Poetry Scavenger Hunt – Stop 6 – Phillis Wheatley Statue

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“Imagination! Who can sing thy force?

Or who describe the swiftness of thy course?”

– Phillis Wheatley (1753 – 1784)

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For the last stop on the Boston Poetry Scavenger Hunt, I paid a visit to the Boston Women’s Memorial on the Commonwealth Avenue Mall. (To visit the other five stops click on the links: Stop 1, Stop 2, Stop 3, Stop 4, and Stop 5) The memorial features three women: 1st Lady Abigail Adams, abolitionist and suffragist Lucy Stone, and the poet Phillis Wheatley. The first time I’d ever heard her name was when it was briefly mentioned in a brochure on the Freedom Trail in connection with the Old South Meetinghouse. The Old South Meetinghouse was the church that Phillis Wheatley belonged to and where the Boston Tea Party was essentially launched. But a little research reveals the magnitude of what Phillis Wheatley accomplished and why she is prominently featured at the memorial. She was kidnapped and sold into slavery from her West African home – Phillis was the name of the ship that brought her to Massachusetts and Wheatley was the surname of the family that bought her in Boston. She learned to read and write while with the Wheatlys and began to compose poetry.  She published Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral in 1773 and she was renown in her short lifetime for her poetry. George Washington asked to meet her while he was General of the Continental Army. But she was also forced to defend and prove her authorship of her own poetry in court.

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She was emancipated at her owner’s death in 1778, but died in penury just a few years later while her husband was in debtor’s prison.

“…For nobler themes demand a nobler strain,
And purer language on th’ ethereal plain.
Cease, gentle muse! the solemn gloom of night
Now seals the fair creation from my sight.”
From her poem “To S.M. A Young African Painter, On Seeing his Works”
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You can also get a sense of the amount of snow that Boston has received in the last week. The memorial itself had not been shoveled and only the footprints and efforts of folks visiting had uncovered it to the point you see in the photos. In the envelope with Ms. Wheatley was a lovely poem by Meg Eden:
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Ms. Meg Eden is the one who came up with the idea for the Poetry Scavenger Hunt – a fun way to celebrate the release of her new chapbook A Week with Beijing (her website is here and the chapbook, hot off the presses, is here). Wanting everyone on Illustrated Poetry to tag along, I decided to make the hunt virtual – so only one of us had to brave the winter weather! When spring comes, I plan to continue my poetry travels and post on them. So many historic sites were closed for the season here. Thanks for joining me! On my way to the Boston Women’s Memorial, I stopped by Trident Bookseller – another awesome indie bookstore in Boston. They have a great selection of lit mags too! I picked up a copy of Gigantic Sequins for some light train-ride-reading.
Lit Mag Heaven at Trident Bookseller

Lit Mag Heaven at Trident Bookseller

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5 comments

  1. Thanks to you and Meg for having us along; I’ve really enjoyed the photography and the wide spectrum of poetry, classic and contemporary — with many new discoveries in both!

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    1. Thank you for joining us! I’ve learned so much about the literary history of Boston and explored much more than I think I would have in this weather if left to my own devices. I’m looking forward to heading out again for poetry history tours in the spring!

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you! Gigantic Sequins 5.2 has proven to be a good issue too – I’ve been enjoying it on my train rides. For my next poetry travel stop – I plan to get out to the Emily Dickinson museum as soon as it reopens for spring!

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