Phillis Wheatley was the first African American woman to become a published poet. Born in Senegal in the mid-eighteenth century, she was brought on a slave ship to Boston, where she was purchased as a slave. (Yes Virginia, they did have slaves in the North.) Amazingly, her owner recognized her intelligence and educated her.
Phillis Wheatley was roughly 31 when she died in Boston. She published only one book of poems, but given the circumstances, it is utterly miraculous that she was published at all.
Hymn to the Evening
SOON as the sun forsook the eastern main
The pealing thunder shook the heav’nly plain;
Majestic grandeur! From the zephyr’s wing,
Exhales the incense of the blooming spring.
Soft purl the streams, the birds renew their notes,
And through the air their mingled music floats.
Through all the heav’ns what beauteous dies are spread
But the west glories in the deepest red:
So may our breasts with ev’ry virtue glow,
The living temples of our God below!
Fill’d with the praise of him who gives the light,
And draws the sable curtains of the night,
Let placid slumbers sooth each weary mind,
At morn to wake more heav’nly, more refin’d;
So shall the labours of the day begin
More pure, more guarded from the snares of sin.
Night’s leaden sceptre seals my drowsy eyes,
Then cease, my song, till fair Aurora rise.