Guided Explication: On Being Brought from Africa to America

STEP 1: Research the historical/biographical background of the poet and literary period. By this time, you’ve already completed this step, which includes your research on Phillis Wheatley, listing at least 10 “Did You Know?” factoids in your Web Quest Log about the poet’s life and body of work. If you had trouble gathering biographical/historical information on Wheatley, you’ll want to view the following video about Wheatley’s life: . As you watch the short film, add additional information to your Web Quest log (minimum of 10 Wheatley facts).

STEP 2: Read the poem, preferably aloud, and then react to what you’ve read? Provide a general sense of what you’ve read.

STEP 3: In general, how would you describe the overall tone of the poem? Does it appear to have a rhyme scheme? Whose voice do you hear as the speaker of the poem? What is the structure and form of the poem (number of stanzas, length of lines, type of poem, etc.)? Take note of sound devices and rhythm.

STEP 4: Throughout the poem, which words are unfamiliar to you? Which words in the poem appear to be the most important or the most difficult to understand? Please highlight/underline these words and provide synonyms/short definitions to replace these unfamiliar or key words while re-reading the poem.

STEP 5: Re-read the poem with the knowledge of these newly defined words. Provide a new reaction and re-assess your new understanding of this poem. What do you now appreciate about the poem as a result of the words you looked up?

STEP 6: Time for a CLOSER READING that will be slower and more deliberate than the previous readings:

A) Read line-by-line–even word-by-word, if necessary–taking note of the poet’s use of literary/poetic devices, figures of speech, and imagery (descriptions that evoke the five senses). Highlight/underline passages that reflect this figurative language, interpreting these textual examples of poetic devices intentionally used by the poet.

B) Read stanza-by-stanza, taking note of the patterns developed in each stanza. Attempt to paraphrase the main idea of each stanza in the same manner you might paraphrase the main idea of a paragraph of prose.

C) As you read each line and each stanza, apply your understanding of the poet’s biographical/historical background–as well as your own life experiences and personal knowledge of thematic topics (Christianity, the Bible, and creation myths)–in an attempt to understand the poet’s purpose for using each of the intentionally devised poetic devices/figures of speech in creating this poem.

STEP 7: Provide your own interpretation of the poem’s theme.

DIRECTIONS: Using each of the steps above, we will complete a guided explication of Wheatley’s poem titled “On Being Brought from Africa to America” (next page). Be sure to mark up the text below with highlighted textual evidence and annotations in the margins.

On Being Brought from Africa to America

‘Twas mercy brought me from my Pagan land,

Taught my benighted soul to understand

that there’s a God, that there’s a Saviour too.”

Once I redemption neither sought nor knew.

Some view our sable race with scornful eye,

“Their colour is a diabolic die.”

Remember, Christians, Negroes, black as Cain,

May be refin’d and join th’ angelic train.

A video explication is provided to guide you through your closer reading. Guided Explication:

FYI: Consider the simile “black as Cain” and the metaphor “angelic train” and how they may connect to the concepts of sin, forgiveness, humanity, and an allusion to the Book of Genesis in the Old Testament of the Bible (sons of Adam and Eve). How are colors used symbolically? Is Wheatley making a connection between “Cain” and cane (from sugar)?

Writing Prompt: In a complete paragraph using the CER process, assert your claim about the theme of this poem (Step 7), providing textual, historical, and/or biographical evidence to support your claim and explaining your reasoning.

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