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Analysis and comments on On The Death Of J. C. An Infant by Phillis Wheatley

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Comment 1 of 20, added on February 1st, 2006 at 12:16 PM.

As I read this poem, I felt the stretched heartstrings of its author, but
found myself overwhelmed at the sometimes strained verbosity. Perhaps more
white space would have helped, but that would have created too stark a
division in the text.

The poet's words sometimes seemed contrived, as if a ponderous word (or
contraction) was more suited to the depth of the author's feelings than the
reader's convenience.

In particular, two criticisms are offered in the hopes that other poets
might avoid them (if, indeed, they are deemed worthy of consideration):

1. I found the use of "refulgent" to be almost arcane; would not
"resplendent" (or perhaps, "radiant") have been a more immediately grasped
word and perhaps, even more expressive of the thought? Of course,
"tintinnabulation" never hurt Poe, so perhaps this unfair.

2. The author shows excellent sense of poetic form (of which I will say
more in a moment) and I appreciated the contrast of "Death" to the the
cherub's reply. Yet, since both reside in the ethereal realm, should not
"thee/thou" have been maintained in the cherub's words, rather than the
more human-like "you/your"? It might be argued that the cherub is speaking
to the human parent, but the conversation occurs within the realm of the
spirit and it just seems that consistency in using either "thee/thou" or
"you/yours" would be in better form.

Someone has rightly observed that if one is to criticize, he must also
commend, and to that wisdom I defer. Two points:

1. I've already spoken of the author's sense of poetic form and I mention
it again, if only to point out the effectiveness of the afore-mentioned
contrast of "Death" to the comforting words of the cherub. I like the
author's use of the unidentified speaker, too. In particular, I
appreciated the stark finality of Death's effect and the same starkness in
the cherub's preachments. In fact, the author avoids one thing I find
objectionable in some poets, who sometimes overly soften words of one side
in a contrast (as if to avoid accusation or appearance of dogmatic

2. The author's use of figures (particularly simile and metaphor, as well
as personification) is very excellent. Most poets are equally as effective
in figurative speech, but I appreciated that this author never lost sight
of the celestial realm in which the conversation takes place. Even the
speaker's words ("...I seem to hear..." and "Methinks...") and the cherub's
reply ("...and serene replies..." stating "...th' intelligence") to the
parent's (singular?) heart ("grief", "...no more indulge..." and the
unstated parental wisdom) reflect the spiritual nature of the conversation.
Quite effective.

This poem needs to be read several times to appreciate its message. That
says more about its worth than can be immediately perceived with a casual

R. P. Bell from United States

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Information about On The Death Of J. C. An Infant

Poet: Phillis Wheatley
Poem: On The Death Of J. C. An Infant
Added: May 25 2005
Viewed: 4015 times
Poem of the Day: Oct 30 2008

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