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Empire of RuinBlack Classicism and American Imperial Culture$
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John Levi Barnard

Print publication date: 2017

Print ISBN-13: 9780190663599

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: October 2017

DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780190663599.001.0001

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Phillis Wheatley and the Affairs of State

Phillis Wheatley and the Affairs of State

Chapter:
(p.23) 1 Phillis Wheatley and the Affairs of State
Source:
Empire of Ruin
Author(s):

John Levi Barnard

Publisher:
Oxford University Press
DOI:10.1093/oso/9780190663599.003.0002

This chapter considers Phillis Wheatley as a political actor within the context of revolutionary-era Boston, and her political poetry as representative of the genre eighteenth-century readers would have known as the poem on the affairs of state. Within this larger category the chapter identifies two distinct yet related literary modes in Wheatley’s work. The first, her neoclassical poetics of political identification, engages with the revolutionary rhetoric of freedom as a means of linking the struggle of American revolutionaries with that of enslaved people in America. While this poetics of identification is rooted in a sense of optimism linked to the ethos of revolution, Wheatley simultaneously develops a poetics of opposition, which registers a lingering skepticism as to the likelihood of liberation for enslaved and free blacks in post-revolutionary America.

Keywords:   Phillis Wheatley, classicism, neoclassicism, poetry, panegyric, American Revolution, Cato, Icarus

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