Close Reading

“To the Right Honorable William, Earl of Dartmouth” by Phillis Wheatley was written as a thank you to the newly appointed earl for freeing the colonies from the tyranny of Britain. She wrote this poem because she had met the earl personally and knew that he was an ally of the colonies and that he was in a position of power. Because he was the only person that she knew in a very powerful position, he was the only way that she could be sure that she had a good chance of being heard so that no one else had to endure what she and those before her had to. Freedom is so important to her and she will turn to whoever can help to ensure that everyone gets a taste of it.
Beginning in the second line we see how important freedom is to Wheatley because we see the word capitalized in lines 2, 8 and 21. She also refers to freedom as a Goddess in line 11 which is also capitalized. The imagery to describe freedom to Wheatley gives her readers a good picture of what freedom looks like to her. In line 9 she writes “The silken reins, and Freedom’s charms unfold” and in line 12 “Soon as appear’d the Goddess long desir’d”. In contrast, the imagery used to describe the tyranny that the colonies went through is more rough and gives the readers a darker view. For example Wheatley writes “No longer shalt thou dread the iron chain, Which wanton Tyranny with lawless hand” (lines 18-19). Tyranny is also capitalized to show that it holds as much weight as freedom does. She is connecting the “iron chain” that enslaved the colonies to the actual iron chains that slaves were bound in.
When describing her experience being taken from he parents, she paints a vivid picture of that devastating day. She talks about how she was young when this happened, but she goes more in depth on how her parents must have felt when she was suddenly taken. “What sorrows labour in my parent’s breast? Steel’d was soul and by no misery mov’d…That from a father seiz’d his babe belov’d” (27, 29). Her aim could have possibly been to get the earl and maybe even the other readers to imagine how they would feel if one day their children were suddenly taken from them forever. “I, young in life, by seeming cruel fate / Was snatch’d from Afric’s fancy’d happy seat” (24-25). The reader can put themselves in her shoes and imagine how they would have felt if they were children who were taken away from their parents. Everything that Wheatley mentions, she does so in a way that her reader can try to relate to or even just have a better understanding of her own experiences.
To end the poem Wheatley once again thanks the earl of Dartmouth by saying “For favours past, great Sir, our thanks are due” (32) but also requests that he just do one more favor “Since in thy pow’r, as in thy will before, / To sooth the griefs, which thou did’st once deplore.” (34-35). He has the power to make sure that no one has to experience the tyranny that was in the past. Wheatley wants everyone to know what great works that the new earl has done. They have made an impact on the colonies as well as her own personal life and it is something that should gain “fleeting Fame” (38). This great thank you poem to William, earl of Dartmouth displays much gratitude from Wheatley as well as lots of hope for the future.

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