NO more the flow’ry scenes of pleasure rife,
Nor charming prospects greet the mental eyes,
No more with joy we view that lovely face
Smiling, disportive, flush’d with ev’ry grace.
The tear of sorrow flows from ev’ry eye,
Groans answer groans, and sighs to sighs reply;
What sudden pangs shot thro’ each aching heart,
When, Death, thy messenger dispatch’d his dart?
Thy dread attendants, all-destroying Pow’r,
Hurried the infant to his mortal hour.
Could’st thou unpitying close those radiant eyes?
Or fail’d his artless beauties to surprise?
Could not his innocence thy stroke controul,
Thy purpose shake, and soften all thy soul?
The blooming babe, with shades of Death o’er-
No more shall smile, no more shall raise its head,
But, like a branch that from the tree is torn,
Falls prostrate, wither’d, languid, and forlorn.
“Where flies my James?” ’tis thus I seem to hear
The parent ask, “Some angel tell me where
“He wings his passage thro’ the yielding air?”
Methinks a cherub bending from the skies
Observes the question, and serene replies,
“In heav’ns high palaces your babe appears:
“Prepare to meet him, and dismiss your tears.”
Shall not th’ intelligence your grief restrain,
And turn the mournful to the cheerful strain?
Cease your complaints, suspend each rising sigh,
Cease to accuse the Ruler of the sky.
Parents, no more indulge the falling tear:
Let Faith to heav’n’s refulgent domes repair,
There see your infant, like a seraph glow:
What charms celestial in his numbers flow
Melodious, while the foul-enchanting strain
Dwells on his tongue, and fills th’ ethereal plain?
Enough–for ever cease your murm’ring breath;
Not as a foe, but friend converse with Death,
Since to the port of happiness unknown
He brought that treasure which you call your own.
The gift of heav’n intrusted to your hand
Cheerful resign at the divine command:
Not at your bar must sov’reign Wisdom stand.

Analysis, meaning and summary of Phillis Wheatley's poem On The Death Of J. C. An Infant


  1. R. P. Bell says:

    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 intent).

    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 reading.

    • Abby says:

      This poem was written by Phillis Wheatley, the woman who is credited for creating the genre of African American literature, and is about the death of one of her three children, all of whom died as infants. Please don’t criticize her word choice that was from the 1700s.

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