On Being Brought from Africa to America
by Phillis Wheatley
Wheatley wasn't a preacher or a nun, but she's definitely a Christian poet. Her poems often deal with Christian ideas and beliefs, and this poem is no different. Her conversion to Christianity is at the core of this poem's message and imagery. And although she's not beating anyone over the head with verses from the Bible (ouch), she's writing her own verse about the powerful effect of faith that changed her soul.
- Line 1: We've got "mercy" and we've got "Pagan land." So, how's that Christian? Our speaker's talking about where she came from and how her conversion gave her faith in the Christian God. So, while she doesn't mention Christianity here, she is talking about her belief that God was working in her life before she even believed in God.
- Line 2: Again, no mention of anything particularly Christian is in here. However, she's describing her conversion in typically Christian concepts, such as her "benighted soul" being saved from the darkness and brought into the light. When later on we find out that she's a Christian, it all adds up.
- Line 3: Finally! God is mentioned. The speaker says "that there's a God, that there's a savior too." That's straight-up Christian, no more, no less. This is significant because she's stating what her soul now understands because of her conversion. And her belief in God is what forms the basis for her idea that anyone can be converted, so blacks and whites should be considered equal since faith in the same God can save them.
- Line 4: The speaker says she never knew about "redemption." That's another flag for Christianity because she's talking about her soul's redemption through faith in God. She's talking about her personal experience here, but again, it forms the basis for her argument that black or white, people can be changed by faith in God and freed from their spiritual slavery.
- Line 7: Here the speaker comes out and addresses "Christians." In a way, her poem in a small autobiography, but it's also an argument in favor of Christianity. She uses her own experience to persuade the audience—both black and white—that faith in God is possible. Instead of condemning racism or people of other religions, she tells her audience that, despite how they may be treated in a racist society, their journey from Africa to America can be seen as a gift where they've received faith in a God that saves.
- Line 8: The "angelic train"! What is it, and how do we get on board? Here the speaker is using a metaphor for heaven. The angelic train is the place for Christian believers. It's like saying that she's hopped on the bandwagon, but she's not just supporting a winning baseball team. Instead she's converting to Christianity. This is huge for her and her message, because she believes that it's saved her soul and is a powerful example of how other slaves can be saved and should be treated as equal as other Christians in society. And that is something worth routing for.