To the University of Cambridge, in New England

Black American Literature 313

February 11, 2004

In Phillis Wheatley’s poem "To the University of Cambridge, in New England" she uses the free verse form as well as vivid imagery to address the religious issues of the African slave. This poem communicates a very well stated opinion of a slave, who understands the doctrine of Christianity very well and attempts to get the young men of the time to understand it’s true meaning. The poem is comprised of three stanzas, which are divided and analyzed to give us a better understanding of the overall meaning of the poem. In stanza one Wheatley discusses her passion to write this particular poem. She felt there was a driving force within her, which compelled her to write it. Wheatley states that her source of inspiration guarantees to aide her in her writing. Wheatley wrote thoughts she felt were vital for the students at the University of Cambridge to hear. Stanza two is the meat of the poem. It begins to unfold the wrongs of the teaching the students are receiving. Stanza three wraps up the entire poem by stating the facts of Christianity and the consequences of not following in the teachings of the bible and not of tradition.

In order to better understand the poem you must first understand the doctrine of Christianity, which is a major theme in this poem. It was the Christian doctrine that promoted slavery in America for anyone who was not Christian, because that made him or her unequal in the eyesight of God. Wheatley’s poetry is much more than average slave writings and says a lot about her education. This poem is a satire on the slave owners’ ego.

In line three of the first stanza, she states "the muses promise to assist my pen", this suggest that the figure of speech used is metonymy. Metonymy is the name of one thing applied to another thing with which it is closely related. The word "pen" is a representation of Wheatley ’s thoughts. Line three starts the story of her life, and it was nothing but the Father of Mercy that kept her safe through all she had to undergo. Her tone changed to sarcasm in line four by stating that through the eyesight of the Europeans, her culture, religion, language, and her skin color are among a few things of "error and Egyptian gloom". It has been said that Europeans thought anything associated with Africa and Egypt was of wrong. Wheatley’ s goal was to make them understand that the ways of America was not the right way of doing things, just their way. You must understand that Egyptians were a prideful people and life flourished for them under the leadership of pharaohs and kings. Just like in America, the man was the head of the household and the family was well organized. The religion of the people of Egypt was said to be Muslim. The kings and pharaohs were said to reign by divine right and force. They were not a heathen nation as many Americans believed. Wheatley was forced to act as though she does not feel good about her native land in efforts to grasp the attention of her audience.

In the first line of stanza two, Wheatley uses an apostrophe to directly address the students at the University of Cambridge in New England. In line seven, she furnishes the students with information that will help them expand their knowledge. With the information Wheatley gives she feels there is no limitations and the sky is the limit. Wheatley uses reverse psychology and compliments the students before educating them in a subtle way about their spitefulness to African Americans by enslaving them. She exposes the fact that the "sons of science" should be at the peak of their education, yet they know so little. Wheatley try’s the reveal to the students that they are being taught Christian values based on tradition and not the bible. If they were being taught by the bible than there would not be any slavery, because God is the only judge of character not man. The one the students claim to love the most is a merciful God. Jesus was