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On Virtue by Phillis Wheatley


"On Virtue" is a poem written by Phillis Wheatley. It is perhaps Wheatley's most famous writing. In this work, she is trying to figure out what "virtue" is. She uses the poem to state that her virtue is unattainable, at least without God. For her, virtue is purity, goodness, and salvation.

"On Virtue" is a one stanza poem with 21 lines. The poem does not contain a rhyme scheme. Most of the lines are written in ten syllables while some are actually written in eleven. Some lines are written in iambic pentameter while other lines seem to be a mix of iambic and triambic.

You may also watch a reading of the poem below.


On Virtue

O Thou bright jewel in my aim I strive
To comprehend thee. Thine own words declare
Wisdom is higher than a fool can reach.
I cease to wonder, and no more attempt
Thine height t' explore, or fathom thy profound.
But, O my soul, sink not into despair,
Virtue is near thee, and with gentle hand
Would now embrace thee, hovers o'er thine head.
Fain would the heav'n-born soul with her converse,
Then seek, then court her for her promis'd bliss.
Auspicious queen, thine heav'nly pinions spread,
And lead celestial Chastity along;
Lo! now her sacred retinue descends,
Array'd in glory from the orbs above.
Attend me, Virtue, thro' my youthful years!
O leave me not to the false joys of time!
But guide my steps to endless life and bliss.
Greatness, or Goodness, say what I shall call thee,
To give me an higher appellation still,
Teach me a better strain, a nobler lay,
O thou, enthron'd with Cherubs in the realms of day

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