The full title of the poem is ‘To the Right Honorable William, Earl of Dartmouth, His Majesty’s Principal Secretary of State for North-America, Etc.’ In this poem, one of the early African-American writers, Phillis Wheatley praises the Earl of Dartmouth. His assuming the office sparked a great deal of enthusiasm and hope in many Americans. The awe-struck poet throws light on this and expresses her happiness for his leadership through this poem.
According to Wheatley, when William assumed the office of the Earl of Dartmouth, it brought happiness in most Americans. Here, the poet specifically highlights the happiness of those who were either deprived of their rights or oppressed due to their color. The speaker of the poem knows, the long-lost “Freedom” has come again. Moreover, the Earl would end the tyrannical rule and bring happiness to all. Lastly, the poet compares him to Christ. She thinks like a redeemer he would save the race of Africans treated as non-humans and slaves.
The title of the poem, ‘To the Right Honorable William, Earl of Dartmouth’ makes the idea of the poem clear at first hand. It is a eulogy for the Earl of Dartmouth. Throughout this piece, the poet depicts William, Earl of Dartmouth, as a hero as well as a redeemer like Jesus Christ. His arrival is like the rising sun after a long clouded phase of American history. It not only brought happiness to the poet but also made others happy. Apart from that, the poet expresses her gratitude for his contribution to the cause of abolition. For this reason, in the last stanza of the poem, Wheatley compares him to Christ and says that his name cannot be forgotten.
This poem consists of four stanzas. The first stanza and the second stanza contain nine and ten lines respectively. While the last two stanzas have twelve lines each. Besides, Wheatley uses the conventional rhyme scheme in this poem. She uses AABB or the regular rhyming pattern. Apart from that, each line of this piece contains ten syllables. After dividing those syllables into five feet, one may put stress on the second syllable of each foot. In this way, it can be easily understood that the overall poem is in iambic pentameter. However, there are some feet in this work, that are spondees. As an example, the first foot of the first and second lines are spondees.
‘To the Right Honorable William, Earl of Dartmouth’ begins with a simile. Wheatley, in the first line, compares the “happy day” to the “morn”. Moreover, the poet uses personification in this line. There is an alliteration in the phrase, “Fair Freedom”. Likewise, the poet uses consonance and assonance in several instances. Thereafter, the poet uses metonymy in the line, “Dartmouth, congratulates thy blissful sway.” The poet uses several metaphors in this poem. As an example, “the caves of night” is a metaphor for captivity and darkness. One can find the use of litote in the line, “No longer shalt thou dread the iron chain.” There is an anaphora in the seventh and third lines of the third stanza. Apart from that, Wheatley uses hyperbole in this poem too.
Analysis, Stanza by Stanza
Hail, happy day, when, smiling like the morn,
Fair Freedom rose New-England to adorn:
The northern clime beneath her genial ray,
Dartmouth, congratulates thy blissful sway:
Elate with hope her race no longer mourns,
Each soul expands, each grateful bosom burns,
While in thine hand with pleasure we behold
The silken reins, and Freedom’s charms unfold.
Long lost to realms beneath the northern skies
The poem, ‘To the Right Honorable William, Earl of Dartmouth’ begins with a happy tone. The first section creates an optimistic and lighthearted mood in this poem. However, the poetic persona of this poem harks the “happy day” and welcomes the Earl of Dartmouth. Here, the poet uses an apostrophe. Moreover, the poet personifies freedom and compares it to a fair lady. William’s arrival is similar to that of the coming of “Freedom” in New-England. For this reason, the northern climate of Dartmouth, the sun with its “genial rays”, and the people welcome him.
Thereafter, the poet compares humankind to the race of freedom. Now, mankind does not weep. In contrast, they elate with hope and each soul expands for expressing inner happiness. People are grateful for all he has done to them before assuming the office. Besides, the speaker says the “silken reigns” of governance are now in the right hands. He will bring a new dawn in the realm beneath the northern sky. It is a metaphorical reference to Dartmouth.
She shines supreme, while hated faction dies:
Soon as appear’d the Goddess long desir’d,
Sick at the view, she languish’d and expir’d;
Thus from the splendors of the morning light
The owl in sadness seeks the caves of night.
No more, America, in mournful strain
Of wrongs, and grievance unredress’d complain,
No longer shalt thou dread the iron chain,
Which wanton Tyranny with lawless hand
Had made, and with it meant t’ enslave the land.
In the second stanza of the poem, the speaker says freedom is shining exuberantly. While the hateful faction dies. They have become sick after seeing people’s true happiness. However, in the following lines, the poet creates a contrast. According to her, the “Goddess”, freedom is sick after seeing the condition of people. Here, the poet implicitly refers to the cruel custom of slavery. Whatsoever, as she has finally arrived, it is a time for celebration. Hence, nature also takes part in this process. The symbolic “owl”, a reference to prejudice and inhumanity, seeks the caves of the night in sadness.
Americans do not mourn the wrongs done to them before. Previously, their grievances were unredressed. As the Earl of Dartmouth, William has now arrived, they do not have to fear anyone. Those bound in the cruel chains of slavery that tyrannical men have made with their “lawless hand”, must be cheerful. The tyrant’s day has passed. Now, a true cherisher of humanity has arrived. In this way, Wheatley infuses in humankind the rays of hope.
Should you, my lord, while you peruse my song,
Wonder from whence my love of Freedom sprung,
Whence flow these wishes for the common good,
By feeling hearts alone best understood,
I, young in life, by seeming cruel fate
Was snatch’d from Afric’s fancy’d happy seat:
What pangs excruciating must molest,
What sorrows labour in my parent’s breast?
Steel’d was that soul and by no misery mov’d
That from a father seiz’d his babe belov’d:
Such, such my case. And can I then but pray
Others may never feel tyrannic sway?
Thereafter, in ‘To the Right Honorable William, Earl of Dartmouth’, Wheatley requests the earl to go through her song. He may wonder from where her love for freedom sprung. Moreover, her wish for the common good of the people of America can only be understood by those who have “feeling hearts.” Thereafter, the poet gives a brief description of her past life.
When she was young, the tyrants snatched her from the “fancied” land of Africa. She was happy in her motherland. When she was snatched away from her parents, it only pained her deeply, but it also filled her parents’ hearts with excruciating pain. Her soul was turned into steel. Moreover, she says those who have lost their children in such a way, can feel her pain. For this reason, she requests the earl to think about others. Here, she implores him to put an end to slavery.
For favours past, great Sir, our thanks are due,
And thee we ask thy favours to renew,
Since in thy pow’r, as in thy will before,
To sooth the griefs, which thou did’st once deplore.
May heav’nly grace the sacred sanction give
To all thy works, and thou for ever live
Not only on the wings of fleeting Fame,
Though praise immortal crowns the patriot’s name,
But to conduct to heav’ns refulgent fane,
May fiery coursers sweep th’ ethereal plain,
And bear thee upwards to that blest abode,
Where, like the prophet, thou shalt find thy God.
In the last stanza of the poem, ‘To the Right Honorable William, Earl of Dartmouth’, the poet thanks him for his past favors to her as well as her community. Moreover, she requests him to do them a favor and abolish slavery. He has the power and the will to do so. The poet prays to heaven to vest the earl with the power that he can successfully soothe their grief. Along with that, she also prays to God to give him a long life.
Whatsoever, through her poem, he is going to live eternally. According to the poet, William, the Earl of Dartmouth, is a true patriot. Hence, his fame will never die. His service to humanity will crown him with eternal fame. Thereafter, the poet wishes that fiery coursers may sweep the “ethereal plain” or the way to heaven. Thus they will conduct him to heaven. In the last line of the poem, the poet compares him to Jesus Christ. This section contains a biblical allusion to heaven too. Whatsoever, the poet says like Christ ascended to heaven and found the God, the earl will rest in heaven for his diligent service to humanity.
This poem, ‘To the Right Honorable William, Earl of Dartmouth’ was published in Phillis Wheatley’s poetry collection, “Poems on Various Subjects” published in 1773. The publication of this book established Wheatley as a young poet. Through her poetry, she challenged the justification of whites for the enslavement of Africans. Here, she ironically comments on the European assumption on African inferiority. However, this poem, ‘To the Right Honorable William, Earl of Dartmouth’ is dedicated to William, the Earl of Dartmouth. She was heartened by the appointment of him. Previously, she had made him in London and knew to be a friend of the abolitionist Countess of Huntingdon and late Reverend George Whitefield.
The following list of poems also showcases the similar kinds of themes that can be found in Wheatley’s poem, ‘To the Right Honorable William, Earl of Dartmouth’.
- Poems On The Slave Trade – Sonnet V by Robert Southey – Robert Southey, one of the Poet Laureates of the UK, anticipates the future of slavery in this poem.
- Equality by Maya Angelou – It’s one of the best-known poems of Maya Angelou. Here, the poet highlights the concept of equality and freedom innovatively.
- Georgia Dusk by Jean Toomer – In this poem, Toomer talks about society at large and presents the terrible effects of slavery on Southern America.
- Bartow Black by Timothy Thomas Fortune – This poem tells the story of a slave and how he freed himself from slavery.