Treasure Island

Phillis Wheatley

(1753 – 5 December 1784 / Gambia)

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On Imagination


THY various works, imperial queen, we see,
How bright their forms! how deck'd with pomp
by thee!
Thy wond'rous acts in beauteous order stand,
And all attest how potent is thine hand.
From Helicon's refulgent heights attend,
Ye sacred choir, and my attempts befriend:
To tell her glories with a faithful tongue,
Ye blooming graces, triumph in my song.
Now here, now there, the roving Fancy flies,
Till some lov'd object strikes her wand'ring eyes,
Whose silken fetters all the senses bind,
And soft captivity involves the mind.
Imagination! who can sing thy force?
Or who describe the swiftness of thy course?
Soaring through air to find the bright abode,
Th' empyreal palace of the thund'ring God,
We on thy pinions can surpass the wind,
And leave the rolling universe behind:
From star to star the mental optics rove,
Measure the skies, and range the realms above.
There in one view we grasp the mighty whole,
Or with new worlds amaze th' unbounded soul.
Though Winter frowns to Fancy's raptur'd eyes
The fields may flourish, and gay scenes arise;
The frozen deeps may break their iron bands,
And bid their waters murmur o'er the sands.
Fair Flora may resume her fragrant reign,
And with her flow'ry riches deck the plain;
Sylvanus may diffuse his honours round,
And all the forest may with leaves be crown'd:
Show'rs may descend, and dews their gems disclose,
And nectar sparkle on the blooming rose.
Such is thy pow'r, nor are thine orders vain,
O thou the leader of the mental train:
In full perfection all thy works are wrought,
And thine the sceptre o'er the realms of thought.
Before thy throne the subject-passions bow,
Of subject-passions sov'reign ruler thou;
At thy command joy rushes on the heart,
And through the glowing veins the spirits dart.
Fancy might now her silken pinions try
To rise from earth, and sweep th' expanse on high:
From Tithon's bed now might Aurora rise,
Her cheeks all glowing with celestial dies,
While a pure stream of light o'erflows the skies.
The monarch of the day I might behold,
And all the mountains tipt with radiant gold,
But I reluctant leave the pleasing views,
Which Fancy dresses to delight the Muse;
Winter austere forbids me to aspire,
And northern tempests damp the rising fire;
They chill the tides of Fancy's flowing sea,
Cease then, my song, cease the unequal lay.

Submitted: Tuesday, December 31, 2002

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  • Vizard Dhawan (2/27/2014 8:10:00 PM)

    ‘Tithonus is based on a classical fable.
    Aurora, the goddess of Dawn, fell in
    love with a handsome youth, Tithonus
    by name. At the request of the
    goddess, Zeus allowed the gift of
    immortality on Tithonus. The goddess,
    however, forgot to ask for the
    perpetuation of her lover’s youth and
    beauty. With the passage of time
    Tithonus grew frightfully old and
    enfeebled, so much so that his goddess
    take back her gift and let him die, but
    Aurora was helpless, as even, “gods
    themselves can not recall their gifts” (Report) Reply

  • Celeste Bright (2/27/2014 1:14:00 AM)

    Ms. Wheatley takes us on a journey far and away in Imagination, but alas at the end reality pulls us back to Earth. (Report) Reply

  • Ramesh Rai (1/31/2014 9:39:00 PM)

    Enthusiastically a brilliant and lovely write. During the age of slavery She was having such divine and profound thoughts. Filled my heart with cascading pleasures.
    MY HEAD BOWS BEFORE THE DIVINE GESTURE. (Report) Reply

  • Indira Renganathan (2/27/2010 4:11:00 AM)

    Heavenly choice of words outflowing effortlessly in this poem...Phillis Wheatley was a slave to poetry only I suppose...making us all slaves to her imagination...marvelous (Report) Reply

  • Terence George Craddock (2/27/2010 1:43:00 AM)

    The poem, On Imagination by Phillis Wheatley, is testament to the patronage and support of the ‘Wheatley family of Boston, who taught her to read and write, and helped encourage her poetry.’ A higher education is evident in every line. Phillis displays knowledge of subjects including philosophy, biology ‘Fair Flora’, astronomy ‘the rolling universe behind: From star to star the mental optics rove, Measure the skies, ’ and especially classical literature. ‘From Helicon's refulgent heights attend’ begins the plea to ‘Ye sacred choir, and my attempts befriend: To tell her glories with a faithful tongue’; is Phillis proclaiming her ardent desire to get her facts and the song of her poem right. ‘Sylvanus’ ‘in Roman religion (was) an ancient pastoral deity, protector of uncultivated lands.’ This is exactly the context within which Phillis references him. The names ‘Tithon’ and ‘Aurora’ are also pure classical imagery and probably also alludes to Tennyson’s poem ‘Tithon’. To quote directly from 'Literature is the source of Human real trace' in an attempt to prove Phillis Wheatley’s exact meaning.

    ‘Tithonus is based on a classical fable. Aurora, the goddess of Dawn, fell in love with a handsome youth, Tithonus by name. At the request of the goddess, Zeus allowed the gift of immortality on Tithonus. The goddess, however, forgot to ask for the perpetuation of her lover’s youth and beauty. With the passage of time Tithonus grew frightfully old and enfeebled, so much so that his goddess take back her gift and let him die, but Aurora was helpless, as even, “gods themselves can not recall their gifts”

    Tithonus is immortal but as he is rapidly growing old he laments over his fate. All other objects ripen, decay and fall. But he is to hover for ever like a shadow over the Eastern Horizen in the hands of his ‘lover’ Aurora.


    Wheatley wrote ‘From Tithon's bed now might Aurora rise, Her cheeks all glowing with celestial dies, ' seems to mean exactly what the fable states, the shadow of Tithonus’ within the dawn of Aurora at the start of each day. Wheatley has written an exceptionally beautiful and complexly detailed poem. (Report) Reply

  • Ramesh T A (2/27/2010 1:29:00 AM)

    The depiction of the fancy of imagination is endless in scope in this poem! Indeed the force and course cannot be measured by any means! The flight of fancy reveals the full power of imagination and can be realised well by those indulging in imagination! (Report) Reply

  • Sadiqullah Khan (4/25/2009 4:10:00 AM)

    What an amazing piece of literature, in her circumastances. The poem filled me with inner joy,10 (Report) Reply

  • Ian Fraser (2/27/2009 2:51:00 PM)

    Phillis Wheatley is one of the most remarkable figures in literature. Reading this poem you might imagine her to have been a well-educated European lady. She was in fact an almost entirely self-educated American black slave, though she was freed following the death of her mistress, Mrs Wheatley. Her life is as interesting as her work and she became something of a celebrity, even traveling to England, though it ended in tragic circumstances at an early age.Her writing is in faultless, classical style but it is fascinating to consider what she might have produced had she lived to read the works of the Romantic revolution. (Report) Reply

  • Cin Sweet (4/11/2007 10:18:00 PM)

    I wish that Phillis Wheatley had lived to a ripe old age, and that she could have had an opportunity to examine and write more about her early life, slavery, and her experiences in life. What a wonderful mind and imagination she must certainly have had. (Report) Reply

  • Cecilia Nicoletti (2/28/2007 5:33:00 AM)

    Astonishing use of images and lanscapes views.I can almost share his visions and the flowing words have strentgh enough to lift us by the waves.Loved it. (Report) Reply

  • Ronald Clark (2/27/2007 6:51:00 PM)

    I really enjoyed this poem. I always wished i could write with thy and that such language, very admirable poem. Congratulations! ! (Report) Reply

Read all 17 comments »

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