redemption of the soul.
    Moreover, she pours her heart out to talk about the ill-treatment black people face. They have to endure hatred, bitterness and scornful behavior just because of the dark color of their skin. What, however, stays in the minds of the readers is the way she addresses the detrimental impacts of racism.
  • Major Themes in “On Being Brought from Africa to America”: Mercy, racism and divinity are the major themes of this poem. Throughout the poem, the speaker talks about God’s mercy and the indifferent attitude of the people toward the African-American community. Though people speak that everyone is equal before God, they never let them enjoy the blessings of life. Rather, they treat people of color like animals, which ultimately damage their mental health.

Analysis of Literary Devices Used in “On Being Brought from Africa to America”

Literary devices are tools used by writers to convey their emotions, ideas, and themes to make texts more appealing to the reader. Phillis Wheatley has also used a few literary devices in this poem to express her ideas. The analysis of the literary devices used in this poem has been given below.

  1. Enjambment: It is defined as a thought or clause that does not come to an end at a line break; rather, it moves over to the next line. For example,

“Taught my benighted soul to understand
That there’s a God, that there’s a Saviour too.”

  1. Assonance: Assonance is the repetition of vowel sounds in the same line. For example, the sound of /a/ in “May be refin’d, and join th’ angelic train”.
  2. Consonance: Consonance is the repetition of consonant sounds in the same line. For example, the sound of /t/ in “Twas mercy brought me from my Pagan land, Taught my benighted soul to understand”.
  3. Alliteration: Alliteration is the repetition of consonant sounds in the same line in quick succession. There is only one alliteration in the poem – the sound of /d/ in “Their colour is a diabolic die”.
  4. Imagery: Imagery is used to make readers perceive things involving their five senses. For example, “Some view our sable race with scornful eye”, “Remember, Christians, Negros, black as Cain” and “Their colour is a diabolic die.”
  5. Symbolism: Symbolism is a use of symbols to signify ideas and qualities by giving them symbolic meanings that are different from their literal meanings. Here, “sable race” symbolizes African race.
  6. Personification: Personification is to give human qualities to inanimate objects. For example, mercy is personified in the opening lines of the poem.

‘Twas mercy brought me from my Pagan land,
Taught my benighted soul to understand
That there’s a God, that there’s a Saviour too.”

Analysis of Poetic Devices Used in “On Being Brought from Africa to America”

Poetic and literary devices are the same, but a few are used only in poetry. Here is the analysis of some of the poetic devices used in this poem.

  1. Heroic Couplet: There are two constructive lines of verse in a heroic couplet, usually in the same meter and joined by rhyme. There are four heroic couplets in this poem.
  2. Iambic Pentameter: It is a type of meter having five iambs per line. The poem follows iambic pentameter. For example, “Twasmercy brought me from my Pagan
  3. Rhyme Scheme: The poem follows the ABAB rhyme scheme and this pattern continuous till the end.
  4. End Rhyme: End rhyme is used to make the stanza melodious. For example, “land/understand”, “Cain/train” and “eye/die.”

Quotes to be Used

The lines stated below are suitable for a motivational speech to talk about God’s mercy and kindness.

‘Twas mercy brought me from my Pagan land,
Taught my benighted soul to understand
That there’s a God, that there’s a Saviour too.”