Thursday, April 1, 2010

Counter Passage

We were reading Phillis Wheatley again, and found her writing about the sea again. One time for your mind, one time:

I sing not now of gree embow'ring woods
I sing not now the daughters of the floods,
I sing not of the storms o'er the oceans driv'n
and how they howl'd along the wastes of heav'n,
But I to R--- would paint the British shore,
And vast Atlantic, not untry'd before:
Thy life impair'd commands the to arise,
Leave these bleak regions and inclement skies,
Where chilling winds return the winter past,
And nature shudders at the furious blast.

O thou stupendous, earth-enclosing main
Exert thy wonders to the world again!
If ere they pow'r prolong's the fleeting breath,
Turn's back the shafts, and mock'd the gates of death,
If ere thine air dispense'd an healing pow'r,
Or snatch'd the victim from the fatal hour,
This equal case demands thine equal care,
And equal wonders may this patient shine.
But unavailing, frantic is this dream
to hope thine aid without the aid of him
Who gave thee birth, and taught thee where to flow,
And in thy waves his various blessings flow.

1.) Prayer -- appeal to higher power -- is one of her dominant forms. We need to recall that a prayer is a conjuring, an effort to bring power present to alter the future.
2.) This prayer is to the one god, but through one of the many gods, the ancient and "earth enclosing main." She asks the throughway's benevolence through a familiar ("not untry'd before" -- we need to hold that phrase of always alreadiness in our hands like a smooth stone, to steady "frantic dreams" that recall our own terrible passages) passage that cannot be made "without the aid of him."
3.) The sea, a master trope in her vocab, has the power to be benevolent or cruel, and to protect or harm when mortals make their passage.

Every time we read Phillis Wheatley, we are reminded of her brilliant syncretism, and how useless it is to make hate the narrative force in the tradition that makes less of her work. We should begin reading her powerful prayers for safe passage to the east, and make that a figure in out thinking, too. She's the creole who, like the London calypsonians of the 40s and 50s, was strong enough to become native again elsewhere.

:: pours a little liquor on the ground ::

This is the ancient manifested hip hop, straight off the block.

Represent, y'all.

To the beat y'all.

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