Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Subversive Rhetoric: Phillis Wheatley "Plays" Roman

 MAECENAS, you, beneath the myrtle shade,
Read o'er what poets sung, and shepherds play'd.
What felt those poets but you feel the same?
Does not your soul possess the sacred flame?

. . . .
The happier Terence all the choir inspir'd,
His soul replenish'd, and his bosom fir'd;
But say, ye Muses, why this partial grace,
To one alone of Afric's sable race;

The previous post "Subversive Rhetoric: Against Slave-Owning Americans, Assyrians, Babylonians, Greeks and Romans" is Herbert Marbury's illustration of how slaves used double-meanings in songs, scripture, and poetry as subversive rhetoric.  In this post, there's more:

Phillis Wheatley's subversive use of Roman culture, her particular "'play' in and among the interpretive gaps and disjunctions between the social worlds of slave and slave holder."
First, (re)read her poem "To Maecenas."

Next, (re)view why white men could not at first believe she herself wrote it (black, African, a female, a girl no less, a slave too of course).

Finally, (re)cover the double meanings that you may have missed (but that one of Carol Percy's students could begin to hear).


Katherine said...

This is great stuff! I feel like I'm always learning, always thinking when I come here. This post is a great "lesson plan"--I had only briefly encountered Phillis Wheatley's poetry in high school, so I'm enjoying looking deeper into what and how she means. You could say I'm (re)learning. :-)

J. K. Gayle said...

Katherine, Glad you’re back here, and with such kind comments. I agree with you that Phillis Wheatley written some “great stuff!” Yes, "what and how she means"! There is much more to be researched, I think, to learn from her poetry. No one has studied Wheatley’s works enough, yet. But Anna Brickhouse, Marc Shell, and Steven Kellman are scholars calling Wheatley “translingual,” and that’s a start. I like that because “translingualism” puts Wheatley in the long history of many who use wordplay to fight oppression. Maybe the Greek Aspasia and the Roman Verginia are her counterparts; and certainly many others follow.