Phillis Wheatley's "An Hymn to the Morning"
Phillis Wheatley was influenced by Greek and Roman classical literature, as well as by early 18th century British poets, who were also influenced by that same literature.
Phillis Wheatley's talent was recognized by George Washington, who became a fan of the poet. Wheatley's verse has earned her the status of a first class American poet, whose style resembles the great British poets, who were also influenced by the classical literature of the early Greeks and Romans.
First Movement: "Attend my lays, ye every honour'd nine"
Phillis Wheatley's poem "An Hymn to the Morning" consists of ten riming couplets. As the early 18th century poets such as Alexander Pope did, the speaker of Wheatley's poem addresses the nine muses, asking them to guide her hand, heart, and mind as she composes her song.
The nine muses are the goddesses who guide and guard the various arts and sciences: Cleo (heroes), Urania (astronomy), Calliope (music), Melpomene (tragedy), Euterpe (lyric poetry), Erato (love), Terpsichore (dance), Thalia (comedy), and Polyhymnia (sacred hymns).
Then the speaker says that dawn, "Aurora" or goddess of dawn, is motivating her to write her song dedicated to the goddess of morning, and the speaker wants the song to flow smoothly like a gentle brook, so she asks the muses to "pour the notes along." The speaker want to be sure her song his worthy of being dedicated to the important morning deity.
Second Movement: "Aurora hail, and all the thousand dies"
As morning approaches, the stars recede from view, and the speaker asks the muses to help her honor dawn's victory of arrival. The speaker describes the morning's sun with its far-reaching rays of light. She observes that the light is falling on every leaf, and a gentle breeze is playing upon them.
She pays homage to the songs of the birds as she describes their singing as "harmonious," and she notes that as the birds are looking around, their eyes are darting about, and they are shaking their feathers as they wake up.
Third Movement: "Ye shady groves, your verdant gloom display"
The speaker bids the trees to "shield your poet from the burning day." She is over-emphasizing a bit, calling the shade of the trees, "verdant gloom." The playful comparison moves in service of foregrounding the sun's brightness as well as the colorful morning's sun rise.
She addresses Calliope, the muse of music, to play upon the lyre, while her sisters, the other muses, "fan the pleasing fire." Fanning fire makes it burn brighter, and she is celebrating the rising sun that becomes warmer and brighter as it becomes more visible. The little drama is pleasing the poet as she composes.
Fourth Movement: "The bow'rs, the gales, the variegated skies"
The speaker thinks of leafy alcoves, and gentle breezes, and the sky with its many colors of purple, pink, orange stretching across the vast panorama of blue, and these things give her much pleasure. Then she suddenly exclaims, "look! the sun!," to whom she refers as the "king of day."
As the sun rises, all darkness has gradually faded away. The radiance of the sun inspires the speaker so immensely, but then she feels something of a let down: "But Oh! I feel his fervid beams too strong, / And scarce begun, concludes th' abortive song." As soon as the sun has fully arrived, then the morning is gone, and her song was celebrating morning, and thus the song must end.
Reading of Wheatley's "An Hymn to the Morning"
© 2016 Linda Sue Grimes