‘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, Christians, Negro’s, black as Cain,
May be refin’d, and join th’ angelic train.

Analysis, meaning and summary of Phillis Wheatley's poem On Being Brought from Africa to America


  1. Clara Pervis says:

    This is great. Can anyone give examples of personification, similes, metaphors, imagery and meaning?

  2. Garima says:

    Wheatley begins by crediting her slavery as a positive, because it has brought her to Christianity. While her Christian faith was surely genuine, it was also a “safe” subject for a slave poet. Expressing gratitude for her enslavement may be unexpected to most readers.

    The word “benighted” is an interesting one: it means “overtaken by night or darkness” or “being in a state of moral or intellectual darkness.” Thus, she makes her skin color and her original state of ignorance of Christian redemption parallel situations.

    “mercy brought me” and the title “on being brought” is playing the violence of the kidnapping of a child and the voyage on a slave ship

    credits “mercy” with her voyage — but also with her education in Christianity. Both were actually at the hands of human beings.

    In the second-to-last line, the word “Christian” is placed ambiguously. She may either be addressing her last sentence to Christians — or she may be including Christians in those who “may be refined” and find salvation.

  3. Stella Henderson says:

    Great. Her use of words, the irony set the tone. She would have been hung out to dry if she openly criticize her captors. You could imagine what would have happened to her if she was open.

  4. rondie says:

    Before Public Enemy and Tupac you have a woman who used her intellect
    to convey a message of hope and equality,or a sarcastic attack on the US
    power structure? I am not quite sure !!

  5. Elizabeth says:

    I’m not sure where the rest of you are getting your information, but Wheatley was in no way pro-slavery. What she was, was a female slave who was allowed to write poetry and even have it published. Can you imagine what would have happened if she had openly critiqued slavery or current racial beliefs in her poems? Her masters, kind though they might have been, would have immediately forbidden her from writing anything further. This isn’t to say she lies and supports slavery but instead, that her critiques are very subtle. The second stanza carefully places “Christians, Negros, black as Cain” all together so that the meaning is more difficult to discover. There are at least two possibilities: one, that she is implying Negros can be Christians and the other, that Christians too can be “black as Cain” (that is, marked by sin). She’s pointing out that there’s no reason Negros shouldn’t be saved as well, regardless of their skin color, because whites and blacks are in the same boat as sinful people. And she’s pointing out the hypocrisy of the whites who believe themselves better than she and her fellow Africans. Yes, her perspective on Africa is skewed, but the reason for that is that she only knew of Africa what her masters and other Americans told her–of course she had it backwards! And as a Christian, can’t she be grateful for the opportunity to know God? Simply because she has absorbed the sociocultural idea that Africa is a pagan land doesn’t make the fact that she values her faith any less important. Don’t be too quick to judge.

  6. Lauren says:

    um to manuel, she did not learn on her own. her master, john wheatley, taught her…so I agree with Trixie. At first I thought that this poem sounded like a brainwashed slave, and then i thought it was sarcastic, but now I see it is simply what she belives.

  7. Bisan says:

    Phyliss Wheatley seems to support slavery in all her poems. I don’t know if she is extremely positive or she is just not aware of her servitude.

  8. Bisan says:

    Phyliss Wheatley seems to support slavery in all her poems. I don’t know if she is extremely positive or she is just not aware of her servitude.

  9. blonde hottie [brianna] says:

    this poem
    is amazing
    it has inspired me in so many
    ways. it really gets you thinking about your life.
    it makes me feel so many emotions but this
    is an amazing poem and phillis wheatley to me
    is the best poet

  10. Amanda says:

    This is an excellent written poem. THe first time I read it,it was confusing with all the harder words, but the more I read it, the more I liked the poem. Phillis Wheatley was a great poet and had a unique writting style!

  11. Manuel Nunez says:

    Phillis was a slave and a great woman who learned to read and write on her own.

  12. Tiana Tosado says:

    People can learn a lot from Phillis Wheatley’s poems.
    She was a great women to allow others to listen to her poems and let thenm take a chance at being a famous person too.

  13. Justice Gerena says:

    Sounds like a nice person.

  14. rosenthal says:

    Emotionally fired up poem. Great rhymne. Children love to read. However the words are hard to understand. Much is open to interpretation and a study of Phillis Wheatley. Great source of understanding slavery and the beginnings of the United States of America.

  15. Sabrina says:

    Read, listen and learn!!!

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